Steroids are a class of naturally occurring or synthetic compounds that can serve as “sex hormones, adrenal cortical hormones, bile acids, sterols, anabolic agents, and oral contraceptives” (Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2007). Although steroids do have important functions in our body, it is often abused by people who want to develop muscles (like bodybuilders) and those who want to enhance their endurance during physical performance (like athletes). This is because synthetically-produced steroids (anabolic steroids) mimic testosterone, a male hormone that is responsible in building tissues, strengthening bone and speeding up the repair of frayed muscles. However, prolonged use of steroids has been proven to cause severe health hazards. Overuse of steroids can lead to liver cancer, weakened kidneys, prostate problems and increased risk of ruptured tendons. Not only that, steroid use could also trigger acne and hair loss, as well as gender-specific problems like shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count and the growth of breasts in men; the growth of body hair, deeper voice and menstrual problems in women. Moreover, steroids can also cause altered moods, depression and “roid rage” (severe aggression), hallucinations, paranoia and anxiety. In adolescents, steroids can even stunt growth by signaling the body to stop growing (Lenehan 2003, 31-58).
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Since the 1950s, concerns have been raised about the increasing numbers of athletes who have used steroids to increase muscle mass, strength and power. Steroids act by enhancing the body’s use of protein, enabling the muscles to recover more quickly, the athlete can train longer and harder. At present, steroids can be taken orally, injected or applied to the body in a cream or gel. In medical disorders for which they are prescribed, dosages are within the normal range recommended by the drug manufacturer. For medical purposes, steroids are used to treat anemia, epilepsy and even to reverse muscle loss and decline of lean body mass in AIDS patients (Mulligan et al., 1999). In steroid misuse, it is not uncommon for the dosages to be much greater. The amount of androgen (testosterone) produced naturally by male testes is 4-10 mg/day. Choi et al. (1989) reported that some individuals administer 100 mg/day. Several steroids may be taken simultaneously, again at high doses – this is known as “stacking”.
Steroid use can eventually lead to addiction that often lead to a variety of life-threatening side effects, including higher blood pressure, less favorable blood-fat ratios, higher cholesterol levels, and increased risk of heart attack and liver cancer. Doweiko (1993) presented evidence that many long-term steroid users develop a steroid addiction or dependence. Loss of control over the amount of steroids used, preoccupation with continued use, development of tolerance, and the use of steroids to avoid or control withdrawal symptoms are part of anabolic steroid dependence.
Serious psychiatric risks have also been associated with steroid use. Users typically display elation; overestimation of their capacities; irritability; and hyperactivity or recklessness in their driving, spending, or sexual habits. These behaviors are common symptoms of abnormal state of euphoria beyond normal happiness, joy, and pleasure (Pope and Katz 1991, p. 8). Another symptom sometimes reported is heightened, inappropriate aggressiveness, the so-called “roid rage.” Displayed not only during use, but also as part of the withdrawal process, roid rage may also include major psychological depression, irritability, and antisocial behavior. Aggression, psychotic episodes, mania and violence (physical assault, attempted murder and murder) could all be linked to non-medical steroid misuse (Pope and Katz, 1998).
Steroid use in athletic events would be one form of cheating; this is why the International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires athletes to undergo drug tests. The first official tests for anabolic steroids were carried out at the Montreal Olympic Games in Canada in 1976 (Hatton and Catlin, 1987). In part, sport fans may be encouraging this type of drug abuse by expecting perfection of athletes. Many fans tend to value winning—often at any cost—more than honest competition. They will frequently “boo” the loser and cheer loudly when a player “draws blood” from a competitor. One of the most controversial doping incidents occurred in 1988 at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Canadian runner Ben Johnson unleashed a thunderous display of raw power in the 100-meter finals, winning the gold medal with ease against the world’s best sprinters, including American Carl Lewis, who finished second. Despite slowing down near the finish line, Johnson set a world record of 9.79 seconds. Lewis’ drug test revealed the presence of stanozolol, a synthetic form of testosterone frequently used because it leaves the body more quickly than other forms. Johnson’s manager claimed that the sprinter had been given a bottle of Gatorade spiked with steroids during the competition. Olympic officials rejected that flimsy explanation, saying that the test clearly indicated long-term use (Nuwer 1994, p. 60-62). Johnson lost his gold medal, his world record, and the respect of millions of fans. After his suspension and reinstatement, he tested positive for steroid use again in 1993.
Because of the proven health hazards caused by steroids, the U.S. Congress regulated steroids in 1988 via the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. This legislation had made it a crime to distribute steroids for non-medical reasons. Moreover, Congress passed the Anabolic Steroids Control Act in 1990, which determined anabolic steroids as a “controlled substance”, making it illegal to take them for non-medical purposes. Yet, anabolic steroids are still being distributed into the U.S. via the “black market” that even middle school and high school children have been reported to have used it. This is triggered by their concerns about body image and athletic performance that pushes young people to use these substances despite their serious side effects. Worse, young athletes are being encouraged by social pressure and their own desire to excel, even their coaches prod them to put on muscle and build strength and endurance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that steroid use by eighth, tenth and twelfth graders have been constantly increasing and they even underestimate the health risks involved in steroid use. The survey revealed that “2.7% of eighth- and tenth-graders and 2.9% of twelfth-graders admitted they had taken steroids at least once—a significant increase since 1991”. More studies have exposed that “as many as 6% of high school students have used steroids”. These statistics are alarming because these students will not admit that they taking drugs (Ungerleider 2005, p. 56). Worse, even veterinary products are sometimes used like Ttokkyo, which is manufactured a veterinary steroids commonly used to hasten the growth of beef cattle (Dohrmann and Llosa, 24 April 2006).
Indeed, steroids can lead to numerous health hazards that would be fatal if no intervention is undertaken to mitigate its damaging effect on the human body. The U.S. government should do something to stop the illegal acquisition of steroids among the people because it can pose a terrible threat among young people. If used in sports, it also can ruin the integrity of sports and taint records set by athletes who essentially cheated using these performance-enhancing drugs.
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