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Perception vs. reality: Steroids and the people who use them

by Lorenzo Patrick and Arshon Howard
Jun 6, 2013


12th Graders Lifetime Use of Steroids

"Monitoring the Future"/NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE

The already low numbers of high school-aged adolescents using steroids has been steadily declining for many years. Less than 3 percent of teens use steroids,  according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Adults Perception of Adolescent problems

Gallup Polling

Even adults don't see steroid use as a major issue for children.

InDepthPhoto

Lorenzo Patrick/MEDILL

Despite conventional wisdom, many steroid users aren’t professional athletes or bodybuilders. On average, they are around 30 years old, white, male and a non-athlete. 

Anabolic steroids are attractive to professional athletes and bodybuilders because they increase aggressiveness and competitiveness, which are desirable traits in sports, but at what cost?


University of Gothenburg researchers reported in the  April edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine a prominent link between anabolic-androgenic steroids and mental health problems later in life. By now people know the negative effects steroids have on the body and yet why people continue to use them remains puzzling. Anabolic steroids can cause many serious side effects, some permanent, but winning at any cost is more important to some athletes despite the risks.

“It’s not surprising that there is a link between anabolic steroids and mental health,” said Mark H. Anshel, professor of sports psychology in the Department of Health and Human performance at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. “There has been countless research over the years looking at roid rage, as research has shown people who use them for a long period of time have a higher level of aggression. It also showed that sometimes they couldn’t explain their reason for their anger which was profound.”

According to the New York State  Department of Health, anabolic steroids are synthetic substances related to naturally occurring male sex hormones, such as testosterone. When properly administered they can treat number of diseases such as blood disorders and intractable arthritis. However, without a disease to treat they can cause potentially serious side effects.

“Anabolic steroids can cause many side effects,” said Vandana Sheth, spokeswoman for the Chicago-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “In both genders, side effects caused by anabolic steroids include, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and various others diseases.”
 
One of the better-known side effects of anabolic steroids is roid rage. The condition is defined by extreme moods swings, which may lead to aggressive violent outbursts. Researchers have also observed that users may suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.

“Some people just don’t care to know the consequences,” said Anshel. “I call it the ‘Superman complex’, which is when people view themselves as impervious to a self-destructive behavior pattern.”

The continued use of steroids is not only due to athletes wanting to enhance their athletic performance, but how they feel about themselves as well.

“The main reason that people use steroids is image,” Anshel said. “It’s how certain people value themselves, as maintaining a certain image raises their confidence level and self-esteem.”

Sports medicine experts said many steroid users suffer from muscle dysmorphia, a disorder in which people believe their muscular build is undersized, which in return causes them to desire bigger muscles.

Even though people may desire to have these muscles, there are different alternatives to get the same effect without besides steroids that are just as effective, said Sheth.

“Fueling your body with a healthy and balanced diet is the key to good health and performance,” she said. “More people need to consult with a registered dietitian or nutritionist specializing in sports nutrition as this would be very helpful in identifying a customized meal plan to help them perform at their peak.”
 
Sheth said that according to The International Society of Sports Nutrition, people should look at ergogenic aids, which are any external influences that can be determined to enhance performance in high-intensity exercises. Stretching and weight training are physical ergogenic aids, with the most commonly recognized forms of ergogenic aids being dietary supplements. “These aids help prepare an individual to exercise, increase exercise efficiency, improve exercise recovery, and adapt to the rigors of intense training.”

Even though these alternatives may be effective, Anshel said that coaches are responsible for the use of steroids among athletes. He stated that, in order to see a decrease in the amount of steroid use among athletes, coaches must hold their players accountable.

“Too often coaches don’t care and feel as though that it isn’t their job to govern their players behavior,” he said. “There is no one who has more authority to an athlete than a coach, and too many times players on teams using steroids go unnoticed simply because coaches made the mistake of not letting their players know the consequences. I feel as though the coaches need to constantly educate their players on the dangers of using steroids if there is ever going to be a decline.”

Although, John Pierce, a varsity coach for Polytech High School in Woodside, Del. agreed with some of the points that Anshel made, he said coaches don’t punish players who do use steroids simply because they are scared.

“When you’re coaching young kids or young men then, yes you do have a responsibility to your players, but some coaches who coach on a professional level don’t say anything because they don’t want to lose a specific player,” he said. “What if LeBron (James, Miami Heat forward) was doing steroids? Some coaches wouldn’t say anything because he’s the star player and they need him to win, as people are willing to win at all costs.”

When an individual needs to be able to lift more, practice longer, exercise harder, steroids allow them to do so within a very short period of time. People just aren’t willing to put in the extra time anymore, said Pierce.

“I think it’s just this generation,” he said. “I talk about it all the time with my guys when the lights are on everyone wants to be seen, but when the lights are off no one wants to be seen, no one wants to put in that extra work and time behind closed doors for some reason. I feel as though that willingness to work hard to get better just isn’t there anymore.”

People are still continuously using steroids despite the risks. They refuse to try different alternatives that are just as effective as steroids. Anshel hopes people educate themselves on the effects of steroids use.

“People will do anything to have a leg up on the competition,” he said. Some people will risk their lives to make sure that they are good at a particular sport. I just hope they realize the long-term effects of using steroids before it’s too late.”