“I do think about it [the consequences of taking steroids]…But like, it’s what I want now.”-John, a weight lifter. Are you happy with your appearance? Would you like to have the muscular body of a star athlete or the lean figure of a top model? Do you take sports seriously and want to improve your strength and speed?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then you may be tempted to take some of the pills or portions that your peers promise will help you to achieve your goals more quickly. The journal American Academy of Family Physicians states: “Approximately 1 million adolescents [in the United States] between the ages of 12 and 17 years have taken potentially dangerous performance-enhancing supplements and drugs.”
The most popular performance-boosting drugs are known as ANABOLIC STEROIDS. What are they? Why do people take them? And how can you resist their appeal?
GIVING NATURE A BOOST
“Anabolic steroids,” explains a report from the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services, “are the familiar name for synthetic substances related to the male sex hormones [ANDROGENS]. They promote the growth of skeletal muscle [anabolic effects] and the development of male sexual characteristics.”
During puberty in males, a finely tuned, preprogrammed increase in these sex hormones prompts the physical changes that transform a boy to a man.
Synthetic steroids were first developed in the 1930’s to treat males who failed to produce enough of these hormones naturally. Today, steroids are used to counteract the wasting away of the body caused by HIV and other diseases. However, steroids have found a market among those who do not have legitimate medical needs. In the 1930’s, steroids became available on the black market, and ambitious athletes began tapping the performance-boosting potential of these drugs.
It is not just athletes, though, who are tempted to take steroids. A study published in the medical journal PEDIATRICS estimates that almost 3 percent of boys and girls in the United States aged 9 to 13 have used these drugs.
Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told a recent U,S congressional hearing that in 2014 there were “an estimated 79,000 high school seniors who [reported] having abused anabolic steroids in the past year.” In the United Kingdom, steroid abuse is also rampant.
“In Merseyside and Cheshire in 2013,” says, the New Statesman, “the largest single group of new clients for needle exchanges was steroid users, outnumbering heroin users for the first time.” Steroids are often injected into the body, putting those who share needles at higher risk for contracting HIV or other blood-borne diseases.
WHAT IS THE APPEAL OF STEROIDS?
Why the rise in steroid abuse? One reason is that successful athletes can win instant fame and a huge fortune. Steroids seem to offer a shortcut to this gold mine. A prominent sports coach summed up a dominant attitude of many when he said: “Winning isn’t everything –it’s the only thing.” Volkow, mentioned above, observed: “We are now facing a very damaging message that is becoming pervasive in our society –that bigger is better, and being the best is more important than how you get there.”
A survey conducted by Bob Goldman, a physician specializing in sports medicine, appears to confirm this grim conclusion. He asked young athletes if they would take a banned performance-enhancing drug under the following conditions:
1. They would not be caught, they would win every competition for the next five years and, afterward, they would die from the side effects of the drug. More than half the youths responded with a yes.
Even if you do not have a win-at-all-costs mentality, steroids may still have a seductive appeal. Why? “People choose to take steroids,” says Volkow, “because [steroids] do, in fact, enhance certain types of physical performance and appearance.” In many cultures today, physical appearance is paramount.
Dr. Harrison Pope, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, claims: “millions of men are suffering shame, self-doubt and embarrassment because of emphasis on body image. “Steroids offer young men the chance to hide their self-doubt under a fashionably muscular body.
For similar reasons girls also are vulnerable to the lure of steroids. Charles Yesalis, professor of health and human development at Pennsylvania State University, said regarding steroid abuse: “There’s been a substantial increase for girls during the 1990s, and it’s at an all-time high right now.” Some girls take steroids to be stronger and faster on the sport field.
Most, though, seem to take them in the hope that the drugs will transform their bodies into lean, taut figures flaunted by today’s models and movie stars. “With young women,” says Jeff Hoerger of Rutgers University in New Jersey, “you see them using it more as a weight control and body fat reduction [method].”
CONSIDER THE RISKS
If you are ever tempted to take nonprescribed steroids, it is worth considering the following facts. A person who takes them for even a short while increases the risk of heart attack, liver failure, kidney failure, and serious psychiatric problems.
Females who take steroids risk menstrual abnormalities, increased growth of body hair, male-pattern baldness, and a permanently deepened voice. On the other hand, males who take steroids may develop breasts and will likely discover that their testicles start to atrophy. Both males and females may experience sudden bouts of aggressiveness. And, ironically, steroids can stunt growth if taken during adolescence. Another fact to consider is that steroids make a person prone to outbursts of rage.
According to Valentina D’ Urso, a psychology teacher at Padua University in Italy, rage is an ever-increasing phenomenon in our society, but it produces negative effects on the organism.
Muscles tense, heartbeat and breathing speed up, and the body enters into a state of stress. Anger can also impair a person’s ability to reason and can lessen his control over his actions. Let’s get used to foreseeing risk situations . . . let’s calmly say straight away I do not agree” and we will live much better.
Whether they are rich or poor, many people fail to see the link between their habits and their health. They may regard enjoying good health as a matter of chance or as something over which they have little control. Such a fatalistic view holds many back from improving their health and leading a more productive life.
In reality, whatever your financial circumstances, there are basic steps you can take to protect and greatly improve your own health and that of your family. Is doing so worth the efforts? By all means! You can increase the quality of your life and avoid needlessly shortening it.