“Steroids. That’s what I’ll do,” he thought. “I’ll find a way to get some steroids. They make your muscles grow fast, and they make you feel confident. And, besides, I’ll only take them for a while until I bulk up and get on the first string. They can’t hurt me,” says Rick. Or can they?
Rick’s situation is not uncommon. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently reported that as many as 500,000 young people nationwide have used steroids. Some of them complete in sports. Others just want to look more muscular.
They may take the steroids thinking of the immediate gains. But they may not be aware of what is happening to their body when they take steroids. And many recent studies are showing that the harm that can be done to people who take steroids–especially those in junior and senior high school–far outweighs any immediate gain.
Natural and Unnatural
Steroids are natural chemical compounds found in the hormones in your body. Hormones help you grow and develop. Men and women have both male and female hormones in their bodies, although in different amounts. Since men have higher levels of certain male hormones that promote strong muscles and greater definition, it’s easy to think that if you increase the level of male hormones in a person, you’ll also increase that person’s size and strength.
Enter anabolic steroids–synthetic drugs that act like the male hormone testosterone. Anabolic steroids are the kinds of steroids taken by some athletes and other people interested in building their muscles and strength. They are not natural.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of steroids in specific doses as part of the treatment for certain types of anemia, cancer, and allergies. The FDA does not give its approval to the use of steroids by healthy men and women who want to improve their looks or athletic performance.
By Prescription Only
In addition, in the United States no one can purchase steroids without a doctor’s prescription. That’s partially because of the widespread abuse of the drug. In the 1950s, Russian athletes began using anabolic steroids, and by the 1960s American athletes were using them, too. The steroids were said to add muscle to a person’s body and increase aggression, thus giving him or her the edge in athletic competition.
But the use of steroids quickly got out of hand as larger and larger doses were taken by some athletes, even without supervision. They purchased the drugs on the black market, not knowing what the short- or long-term side effects of steroid use could be. Meanwhile, researchers began to learn about the harm that anabolic steroids can cause.
In his book Death in the Locker Room, Bob Goldman, an expert on anabolic steroids, writes of a young football star he calls “John.” John took steroids for several years. Then John developed cancer in his kidneys, and died as a result of the cancer. Goldman writes that since John’s death, it has been determined that the use of anabolic steroids can lead to the development of a rare kind of tumor in a person’s kidney–the kind of tumor that John had.
Recent studies also show that there’s a host of other side effects, including very serious ones, that are caused by anabolic steroids. Steroid use can cause acne, sterility (the inability to have children), kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer.
Women who take steroids may take on masculine physical characteristics, such as growth of facial hair. Steroids may also increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer and other diseases.
When men and women take steroids, they are upsetting the delicate chemical balance in their system, and teens who take steroids are disturbing their normal growth.
Teens are experiencing great physical and psychological growth and therefore are at even greater risk than adults when taking steroids. In the long run, teens who use steroids may even experience stunted growth–exactly the opposite of what they wanted or thought the drug would do. Their reproductive systems can also be affected. A teenage girl who takes steroids may find out later in life that she cannot have children. A teenage boy who takes steroids may discover years later that he cannot father children.
Recent studies done at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, also shows hat steroid usage can cause abnormally aggressive behavior. One report cites the example of a teen in California who described himself as an “easygoing guy” before he began taking steroids at age 19. After taking steroids, he became more aggressive and, for example, would get out of his car and cause fights at intersections.
“You can walk in my parents’ house today and see signs–holes in the doors I stuck my fist through, indentations in walls I kicked,” he told a reporter.
Persons who start and then stop taking steroids can also experience extreme depression. An unnatural lift in spirits when on the steroids can be followed by an unnatural depressed feeling when off them.
The Cheating Issue
Whether or not you believe that steroids will affect your health, there is something else to consider: the ethics of using steroids during athletic competition. The drive to win has encouraged the use of steroids among many athletes, who take steroids because it makes their muscles larger. (Whether it makes their muscles stronger, too, is something that not all doctors and athletes agree upon.)
One thing that many major sports organizations do agree upon is that athletes who use steroids while competing are not playing fairly. Remember Canadian track star Ben Johnson, who set a world record in the 1988 Olympics and won a gold medal? After it was learned that he had been taking steroids, the International Olympic Committee took away his medal, gave it to American runner Carl Lewis, and banned Johnson from further competition.