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Anabolic Steroid Use in Professional and Collegiate Sports Essay

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Updated: Mar 15th, 2022

From ancient times people competed with each other, they tried to be the best in hunting, fighting, running, jumping, throwing, etc. Of course, people used all the ways available to increase their physical performances. Ancient warriors ate different substances to become stronger and defeat their enemies. The history of different sports and competitions goes hand in hand with development of different substances increasing athletes’ performances, now called “doping”. Nothing has changed dramatically since then: athletes try to win with the help of training and drugs, though, now people try to restrict the uncontrolled use of such drugs in sport. Now scientists alert that using steroids in sport or everyday life is not only unfair but it is also dangerous for health of athletes, or other steroids users and people who surround them (Taylor 10). To understand the essence and danger of anabolic steroids use in sport it is necessary to consider the history of doping in sport, the history of anabolic steroids extraction and its major impacts on people health, and the present situation with steroids in sport.

Thus, some people consider that the history of doping starts in Eden Garden, when the first people, Adam and Eve, “ate the forbidden fruit to gain godlike powers” (Bahrke & Yesalis 2). People from ancient times used stimulants, for instance, Africans used Cola to improve their running skills; the Samoyeds ate fly-agaric (a mushroom) to increase their “combativeness”; Indians of Peru “drunk coca tea to increase endurance” (Bahrke & Yesalis 3). Ancient Greeks ate “hallucinogenic mushrooms and sesame seeds to enhance performance”, and Roman gladiators used “unspecified stimulants to overcome fatigue and injury” (Bahrke & Yesalis 2).

In the 19th century athletes heavily used different stimulants, moreover, it was not forbidden and no restrictions were cast. Athletes and their trainers practiced different methods to improve their physical performances via numerous stimulants. Thus, boxers of that period “used strychnine tablets and mixtures of brandy and cocaine” (Bahrke & Yesalis 3). The cyclists of the 19th century used caffeine, with “increasing doses of cocaine and strychnine” (Bahrke & Yesalis 3). In fact, it cannot be surprising, since late 19the century could be characterized by different anti-human competitions. For example, in 1879 “Six Day” bicycle races” were held, “each race proceeding continuously, day and night, for 144 hours” (Bahrke & Yesalis 3). Of course, athletes tried to win and often overdosed and died. But these deaths did not prevent athletes from trying new stimulants, and scientific discoveries of steroids in the early 20th century only contributed to doping use in sport.

Discovery of anabolic steroids is preceded by scientific discovery of endocrine function in human organism and its impact on human body. Only in 1849 scientists became aware of the endocrine function due to Berthold’s “experiments and interpretation of the results” which are regarded as “anticipation of the fundamentals of endocrinology” (Yesalis 18).

However, the impact of testis on males’ body was noticed far before this time. Thus, “Neolithic peoples of Asia Minor practiced castration” in 4000 B.C. for animals domestication “for work and meat production” (Yesalis 18). Later “the practice of castration of humans” was introduced, probably by Babylonians in 2000 B.C., then spread to India (approximately 1500 B.C.), Egypt (1200 B.C.), China (1122 B.C.) and was also practiced by Christian church for maintaining choir boys’ soprano voices (Yesalis 18). Interestingly, ancient Greeks and Romans did not practice castrations, “probably because of their emphases on physical culture and the Olympic games” (Yesalis 19).

And there are records that already in 2 century B.C. in India “ingestion of testis tissue” was recommended “for the cure of impotence” (Yesalis 19). In 1889 Brown-Sequard, a French physician, “reported that aqueous extracts of animal testes injected into other animals (e.g., dogs) and even into himself” provided significant improvements in “general health, muscular strength, appetite, regulation of the intestinal tract, and mental faculties” (Yesalis 19). Scientist started researches in this area. In the early 1920 such studies continued, scientists transplanted testes from animals to human, which provided really astonishing results of health improvements and rejuvenation. However, soon scientists discovered that rejuvenation effect was not lasting and such operations soon produced reverse effect of fast aging, thus, such operations were not conducted since.

However, researches in this field continued, and soon scientists succeeded in obtaining the extract from testis which produced positive results and proved that “the secretion of the testis (testosterone) not only regulated the development of the secondary male characteristics … but also had a general anabolic effect” (Yesalis 26). First scientists assumed that the effect produced by testis must be caused by discharge of some substance into blood, than scientist assumed that this substance is cleared from blood by kidneys, and, thus, can be found in urine. Soon scientists succeeded in extraction procedures and obtained concentrates which were regarded as “male hormone” (Yesalis 21). Then researchers discovered that testosterone could be “oxidized or reduced” to 600 other steroids (Yesalis 21). Thus, later testosterone molecules were further synthesized and isolated and, finally anabolic steroids were obtained. These steroids were praised for their ability to cause tissue growth and other positive effects on the body.

Ironically, anabolic steroids were designated to treat people who suffered from such diseases as “osteoporosis, severe burns, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), andropause, menopause, dementia, cancer, systematic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and other disabling conditions” (Taylor 5). For more than 40 years these steroids were used to help people “whose health was declining” (Taylor 5), though, now medics do not prescribe anabolic steroids despite their strong positive effects. On the contrary, these steroids became a tool for building one’s “strong and beautiful” body for athletes and average people.

