The news is filled with stories about steroids. Most people are shocked to hear that so many athletes are using drugs to improve their performance in their sports and to improve physical appearance. Steroids are as American as mom and apple pie. Anabolic steroids were developed in the late 1930s primarily to treat diseases. Since the 1950s, athletes have been taking anabolic steroids. They were first used by bodybuilders and weightlifters and then by athletes in other sports. Steroid use has become so widespread in athletics that it affects the outcome of sports contests. Today, other segments of our population take steroids.
Steroids are a multi billion-dollar industry. Ten years ago, I did a radio show on illegal drugs in this country. The question about steroids came up. I asked a number of law enforcement personnel what they were doing about the steroid problem. Some of them were surprised there was a problem. One of them said they didn’t know where to begin. Another said we’d have to catch a person with a truckload of the drug to make a big bust. I was surprised they didn’t know the scope of the steroid problem we had in the United States. I gave them a very popular muscle magazine and said they could arrest almost everyone in the magazine. The pictures in this magazine included men, women, doctors, lawyers, law enforcement personnel, politicians, housewives, teachers, clergy and even children as young as 13 years old.
Today, athletes and others abuse anabolic steroids to enhance performance.
What are anabolic-androgenic steroids? Anabolic-androgenic steroids are man-made substances similar to the male sex hormone, testosterone. Anabolic refers to muscle building. Androgenic refers to an increase in masculine characteristics. Steroids refers to the class of drugs. These drugs are only available legally by prescription. Doctors seldom prescribe steroids today. This class of drugs is used to treat conditions that occur when your body doesn’t produce enough testosterone. Lack of enough testosterone can delayed puberty and cause some types of impotence. Steroids are also prescribed to treat muscle wasting in AIDS patients and other diseases that cause a loss of lean muscle mass. A few remaining medical uses include treatment of some kinds of anemia, severe burns, and some types of breast cancer. Abuse of anabolic steroids, however, can lead to serious health problems, some irreversible.
More than 100 different types of anabolic steroids have been developed. Anabolic steroids are taken orally or injected. Typically, steroids are taken for short periods of time. Taking steroids for a period of weeks or months is called cycling. Cycling involves taking multiple doses of steroids over a specific period of time, stopping for a period, and starting again. Users often combine a few different types of steroids to maximize their effectiveness while trying minimizing negative effects. This is called stacking.
While on a cycle, a practice called pyramiding is used. At the beginning of a cycle, you start with low doses of stacked steroids and then gradually increase your dose for 6 to 12 weeks. In the second half of the cycle, your doses are slowly decreased to zero. This is followed by a second cycle during which you continue to train, but without drugs. Some believe that pyramiding allows your body time to adjust to the high doses, and the drug-free cycle allows time for your body’s hormonal system to recover. Some scientists believe that stacking and pyramiding have not been substantiated scientifically. You only have to follow the careers of any of today’s professional bodybuilders to see that both of these practices work very well. Over the past few years, some athletes take them all year round.
Steroids taken orally as tablets or capsules include Anadrol (oxymetholone), Oxandrin (oxandrolone), Dianabol (methandrostenolone) and Winstrol (stanozolol). Steroids taken by injection into muscles include Deca-Durabolin (nandrolone decanoate), Durabolin (nandrolone phenpropionate), Depo-Testosterone (testosterone cypionate) and Equipoise (boldenone undecylenate). A new form of steroid delivery is by ointment preparations, which is rubbed into the skin or released from a medicated patch. Doses taken by abusers can be up to 100 times more than the doses used for treating medical conditions.
Injectable steroids are believed to be safer. Injectable steroids are broken down into additional categories, those that are very long lasting and those that last a shorter time. Recently, use has shifted to the latter category which are shorter-lasting, water-soluble injections. The reason for that is that the side effects associated for the oral form were discovered to be especially worrisome for the liver. Injectable steroids aren’t free of side effects.
Most healthy males produce less than 10 milligrams of testosterone a day. Females also produce testosterone but in minute amounts. Some users use hundreds of milligrams a day. This far exceeds the normal prescribed daily dose for legitimate medical purposes. Anabolic steroids do not improve agility, skill or cardiovascular capacity. They will improve muscular strength, help reduce body fat, help you look more toned and give you more self confidence.
