Anabolic Steroids: And the High School Athlete
Anabolic steroid abuse has become a national concern among high school athletes. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of athletes using these performance enhancing drugs in high school almost double the number using since the 1980’s. These athletes feel that steroids gives them the competitive edge that they think they need to boost themselves past the competition.
Steroids have been used in bodybuilding and other sports since the 1950’s. Nowadays, athletes from all walks of life use them. It’s not uncommon for athletes such as bodybuilders, football players, boxers, sprinters, and especially powerlifters to use them on a year round basis. Some professional bodybuilders admit to using over 10 times the normal effective dosage for testosterone. Steroids and sports go hand in hand in many ways. They were legal until 1990 when they joined other banned substances such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines as being illegal. Many athletes including Arnold Schwarzenegger and football great Lyle Alzado have admitted to using them to help them become better athletes. Because they are illegal without a prescription in almost every country in the world they are only available to the recreational user on the “black market”. The black market consists of all steroidal substances, counterfeits, and other illegal drugs that are purchased from a source other than directly from a pharmacy or a physician. As everyone knows, when a product is available only on the black market the demand of it goes up while the supply goes down. This means that a very high percentage of all athletes that use them are doing so illegally. This is a major reason why steroids have become so popular among high school athletes, there so easy to obtain.
Once viewed as a problem only associated with professional athletes, recent reports estimate that 5 to 12 percent of male high school students and 1 percent of female students have used anabolic steroids by the time they were seniors. The athletes using these drugs don’t belong to one particular sport, these users play sports ranging from girls tennis all the way to boys swimming all of which have the same goal in common, to gain the upper hand. They are usually used during training to build muscles and contrary to popular belief are not usually used when the athlete is competing. There is widespread use of steroids in the body builder’s world due to the ability of steroids to make muscles larger at an increased rate when used with regular weight training.
Before I tell you about the users I want to give you a little background information on this illegal substance. Anabolic/androgenic steroids are synthetic substances related to the male hormone testosterone. These substances have two effects, the androgenic which is causing the body to become more male, even if the user is female and the anabolic, tissue building phase of the use. Most people who use steroids want the tissue building effect and so use steroids with higher anabolic than androgenic properties. Anabolic steroids are banned in most sports, any athlete found using them is usually suspended for long periods and stripped of any titles they may have gained while they were using steroids.
Steroids come in two forms, either injectable or as tablets which are swallowed and which are broken down and transferred directly into the testosterone producing organs. Injectable steroids seem to cause less damage in men but the steroids in pill form may be less dangerous for women, as they do not damage the liver as much as steroids that are swallowed as pills. However, people using injectable steroids run all the risk associated with injecting any drug, that brings me to the effects steroids have on the body.
First let me tell you about the positive effects that steroids posess for the successing high school athlete. They have a tremendous phsycological affect on the teenage mind. Just by taking these drugs it could transform the most un-athletic and up-popular kid on the team into the most feared and physically greater than anyone on the team. In a recent study by the University of Georgia provided that men ages 17-18 taking steroids for 1 year lost 15% of there body fat and gained 30 pounds in muscle weight, that fact alone is enough convincing that most under-achieving high school athletes need to get on these drugs (Gallaway pg 78). These sound like a wonder drug, but there are many more and far worse negative effects.
The negative effects of these drugs range far and many. For men the effects are much worse. For instance there is increased irritability and aggressiveness also called “roid rages”. Then comes the Acne, due to the stimulation of the oil glands in the skin. You can also start developing premature hair loss and a bloated appearance from excess salt and water being retained by the body. The last effect is due to the effect of steroids on the testicles. The brain monitors the amount of testosterone in the body, if it detects a large amount (due to steroids) it will stop the testicles producing more and so less sperm is produced and impotence may occur, which also may result in a decreased sex drive. Apart from the hair loss, the above effects are generally reversible upon stopping steroid use. Adolescent steroid use may lead to a premature fusion of the epiphyses (the end of growing bones) which can lead to stunted growth.(Paterson pg 102)
Long term heavy steroid use may cause damage to the heart, liver and kidneys. Heart problems are due to the blocking of arteries by fatty deposits and increased blood pressure due to water and salt being kept in the body (both could lead to a heart attack). Possible liver problems include jaundice, cancer of the liver and formation of blood ‘blisters’ in the liver tissue. In women steroids have a masculinising effect and can lead to growth of facial and body hair, baldness, voice deepening, and disruption of the menstrual cycle. In the main these effects are reversible. Steroids taken as tablets seem to cause less damage to women as they pass out of the body more quickly than injectable steroids. However, the liver is smaller in women and so is more likely to be damaged, whether they take tablet or injectible steroids.
A new drug prevention and education program is extremely effective in discouraging use of anabolic steroids among high school athletes, according to a recent study. This study demonstrated that students in the prevention program had enhanced healthy behaviors, reduced factors that encourage steroid use and lessen the intent to use steroids. Early attempts to prevent steroid abuse concentrated on drug testing and on educating students about the drugs’ adverse effects. A few school districts test for abuse of illicit drugs, including steroids, and studies are currently under way to determine whether such testing reduces drug abuse. Research on steroid educational programs has shown that simply teaching students about steroids’ adverse effects does not convince them that they personally can be adversely affected. Neither does such instruction discourage young people from taking steroids in the future. Presenting both the risks and benefits of anabolic steroid use is more effective in convincing adolescents about steroids negative effects, apparently because the students find a balanced approach more credible and less biased, according to the researchers. However, the balanced approach still does not discourage High school students from abusing steroids. A better approach has shown promise for preventing steroid abuse among players on high school sports teams.
In the ATLAS program, developed for male football players, coaches and team leaders discuss the potential effects of anabolic steroids and other illicit drugs on immediate sports performance, and they teach how to refuse offers of drugs. They also discuss how strength training and proper nutrition can help adolescents build their bodies without the use of steroids. Later, special trainers teach the players proper weightlifting techniques. An ongoing series of studies has shown that this team-centered approach reduces new steroid abuse by 50 percent. A program designed for adolescent girls on sports teams, patterned after the program designed for boys, is currently being tested. Some medications that have been used for treating steroid withdrawal, restore the hormonal system after its disruption by steroid abuse. Other medications target specific withdrawal symptoms, for example, antidepressants to treat depression, and analgesics for head aches and muscle and joint pains ( May pg 65).
Some patients require assistance beyond simple treatment of withdrawal symptoms and are treated with behavioral therapies.
Compared to student athletes who were not exposed to the program, ATLAS participants had increased understanding of the effects of steroids, greater belief in personal vulnerability to the consequences of steroid use, improved drug-refusal skills, less belief in steroid-promoting media messages, increased belief in the team as an information source, improved perception of athletic abilities and strength training self-efficacy, improved nutrition and exercise behaviors and reduced intentions to use steroids.