The first “recorded case of an “athlete” who took testosterone was “a gelding trotter named Holloway”, and this 19-year-old horse won several competitions in the early 1940s (Bahrke & Yesalis 5). Later in 1950s anabolic steroids became very popular in body building, and it is necessary to add that these drugs are heavily used in this kind of sport nowadays as well.

Anabolic steroids became popular in professional sport in the early 1950s due to the high sport achievements of Soviet weightlifters that, reportedly, used these drugs (Bahrke & Yesalis 5). This high physical performance of Soviet sportsmen “inspired” other athletes, among them was an American athlete Ken Patera, who won Pan American games in 1971. Patera also used to say he was eager to meet Soviet weightlifter Vasily Alexeyev during Munich Olympic Games in 1972 and prove his superiority:

Last year the only difference between me and him was I couldn’t afford his drug bill. Now I can. When I hit Munich I’ll weigh in at about 340, or maybe 350. Then we’ll see which are better, his steroids or mine. (qtd. in Yesalis 55)

Extensive use of different stimulants in cycling sport in the late 1950s led to several sportsmen’s deaths, which in its turn caused the launch of the doping tests in athletes. Now cycling sport can be also characterized by excessive use of doping, thus, Daniel Delegove, who was the judge during the doping trial of French cycler Richard Virenque, resumed, “These are not racers, they are pedaling test tubes” (qtd. in Bahrke & Yesalis 7). When anabolic steroids became widely known stimulants, other athletes from different kinds of sport started using them. For instance, in the late 1960s anabolic steroids became very popular in professional football, and in 1970s these steroids entered professional baseball (Bahrke & Yesalis 12).

Despite increasing use of steroids in different sports doping tests were alleged only in the late 1970s. The results of these tests showed that the majority of winning athletes used stimulants, among which anabolic steroids were the most popular. For instance, Dr. Waddel, a decathlete, considered that “one-third of the entire U.S. track-and-field team” had taken steroids “at the 1968 pre-Olympic training camp”; though, it is necessary to point out that at that time the ban was not launched then (Yesalis 54). Thus, after 1980 Olympic Games Dr. Manfred Donike, held retroactively an assay of all athletes urine tests and he found that 20% of all the athletes “would have tested positive”, moreover, “this group included 16 gold medalists” (Bahrke & Yesalis 8). 2000 Summer Olympic Games were even defined as “Dirty Games” because of “the ongoing epidemic of drug use in Olympic sport” (Bahrke & Yesalis 8).

In 1960s anabolic steroids came into collegiate sport. The history of these steroids use in collegiate sport can be illustrated by doping in football. Thus, many sportsmen reported that they were given (often it was secretly) anabolic steroids by their physicians. Despite increasing of the use of steroids doping tests were launched only in 1986 (Bahrke & Yesalis 13). Those tests revealed quite threatening results proving that many college and University athletes used steroids and other stimulants. Among all those institutions the University of Nebraska was distinguished for the widespread use of steroids, moreover, one of the reports estimated steroids use at Nebraska “on the 1983 and 1984 teams to be as high as 85%” (Bahrke & Yesalis 14). It is important to add that the 1990s were the peak of anabolic steroids use, especially in adolescents; thus, in 1988 National Collegiate Athletic Association held doping test in football players of 25 colleges and this test showed that approximately one-third of the sportsmen used anabolic steroids (Taylor 7). However, according to Bahrke and Yesalis now there is a decrease in steroid use in collegiate sport, which can be caused by a lot of factors, such as increasing of effective doping tests and the fact that “admitting to steroid use poses a potential threat to the athlete’s scholarship and future livelihood” (Bahrke & Yesalis 14). It is necessary to admit that not all the researches are so optimistic about the decline in anabolic steroids use among adolescents. For instance, Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness reports that there is no “significant and consistent decline in use” of anabolic steroids among young athletes (“Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids” 906).

Thus, it is obvious that anabolic steroids are still heavily used in professional and collegiate sport. Apart from ethical issue these drugs evoke other concerns about their negative impact on people’s health. It is true that these drugs increase tissue building and improve physical performances in athletes, though, uncontrolled use of these substances without medical observation do cause “a complex drug addiction, “steroid charisma” effects” (Taylor 101). The use of these steroids without certain medical necessity (for enhancing sport performances only or “looking good”) can also cause such mental disorders as “steroid psychosis, violent behavior, sexually violent behavior, withdrawal depression, suicidal behavior, mania, hypomania, and probable chronic brain neurochemistry alterations” (Taylor 101). The abuse of anabolic steroids can also result in some deviations and alternations in user’s character, for example, these drugs may lead to development of narcissism in steroids users (Taylor 101).

