Just about every athletic association has one simple rule about illegal steroid use: you use, you lose.
Still, the popularity of anabolic steroids among teens has grown over the last decade, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Many teen athletes and bodybuilders know more about the drugs than some doctors do.
“Well, yeah, sometimes I feel like I know more than my doctor, but in some cases, I think it’s just the doctor who doesn’t have time to go into the specifics about steroids, which is what I wanted to hear before I started using,” said ‘Kim’, a Miami high school student and budding track star who admits to using steroids.
Her coach, who will remain anonymous, said he knows some of the 55 members of his track team use steroids.
Two years ago, when a male student confessed to using steroids, he was immediately kicked off the team. He was then assigned to write several reports on illegal drugs and those reports were presented to the entire track team, one each week after practice.
Still, the practice goes on.
“Our locker room isn’t all loud and obvious about it like in the sports movies you see,” said Kim’s teammate ‘Tanya’, who says she’s not a ‘roider’. “Everything is done carefully. And no one really expects to see girls doing this, so the coaches and associations don’t test us for it at all. I don’t mess with it because I don’t know exactly what that stuff will do to me. It’s too big of a risk.”
Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances related to the male sex hormones, androgens; testosterone is included in this group. These substances promote the growth of skeletal muscle and the development of male sexual characteristics, like hair growth and more masculine behavior.
They are also believed to enhance athletic performance and help build muscle quickly. The only legal way to get them is by prescription.
Doctors prescribe steroids for patients with abnormally low amounts of testosterone, usually males with delayed puberty. The medication is also used to treat patients with AIDS and other diseases, to prevent dangerous weight and muscle loss.
Most of the illegal steroids on the street come from secret labs that usually process the chemicals under poor conditions.
“I stay away from prescribing anabolic steroids because they really alter a person’s appearance while giving them false hope,’’ said Dr. Leonard Askowitz, a Miami-area pediatrician. “Sometimes it’s necessary to give a little boy some of those pills so he can grow up normally, but when I see the patients a few weeks or a month later, they look like they aged two or three years. Some of them like the change, but when it’s time to stop after a month, they don’t want to because they think the drug turned them into an adult.”
While doctors generally prescribe one or two pills every other day, steroid-abusers often take five or six pills – twice a day.
Most of the illegal steroids on the street come from secret labs that usually process the chemicals under poor conditions. Anabolic steroids are also smuggled in from other countries.
“My cousin went to Europe and found me some amps and pills,” said ‘David’, who attends a Miami private school. “I don’t use them anymore because I quit the wrestling team so I could get a job, but I sell them. Just for the money. Whoever buys should be smart enough to know what they’re getting into, and if they don’t, I told them not to come crying to me about anything later on.”
In males, the effects of steroid-use include reduced sperm production, shrinking of the testicles, impotence, difficulty or pain in urinating, baldness, and irreversible breast enlargement. Excess hair is also a side effect, most notably a hairy back.
Females develop more masculine characteristics, such as decreased body fat and breast size, excess body and facial hair and -at the same time – hair loss.
Use of anabolic steroids by both sexes, at a young age, stunts growth, so many of those people grow up to be shorter than they should’ve been. The drugs have also been linked to severe outbreaks of acne, liver problems, stroke, and heart attacks.
Those who inject steroids run the risk of getting HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, and infective endocarditis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. Bacterial infections can also develop at the injection site, causing pain and abscesses.
“The things it does to your physical appearance probably aren’t the worst part, in a way,” said Keith Searle, a personal trainer. “By using steroids, the person is more likely to injure and overwork themselves. They build a huge upper body and it takes its toll on the knees and lower legs. Come on, hundreds of football careers have ended because of knee injuries, “brittle knees”. I’m not saying all these guys used steroids, but I bet at least a quarter of them did.”
Want to know more? There’s good information on the effects of steroids at the National Institute on Drug Abuse Web site: www.NIDA.com.
By Sofia Santana