Over the years, the illegal use of anabolic steroids to enhance sports performance has made headlines worldwide. Anabolic steroids are artificially produced variants of the male hormones called testosterones. Many professional athletes claim that this substance helps build their stamina, making them much faster, stronger and bigger than before. Unfortunately, these beliefs have extended beyond the professional sports arena into schoolyards in the United States.
According to the 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4.8% of all high school students surveyed reported using steroid injections or pills without a prescription. Furthermore, the 2005 Monitoring the Future Study (MFS), conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), added that between 18% to 40% of students in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades stated that these drugs were “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain. Parents and educators are concerned with the easy availability and subsequent use of this drug by adolescents who simply wish to emulate their athletic idols without realizing the consequences of their use.
Whether injected into the muscles, taken orally or smoothed onto the skin via gels or creams, this drug has the following effects:
- General health
- Severe acne: Changes in hormonal levels stimulate the glands in the skin to produce more sebum, an oily substance that protects and keeps the skin from becoming dry.
- Jaundice: Steroids affect liver function, causing a gradual yellowing of the skin.
- Cardiovascular or heart diseases: Their use increases bad cholesterols or low-density lipoproteins (LDL) while simultaneously decreasing good cholesterols or high-density lipoproteins (HDL) in the body.
- Tumors: Benign and malignant (cancerous) tumors form in the liver and kidneys.
- Stunted growth: Bone lengthening and growth halt prematurely.
- Psychological effects: Prolonged use increases aggressiveness, mood swings, paranoia, sleeping disorders, euphoria and hallucinations.
- Potential violence: Increased hostility, competitiveness and aggressive behavior may lead to assaults and violence.
- The male reproductive system
- Temporary testicular atrophy: The testes diminish in size and eventually cease to function.
- Decreased sperm cell production: Testicular shrinkage limits the production of sperm.
- Temporary infertility: Lower sperm count reduces fertility and the ability to father a child.
- Erectile dysfunction: Sexual function is severely affected due to testicular atrophy.
- Potential impotence: Impotence occurs after continual use of steroids in high doses over a long period of time.
- Permanent gynecomastia: Increase in female hormones called estrogens prompt irreversible breast development in men.
- The female reproductive system
- Irregularity of the menstrual cycle: Steroids harm the maturation and release of eggs during ovulation, causing a disruption in the menstrual cycle. Prolonged use of this drug will eventually lead to infertility.
- Enlarged clitoris: This is an irreversible physical disfiguration.
- Female pattern baldness: These drugs cause permanent hair loss, particularly in the frontal hairline.
- Breast atrophy: Increased testosterone in the reproductive system diminishes the size of the breasts permanently.
- Masculine physical traits: Steroids encourage facial hair growth, muscularity, deepening of the voice and skin coarseness.
- Pregnancy problems: Use during pregnancy can bring about fetal retardation or death.
It is important to create awareness and to educate the public about the potential dangers and long-term health risks that come with prolonged use of these drugs. In this matter, parents, educators, sports establishments and government organizations should band together to help adolescents realize that enhancing sports performance can be achieved without compromising health and well-being.