THE LAP ZONE:
"Anabolic Steroids 101"
By Carol P. Waldhauser
Folklore has it that some Egyptian competitors boosted their
self-confidence with the powdered hooves of an ass and that some early Greek
Olympians used herbs and mushrooms as stimulants for endurance. Today, we know
that some individuals abuse anabolic steroids in an effort to enhance performance.
Along with the recent congressional hearings regarding alleged reports of anabolic
steroid abuse, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has initiated a national
multimedia public education initiative designed to alert the public to the
dangers of anabolic steroids. But how much do you know about how and when steroids
became popular and the risks involved in their use?
Ironically, steroids only became popular during and after
World War II, when it was discovered that malnourished people could gain weight
and build themselves up more rapidly if they were given the male sex hormone testosterone.
Accordingly, it appears that the Soviet Union was the first to put this hormone
to use on a wide scale to build up their athletes.
Testosterone has two major types of effects on the developing
man. Androgenic effects are masculinizing actions, examples of which
include initial growth of the penis and other male sex glands, deepening of
the voice and increased facial hair. Testosterone also produces anabolic effects,
which can include (but are not limited to) increased muscle mass, increases
in the size of various internal organs, control of the distribution of body
fat, increased protein synthesis and increased calcium in the bones.
Androgenic vs. Anabolic
In the 1950s, drug companies began to synthesize various steroids that
offered fewer of testosterone’s androgenic effects (masculinizing) while
emphasizing its anabolic effects (such as promoting constructive metabolism
and tissue-building). These are referred to as anabolic steroids. Anabolic
steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone. They can be injected, taken
orally or used transversally.
Anabolic steroids are controlled substances that are used
to medically treat conditions such as body-wasting in patients with AIDS as
well as other diseases that occur when the body produces abnormally low amounts
of testosterone (such as delayed puberty and some types of impotence).
According to Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, “while anabolic steroids can enhance certain
types of performance and/or appearance, they are dangerous drugs and, when
used inappropriately, they can cause a host of severe, long-lasting and often
irreversible negative health consequences.” Ironically, the doses prescribed
to treat most medical conditions are said to be 10- to 100-times lower than
the doses that are abused for performance enhancement.
Concerns about body image and athletic performance may be
leading teens (as well as adult men and women) to use anabolic steroids, despite
the serious side-effects of these drugs. “In December 1999, when our
‘Monitoring the Future’ survey showed that anabolic steroid use
by 8th and 10th graders had increased, and that the perceived risk about steroids
had declined among 12th graders, we knew we had to take steps to reverse this
trend before it gained momentum,” explained Dr. Alan I. Leshner, former
Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
In boys and men, the abuse of anabolic steroids can stunt
the height of growing adolescents, reduce sperm production, shrink the testicles
and cause impotence and irreversible breast-enlargement. In girls and women,
abuse of anabolic steroids can enhance the development of masculine characteristics
such as deepening of the voice and excessive body hair. Research confirms also
that these drugs can lead to premature heart attacks, strokes, liver tumors,
kidney-failure and serious psychiatric problems. Plus, abusers who inject anabolic
steroids risk contracting or transmitting diseases such as HIV or hepatitis.
Abuse of anabolic steroids differs from the abuse of other
illicit substances, mainly because the initial use of anabolic steroids is not driven
by the immediate euphoria that accompanies most drugs of abuse (i.e.,
cocaine, heroin and marijuana). Furthermore, the reported psychological effects
of steroids, including increased aggressiveness and a stimulant-like high,
are considered by some, at the outset, to be “the ultimate” for
increasing the amount of work and the intensity of a training session. But
these very psychological effects can also produce major difficulties, especially
with high doses. For example, one concern is that a psychological dependence
seems to develop in some users who feel well when they are on steroids but
become depressed when they are off them. Because many users take the drugs
in cycles, their mood swings can interfere with their social relationships
and other life functions. Also, there has been a great deal of discussion about
a kind of manic rage that has been reported by some steroid users.
“I’ve seen total personality changes,” explains
Dr. William Taylor, a leading authority on anabolic steroids. “A passive,
low-key guy goes on steroids for muscle enhancement, and the next thing you
know, he’s being arrested for assault or disorderly conduct.”
In summary, anabolic steroids are capable of increasing muscle
mass, strength and endurance, although it has been difficult to separate the
psychological stimulant-like effect of these drugs from the physical effects
on the muscles themselves. Anabolic steroids can produce a variety of dangerous
and sometimes irreversible side effects. To learn more about steroids, visit www.antibully.org.uk/drsport.htm or
www.ida.nih.gov/about/welcome/Message Steroids305.html. If you or someone you
know needs help with this or other issues that affect quality of life or quality
of work, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.