Steroid abuse has plagued professional sports for decades—in fact, members of a Soviet team of professional weightlifters were found to be using testosterone injections to enhance their performance in the World Weightlifting Championships of 1954. Anabolic steroids have been a problem among athletes ever since, and it seems that every year multiple players are suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Manny Ramirez is the latest to fall victim to this pattern, as he was recently suspended for 50 games due to testing positive for a banned substance. Though the substance found in his system is not a steroid, it has been classified as a banned performance enhancer by Major League Baseball. The substance, HCG, is prescribed to stimulate testosterone production in men and to treat delayed puberty in boys. It is also commonly used among steroid users because it can mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of steroids, which suggests that he has been using them.
Ramirez issued an apology to his teammates and claims that he was given the medication by his doctor for a personal health issue and did not know it was a banned substance. He is the first major star to be suspended under baseball’s stricter drug-testing rules that went into effect in 2003, after Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids and ex-Yankee Roger Clemens was accused of using them.
But it’s not only superstar athletes who abuse steroids—nearly 80 percent of anabolic steroid users do not participate in competitive sports or bodybuilding. And the use of steroids among adolescents—both males and females—is on the rise. Many adolescents (staring as early as eighth grade) use steroids to improve their appearance and performance in sports.
Because people usually like the results they see from using the drugs, they often begin to overlook the negative side effects and continue to abuse them. Although steroid abuse is more prevalent among males, an increasing amount of females are beginning to use and abuse steroids.
What Steroids Do
Anabolic steroids increase protein synthesis within cells, resulting in the buildup of cellular tissue (anabolism), especially in muscles. They also have androgenic and virilizing properties, meaning that they develop and maintain masculine characteristics. Steroids are used medically to induce male puberty, stimulate growth and appetite, and treat symptoms of wasting conditions like cancer and AIDS.
The anabolic effects of steroids increase bone remodeling and growth and stimulate bone marrow, which increases the production of red blood cells. Skeletal muscles can also be increased in size, building strength. The androgenic effects of steroids can lead to increased growth of body hair, increased vocal cord size, deepening of the voice, increased libido, suppression of natural sex hormones, and impaired production of sperm.
Many of the horrible side effects of using steroids don’t show up until years after the drug use began. Steroid use can lead to high blood pressure, harmful changes in cholesterol levels, cardiovascular disease, liver damage, stroke and blood clotting, digestive problems, nausea and vomiting, headaches, joint and muscle aches, sleeping disorders, acne, and premature balding. Steroids are also thought to cause severe aggression, mood swings, hallucinations, paranoia, panic attacks, depression, and suicidal tendencies.
Men can experience a reduced sperm count, reduced sexual function, infertility, and an enlarged prostate. Some men can even experience gynocomastia, which is the appearance of female sex characteristics on males—most often the appearance of breast tissue.
Women who use steroids will start to develop a more masculine physique, losing their feminine curves and breast tissue and gaining more body hair. They can also experience a deepening of the voice, male pattern baldness, and cessation of the menstrual cycle. Steroid use in women can also lead to cervical and endometrial cancer and infertility.
Teens who use steroids are at a much greater risk, as steroids cause the bones to grow too early, which will stunt growth. Because steroid use can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts, their lives are also at risk. In addition, teens who inject steroids are at a greater risk of transmitting or contracting diseases like hepatitis and HIV.
Signs of Steroid Use
There are several physical and emotional signs to look for to determine steroid use, the first being weight gain or rapid muscle gain. Swelling of the feet and lower legs is also common, as are shaking and tremors. Though most teens develop acne, be on the lookout for a sudden increase of acne and oily skin. Steroid users can also develop purple or red spots on the body, as well as jaundice. Extreme mood swings, increased aggression or irritability, and paranoia are also indicators of steroid use.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently estimated that more than half a million eighth through tenth graders are abusing anabolic steroids, and that many high school seniors don’t believe their use constitutes a health risk. Keep in mind that the main reason for steroid use is for cosmetic purposes, usually due to social pressure to achieve an unrealistic body type. If you are a parent, it is imperative to establish a healthy body image for your child and promote his or her self-esteem. Compliment your child often, and talk to him or her about the dangers of steroid use and peer pressure.
Source: Sports Illustrated.com, Tom Verducci, Ramirez tests positive, suspended 50 games by MLB, May 7, 2009