Throughout history, man has been developing performance enhancing drugs to promote the wellness and physical characteristics of the human body. Steroids have been a hot topic on performance enhancing for many years and now, with the onslaught of professional athletes standing accused of using steroids, this steroid topic has emerged on the fore front of main stream sporting news. How exactly do steroids work in the body? Why are more and more young people abusing steroids? And what exactly are the disadvantages to both men and women that use steroids for performance enhancement?
These areas and others will be covered in this essay. Anabolic Steroid Invasion On the Youth of America Nazi soldiers from Germany in the 1930’s, Soviet Union Olympic athletes in the 1950’s, and even up to today, professional athletes in the United States, have all been linked to steroid use. Scientific experiments and studies with steroids have been around since the mid 1800’s, when a professor of medicine at Gottingen, Germany, by the name of Arnold A. Berthold, elected to use six roosters in an experiment involving the removal and transplantation of the testes.
This experiment reinforced the centuries old idea that castration of the male results in the loss of the secondary male sex characteristics (ie. deepening of the voice, aggressive behavior), as well as the male’s fertility. In fact, as noted by Kochakian (1990), Berthold deduced that since the transplanted testis were no longer connected to the body through its nerve connections, then it must produce something else that is secreted into the blood and transported to the body’s tissues to regulate their growth and maintenance.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s that a group of scientists discovered testosterone, the hormone produced by the testes, that they believed was the catalyst for these changes, and then later chemically synthesized the compound (Kochakian, 1990). Thus, anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) were identified and then later became a supplemental performance enhancer for those that needed to gain weight and improve their individual physiological capacity. Even with all the known disadvantages and health concerns surrounding the use of anabolic-androgenic steroids, their use is still widespread and common.
In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, steroids are illegally used by over three million Americans today (McCallum, 2008). So, what changes do steroids create in the human body and why do these changes promote such widespread use amongst soldiers, athletes, body builders, and even young adolescents in today’s society? To truly understand the reason behind the widespread use of anabolic steroids, one must first understand the physiological changes that influence the body as a result of this anabolic steroid use. Anabolic steroids have to major effects on the human body.
The first effect, the anabolic effect, is responsible for the growth, muscular development, and the masculine shape of the male. Anabolic means to build up or to increase in size. The second effect, the androgenic effect, actually stimulates the development of the male secondary characteristics, such as deepening of the voice, aggressive behavior, and hirsutism, the symptom of increased hair growth. Anabolic steroids work by stimulating an anabolic effect by binding onto protein cells and helps increase muscle size and strength.
This increase in protein synthesis results in the buildup of cellular tissue, primarily in the muscle. Once the steroid enters the body, either orally or intravenously, the body begins a process to utilize the steroid. If administered orally, the absorption phase of this process is much more complex and take longer for the drug to get into the bloodstream. The drug must first pass through the metabolism process and then enter the bloodstream through the filtering of the drug by the enzymes in the liver.
When the drug is taken intravenously, the process is much faster and the drug enters the bloodstream immediately, bypassing the metabolism process to enter the bloodstream. After entering the body during the absorption phase, the drug is then distributed throughout the body through the bloodstream during the distribution phase. Through this phase, the steroid circulates throughout the body and is slowly collected at receptor sites that are designed to recognize and absorb them. These sites include muscle, hair, sebaceous lands, endocrine glands, and even in the brain. Throughout the next phase, the metabolism phase, the steroid goes through chemical changes, which mostly occurs in the liver. This phase is the primary reason for the problems that occur within the liver due to steroid usage. The final phase of process for the steroid is the excretion phase. In this phase, the drug is then removed from the body through skin, breathe, and other excretions, such as urine, which is created by the kidneys.
The time it takes from the beginning of this process until the final phase when the steroid leaves the body (from the absorption phase to the excretion phase), is usually related to the actual potency of the anabolic steroid, although there are other factors involved. Half-life is the term used to describe the duration it takes for half of a given drug dosage to break down in the body and is a measuring factor for AAS users to estimate the potency of a certain anabolic steroid.
