In our series for the European Action on Drugs we’re focusing on the negative effects of drugs to promote informed awareness. Steroids is one of those drugs and is incredibly common within athletic circles and the risks of taking steroids are dangerous and numerous.
The use of performance enhancing drugs is called “doping.” Drugs such as anabolic steroids are often used by athletes to increase their athleticism and to give them an advantage in competition. While it might seems that the benefits of steroids will help you to make that extra mile or lift even more weight, the risks of steroids far outweigh the thrill of making it first to the finish line.
Steroids are designed to mimic the hormone testosterone, athletes take them to “primarily increase muscle mass and strength.”[i] Steroids were first developed in the 1930s as a way to treat hypogonadism, a condition where the testes don’t produce enough testosterone, however, it was soon discovered that steroids could increase muscle growth, which eventually led to their misuse.[ii]
Steroids can be taken orally, by injection, or rubbed on the skin. Steroids are often used in cycles, where you would take steroids for a certain amount of time, stop, and then start up again. Some users will even use several types of steroids to increase muscle size. [ii]
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey in 2006 which stated that 1.5% of eighth graders, 1.8% of tenth graders, and 2.2% of twelfth graders had used steroids at least once in their life. It was also discovered that 1.8% of young adults (ages 19-28) reported a lifetime of steroid use. [ii]
What is most shocking about the survey is not only that these are young teenagers but also that they reported that it was “fairly easy” to obtain steroids. Steroids are often smuggled into the country and sold at gyms and sports competitions.
Steroids have a shocking number of serious health effects that you might not think of when you are looking to bulk up. Some of the major health risks are liver cancer, heart attacks, and stunted growth.
Side Effects for Men [i]
- Reduced sperm count
- Development of breasts
- Shrinking of the testicles
- Difficulty or pain while urinating
Side Effects for Women [i]
- Facial hair growth
- Deepened voice
- Breast reduction
- Menstrual cycle changes
Side Effects for Both Sexes [i]
- Bloated appearance
- Rapid weight gain
- Clotting disorders
- Liver damage
- Premature heart attacks and strokes
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Weakened tendons
Due to the serious health risks, the International Olympic Committee, National Collegiate Athletic Association, Major League Baseball, Basketball, Football, and Hockey have banned the use of steroids.
What many athletes don’t understand is that steroids can be addictive. “Recent evidence suggests that long-time steroid users and steroid abusers may experience the classic characteristics of addiction.[i]” It can be so easy to think I’ll just take them for a bit, just until I bulk up, but like any drug, steroids are addicting because when you stop using steroids many of the desired effects disappear.
If you are considering using steroids as a way to gain muscle mass or have an advantage in sports you should know that it’s illegal and it could get you and your team disqualified from the competition.
There are many ways to gain muscle mass naturally. Like with any diet, gaining muscle mass should be through a lifestyle change. The best way to gain muscle mass is by eating lean proteins and nutritious meals full of vitamins and minerals. Work out often, focusing on muscle training exercises such as lifting weights. Try to drink protein shakes in between meals and let you body naturally gain muscle. Another tip would be to consult with a nutritionist and a personal trainer so they can help you reach your goals.
It’s never worth your personal health or safety to be stronger or faster; the risks associated with doping are far too great. A proper diet, exercise regime, and goal orientated lifestyle change is the key to becoming a better athlete.