Many researchers insist that steroid abuse in adolescent can lead to even graver problems with adolescent users. For example, a lot surveys prove that anabolic steroids cause such diseases as peliosis hepatis, cholestasis; impotence, gynecomastia, prostatic carcinoma (in male), breast atrophy and amenorrhea (in female); “early closure of physes in children (shorter adult height)”; “decreased glucose tolerance”; “increased blood pressure” and “increased cholesterol” (“Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids” 906). Adolescent users of anabolic steroids can also experience such disorders as “irritability, aggressiveness, euphoria, depression, mood swings, altered libido” (“Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids” 905). Researchers also stress that “acute anabolic steroid withdrawal” may cause “anxiety, insomnia, hot flashes, sweats, chills, anorexia, myalgia, nausea, vomiting, piloerection, tachycardia, and hypertension” (“Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids” 905). Thus, adolescent users of anabolic steroids are more subjected to physical and mental disorder caused by these drugs and the “acute withdrawal” of steroid can be quite painful and sometimes dangerous. Despite all these vivid dangers adolescent start and continue using steroids. This happens because of their desire to seem cool and handsome (or beautiful for females), and because adolescents follow the examples of their peers or older users, who show quite apparent “positive” result of steroids use (Taylor 8).

Apart from grave consequences of anabolic steroids abuse these drugs users can face much more dangerous threats for their health, since the quality of the anabolic steroids, in the majority of cases, is very doubtful. Very often steroids users in professional and collegiate sport obtain their steroids in the black market. And very often such steroids are produced in illegal laboratories where producers can deviate somehow the process of anabolic steroids production, using substances of poor quality. Moreover, frequently steroids users consult black market dealers about the dosage and other issues connected with steroids use, apart from this non-professional help there are several handbooks which suggest different ways of obtaining great results via anabolic steroids and diminish the negative effects of these drugs with the help of other drugs (Taylor 100). Reportedly, such “polydrug use can be very complex, sophisticated, and dangerous and can lead to addiction of other drugs” (Taylor 100). The situation is aggravated by the fact that these drugs are easy to obtain in the black market or even via internet (Taylor 100). It is also necessary to point out that several surveys showed that anabolic steroids users also are heavy users of “tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, sedatives, hallucinogens, opiates, inhalants, and designer drugs such as ecstasy and gama-hydroxybutyrate” (Taylor 100). This increases the threat of different infections, such as Hepatitis B or C and AID virus, since very often drug users share their syringe (“Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids” 906).

It is due to all these negative effects that there are a lot of doping test, anti-doping programs in professional and collegiate sport. Thus, when athletes of professional sport are found to take anabolic steroids or other stimulants get disqualified for some period of time and are deprived of their medals and other regalia. Particularly strict doping control is implemented in Olympics. Of course, these anti-doping programs in sport are more concerned with the ethic facet of the issue, these committees are mainly against unfairness of the results, since people think that sport (especially Olympics) are competitions of human strength, speed and adroitness, but not the effectiveness of pharmacological substances. Also there are many surveys, researches, books which consider the problems of anabolic steroids use. Though, there are people and committees, however, which are concerned with the problem of steroids abuse, especially in adolescents. Thus, there are many education programs, which are aimed at providing people with accurate information about anabolic steroids and other drugs use, though, many researchers believe that these programs are not enough, more attention should be paid to the problem and “health care providers are obligated to provide guidance for those who seek advice” (“Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids” 906).

Unfortunately, these programs and such medical initiations can fail, since not only athletes but also their coaches and trainers consider steroids use to be necessary for good physical performances. Reportedly, sport federation officials also either “deny that a major doping problem exists” or “at least downplayed its magnitude” (Bahrke & Yesalis 15). A lot of reports prove that “in the rush for gold, governments, coaches, or trainers have often turned a blind eye or have actively supported the use” of anabolic steroids and other stimulants for enhancing physical performances (Bahrke & Yesalis 15).

Thus, after thousands of years of peoples’ using different stimulants, 20th century brought some new pharmacological opportunities for nowadays athletes. After the anabolic steroids were synthesized in 1920s, sportsmen world-wide started using them to improve their physical performances and achieve the best results. Now the use of many steroids is banned for sportsmen and is not recommended for use without strict necessity defined by medics. These bans in sport are mostly implemented due to the moral part of the issue, though another “dark side” of these steroids exists. The excessive and medically unjustified use of anabolic steroids causes different diseases associated with endocrine, cardiovascular, reproductive and other functions of human body. These steroids may also lead to steroid and other drugs abuse; moreover, they may cause different mental disorders. Especially, the negative impact of steroid use is dangerous for adolescent users who also subjected to the use of steroids for sport and fitness. Despite all these threats and bans, people continue using steroids risking their health and sometimes their lives. Many researchers of the problem find the solving of the problem in continuous and substantial education among sportsmen, students and schoolchildren about the nature of steroids and the negative consequences of these steroids excessive use.

Works Cited

“Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids: A Subject Review.” Pediatrics 99.6 (1997): 904-908.

Bahrke, Michael S. and Yesalis, Charles. Performance-Enhancing Substances in Sport and Exercise. Human Kinetics, 2002.

Taylor, William N. Anabolic Steroids and the Athlete. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002.

Yesalis, Charles. Anabolic Steroids in Sport and Exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2000.

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