These physiological changes in the body directly influence the side effects and the gains from a particular anabolic steroid. So why is anabolic steroid use on the rise, especially within the young adolescent community? Many believe, including myself, that it is due to the overwhelming lust that our society has on our professional athletes. Many young men, and females included, have the desire to look like the celebrity professional athletes of today’s society. These athletes are given multi-million dollar contracts, elevated to celebrity status, and become role models to these young adolescents.
The social pressures that these young adolescents go through while trying to excel at a sport of their choice increase as the competition gets tougher and the availability to play the sport becomes less. As these young athletes progress through the ranks of their sport careers, little league, middle school, high school, and then ultimately college, at each level the number of competitive athletes increase, all the while the number of spots on a team and the number of teams decrease. Some adolescents feel that any performance enhancer will give them a significant edge over the competition.
And despite the warnings of side effects and the fact that many of these drugs are illegal, many feel that using these drugs is their only way to reach success on the highest level. In addition, the world wide web makes the accessibility to these drugs readily available. As stated by Jack McCallum (2008) in his Sports Illustrated column, “We are a juiced nation. We are a nation on dope. We are a nation looking for enhancement, a way to age gracefully, perform better and longer, and, at the outer edge, vanquish what was once considered that all time undefeated opponent known as aging.
We do that by Botoxing our wrinkles, lifting our faces, reconstructing our noses, de-spidering our veins, tucking our tummies, augmenting our breasts and taking a little pill to make sure we’re ready when, you know, the right time presents itself”. Our society headlines the athletes that use performance enhancing drugs… the Mark McGwire’s, the Barry Bond’s, the Jose Canseco’s, the Andy Petite’s, the Roger Clemen’s, and most recently, even the Alex Rodriguez’s. There have been professional football players, Olympic athletes, and even track stars that have been linked to anabolic steroid abuse.
Every sport has been tampered with in some shape or form by this drug, despite having rules and policies regulating and banning the use of steroids, and each time the media shows our young adolescents how prevalent this “illegal” activity is. If the desire to reach the top is more than the fear to fall to the bottom, then warnings and “Don’t Do Drugs” campaigns will not be enough to deter the determined. As questioned by Lombardo (1990), “In events in which centimeters or milliseconds are the difference between success and failure, how much does manipulation of one factor contribute?
When 20 to 30 pounds of lean mass can make the difference between a professional contract worth over $100,000 a year and the adulation and fame of such a career and the $40,000 to $50,000 a year and routine of many jobs, how many athletes will use androgens (steroids) to reach their goal? “. Some steroids are even used secretly by trainer’s and coaches, and others that these young adolescent’s trust, to help recovery times from injury, to increase an athlete’s time on the field.
Due to the popularity and frequency of the use of anabolic steroids by professional athletes in the media, our youth are inadvertently being “advertised” to cheat to get to that level and with it, that multi-million dollar contract and celebrity status. Other adolescents that are non-athletes are drawn to the abuse of this drug as a cosmetic purpose, trying ultimately to achieve an unrealistic body type that they feel is the standard of society. This psychological disorder, muscle dysmorphia, and lack of self-esteem is closely related to the psychological disorders and causes of anorexia and bulimia.
Hollywood, the music industry, even magazines and newspapers portray the bad and buff body as glamorized, this leads to a lack of self-esteem for adolescents without that body composition and a desire to reach that physique. Although anabolic steroid use has been banned by most sport organizations for decades, the publicity and the ease of availability to young adolescents keep the “Black Market” on steroids a thriving and lucrative business, as Goldstein (1990) estimates, upwards between $300 and $400 million per year.
Despite its positive qualities of maximal gains in muscle hypertrophy and increase recovery time from injury, AAS has severe risks involved. As seen by the high amount of influence of the anabolic steroid on the endocrine system within the body, anabolic steroids detrimental side effects that can occur vary from individual to individual, and from male to female.
Although testosterone is largely found in males, about 40 to 60 times more testosterone than in females, an overabundance of the hormone can cause significant physical dangers in males such as organ failure, cancer, gynecomastia (enlarged breasts due to the breakdown of the testosterone into estradiol, a female sex hormone), genital shrinkage, priaposm (frequent and often painful sustained erections), enlargement of the prostate gland, accelerated balding and increased facial hair, and liver damage, including liver tumors in the form of cysts.