Most of the steroids that are used illegally in the U.S. are smuggled in from other countries, illegally diverted from U.S. pharmacies, or synthesized in laboratories illegally.
Health consequences of anabolic steroid use can include:
• In boys and men, reduced sperm production, shrinking of the testicles, impotence, difficulty or pain in urinating, baldness, and irreversible breast enlargement
• In girls and women, development of more masculine characteristics, such as decreased body fat and breast size, deepening of the voice, excessive growth of body hair, and loss of scalp hair, as well as clitoral enlargement
• In adolescents of both sexes, premature termination of the adolescent growth spurt, so that for the rest of their lives, users remain shorter than they would have been without the drugs
• In males and females of all ages the following can occur: potentially fatal liver cysts and liver cancer; blood clotting, cholesterol changes, and hypertension, each of which can promote heart attack and stroke; and acne
• Although not all scientists agree, some interpret available evidence to show that anabolic steroid use — particularly in high doses — promotes aggression that can manifest itself as fighting, physical and sexual abuse, armed robbery, and property crimes such as burglary and vandalism
• When stopping anabolic steroids, some users experience symptoms of depressed mood, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, headache, muscle and joint pain, and the desire to take more anabolic steroids. I personally know stories of users who have abused their families and even killed while using steroids
• In injectors, infections can result from the use of shared needles or non-sterile equipment, including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and infective endocarditis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. Bacterial infections can develop at the injection site, causing pain and abscess
Are anabolic steroids addictive? Evidence suggests that long-time steroid users experience the classic characteristics of addiction, which include cravings, difficulty in stopping steroid use and withdrawal symptoms. An “addiction” is an extreme of dependency, that can be psychological or physical. When steroid users stop taking the drug, they will have withdrawal problems. If they start using again, the withdrawal problems goes away. All users have difficulties stopping the use of steroids, even though they know it can kill them or cause serious health problems.
Why do people use anabolic steroids even when the health risks are high?
One of the main reasons people give for using steroids is to improve their performance in sports. Competitive bodybuilder steroid abuse is estimated to be very high. Use among other athletes varies depending on the specific sport.
Another reason people give for taking steroids is to increase their muscle size and/or reduce their body fat. This group includes some people who have a behavioral syndrome called muscle dysmorphia in which a person has a distorted image of their bodies. Men with this condition think that they look small and weak, even if they are large and very muscular. Similarly, women with the syndrome think that they look fat and flabby, even though they are actually lean and overly muscular.
Steroid use is banned in most sports. How do athletes get around the test? The most common way athletes’ cover-up is they discontinue the use of oral steroids days before a drug test. The detection period for injected steroids is longer than oral steroids. Oral steroids can be cleared out of the body in 2 weeks; therefore, that is the most common steroid used in sports. Another way athletes cover up steroid use is they take more drugs, which dilute your urine. Some steroids are still not detectable.
How easy is it to get steroids? 44.5 percent of high school seniors say it would be easy for them to get steroids. You can buy it in almost any gym, vitamin store, school, college and even in church in America.
Steroids are most dangerous for children. How can you tell if your child is using steroids? If you suspect your child is using steroids, watch for these warning signs:
• exaggerated mood swings
• worsening acne
• unusually greasy skin with stretch marks
• a sudden increase in muscle size
If you have a suspicion that your child is using steroids, you should call your child’s doctor. They can have your child take a simple urine test at the doctor’s office to detect the presence of steroids.
If your child is using steroids, what should you do? There’s no easy answer. Only a few studies of treatments for anabolic steroid use have been conducted. Current treatment is based largely on the experiences of a small number of physicians who have worked with patients undergoing steroid withdrawal. Physicians have found that support therapies are sufficient in most cases. These treatments include educating the patients about what they may experience during withdrawal and patients are evaluated for suicidal thoughts. If symptoms are severe or prolonged, medications or hospitalization is needed.
Some medications that have been used for treating steroid withdrawal try to restore the hormonal system after its disruption by steroid abuse. Other medications, target other withdrawal symptoms, which include antidepressants to treat depression and suicidal tendencies and analgesics for headaches and muscle and joint pains.
Some patients require assistance beyond simple treatment of withdrawal symptoms and are treated with other behavioral therapies.