Workout Resources: The Dangers of Steroids

Steroids are banned by all competitive sports bodies, including the National Basketball Association, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the Olympics, and Major League Baseball. Despite having positive medical uses, steroid use is considered dangerous, addictive, and unsafe without proper medical supervision. In addition to adverse health effects, the use of steroids is considered a form of cheating because they promote skeletal muscle growth and increase lean body mass, giving competitors an unfair advantage. Athletes in violation of their sport's body's rules, face legal and monetary repercussions.

History of Steroid Use

The proper name of steroids is Androgenic (promoting masculine characteristics) anabolic (building) steroids (the class of drugs), or simply AAS.  Anabolic steroids are substances that mimic male sex hormones in the human body. As early as 1931, scientists were able to isolate these substances. A breakthrough in 1934 by chemist Leopold Ruzicka allowed testosterone to be synthesized from cholesterol. AAS were used in military settings to help underweight soldiers gain weight during WW II. The earliest athletic use in the modern era was by the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc nations for their wrestling teams. U.S. Olympic Team physician Dr. John Ziegler began working with synthetic forms and the use of AAS became widespread among Olympians and professional athletes. It was not until 1975 that the International Olympic Committee formally banned steroid use and in 1988, the first federal regulation of steroids was introduced as part of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. Only a couple of years later, Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Enforcement Act of 1990, which places some anabolic steroids as controlled substances which the Drug Enforcement Agency must try to suppress. Most steroids are now found through illegal, black market activity.

Medical Use

The medical uses of AAS are numerous, and include: treatment of anemia; to control breast cancer in women; to improve weight loss due to severe illness, and to treat osteoporosis and other bone diseases. Those who typically use steroids in conjunction with their doctors use it for the steroid’s ability to stimulate protein anabolism, while those who abuse do so for the drug’s stimulation of secondary male sex characteristics.

Who abuses steroids and how they are taken

AAS may be taken orally, injected, or as skin patches. Injecting tends to be the most common way steroids are taken when administered for non medicinal purposes and at much higher doses. The typical user is young, male and an athlete, looking for an 'edge.' Those physically demanding occupations, like law enforcement, bouncers, or military personnel may use to build strength.

Under the assumption that taking more steroids will yield better results, users typically take many types of steroids in with other drugs, a phenomenon known as “stacking.” Users often take steroids in “cycles” for six to twelve weeks at a time followed by periods where they abstain so they don't become "hooked." However, like other drugs, steroids can produce chemical and psychological dependence, including cravings, difficulty in stopping and withdrawal symptoms.

Adverse effects

The abuse of steroids has many negative, often irreversible, consequences, both physical and psychiatric Some of the most dangerous among these include liver damage and often renal failure; jaundice; fluid retention; high blood pressure; increases in LDL (“bad” cholesterol); and decreases in HDL (“good” cholesterol). Other reported effects include severe acne, and trembling. 

There are a host of psychological effects as well, including mood swings, including anger (in popular jargon 'roid rage), aggression, and depression; delusions and paranoia.

Gender specific effects include:

  • For men—shrinking of the testicles, infertility and reduced sperm count, baldness, breast development, increased risk for prostate cancer.
  • For women—growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, deepened voice

Teens are particularly at risk as steroid use may affect the maturing body in permanent ways and the consequences may be more severe: shortening of final adult height, severe acne, premature balding or hair loss, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, high blood pressure that can damage the blood vessels or heartover time, aching joints, greater chance of injuring muscles and tendons.

Conclusion and other references

Many famous athletes (notably Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez in baseball, and sprinter Marion Jones) have been accused of steroid use, have faced Congressional trials and penalties within their leagues, but the problem is more widespread and use appears to be increasing among high school and college athletes and 'regular Joes.' Scientists hope that by spreading awareness of the potentially long-term and even fatal consequences, these numbers will decrease.