Cardiovascular problems can occur due to the increase in low-density lipoprotein levels (LDL) and the decrease of high-density lipoprotein levels (HDL). In addition to hypertension and negative changes in myocardial tissue, anabolic steroid users are also at an increased risk of heart attack. The reproductive system of the male can change dramatically as well. Reduction in sperm count and mobility, and a decrease in other sex hormones can develop over time of AAS usage.
On top of the physical dangers there are also many psychological dangers such as extreme aggressive behaviors and elevated tempers (“Roid Rage”), depression, potential for dependence (addiction) and even muscle dysmorphia. Muscle dysmorphia is a belief that one’s body is weak and “never big enough”, causing self doubt and decreasing self-esteem (Moore, 2003). Using anabolic steroids during adolescence leads to further complications such as possible stunted growth from the early calcification of the epiphyseal plates of long bones.
And according to Kowalski (1999), a teen even fell into a coma on his prom night after drinking a formula containing an illegal steroid alternative. Despite the fact that the male body creates a fair amount of testosterone on its own, injecting or consuming a surplus of testosterone through the use of anabolic steroids causes significant and severe risks to the health of the user. Females also produce testosterone but in much lower amounts than the male. Females, however, are much more sensitive to the hormone from a behavioral perspective.
Female users of anabolic steroids, like the male user, are also at risk of extreme side effects, and in many cases are actually at more of a risk due to the fact that many of the female’s side effects can become irreversible, such as a deepened voice, an increase in facial and body hair, and an enlarged clitoris. Women users can also feel an increase in libido, aggressiveness, and possibly even a cessation of their menstrual cycle. Acne and a decreased immune system are also prevalent side effects from the use of anabolic steroids.
When compared to males, female anabolic steroid users are at even more of a risk due to the irreversible effects of the drug on their body, both the psychological and physiological changes. Cheating to become a winner at sports and winning at all costs is becoming a common desire amongst young adolescents and children. Social pressures, celebrity role models, and the media are all reasons for the rise in the use of anabolic steroids. The numbers are startling, according to Goldstein (1990), about seven percent of a national sample of 12th grade males reported using or having used anabolic steroids.
He goes on to write about a physical therapist in Philadelphia that once stated, “People think the cocaine issue is big. It’s not as big as anabolic steroids. Among kids, it’s epidemic” (Goldstein, 1990). High school kids want that big athletic scholarship, the beautiful girl, and the fame and popularity of the big time athlete or the big and bad, buff guy in school. Despite the regulations and the policies of many sport leagues, the laws, and the many health risks of the use of anabolic steroids, like cancer and organ failure, their use and profitability continues to dominate the high school hallways and locker rooms.
Kochakian, C. D., (1990). History of Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids. In National Institute on Drug Abuse Research Monograph 102: Anabolic Steroid Abuse (chapter 2, page 29). Retrieved February 12, 2009, from http://www.nida.nih.gov/pdf/monographs/102.pdf Lombardo, J. A., (1990). Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids. In National Institute on Drug Abuse Research Monograph 102: Anabolic Steroid Abuse (chapter 3, page 60). Retrieved February 12, 2009, from http://www.nida.nih.gov/pdf/monographs/102.pdf Goldstein, P. J., (1990). Anabolic Steroids: Ethnographic Approach. In National Institute on Drug Abuse Research Monograph 102: Anabolic Steroid Abuse (chapter 4, page 74). Retrieved February 12, 2009, from http://www.nida.nih.gov/pdf/monographs/102.pdf McCallum, J., (2008). Steroids in America: The Real Dope. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved February 12, 2009, from http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/magazine/03/11/steroids1/?cnn=yes Kowalski, K. (1999, March). Steer clear of steroid abuse. Current Health 2, 25(7), 13. Retrieved March 3, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database. Moore, J.D., (2003). Steroids and the Body. Steroids: Frequent Q & A. Retrieved February 12, 2009, from http://www.johndmoore.net/Steroids.html