What Are Steroids?

Health, Home & Family, Outdoors, People, Sports
on September 28, 2011

Steroid scandals have rocked the world of sports. Heroic accomplishments are met with cynicism. Championship legitimacy is questioned. Victories are not official until the post-race drug test. What's more, the rampant use of steroids has trickled down from the professional ranks and onto college and high school campuses as athletes attempt to jump higher, run faster and hit harder. What these young athletes fail to take into account are the negative effects of steroids — effects that can be deadly.

What are steroids? The United States Justice Department describes steroids as a "popular name for synthetic (man-made) substances related to the male sex hormones [that] promote muscle growth and the development of male sexual characteristics." Steroids can be obtained legally only through a prescription and are used in treating delayed puberty, types of impotence and body wasting in AIDS patients. They also can be obtained illegally and often are used by athletes looking for enhanced performance or improved appearance. Steroids take the form of pills, tablets, cream and injections.

Who abuses steroids? The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that hundreds of thousands of individuals over the age of 18 abuse steroids. Abusers generally take 10 to 100 times the amount that is normally prescribed medically. Although steroid abuse is much more prevalent among men, recent scandals implicating famous female athletes demonstrate the steroid epidemic is not confined to men only. Abuse among high school students is also on the rise. A U.S. government report on teenage drug abuse shows that 2 percent of high school seniors have taken steroids. More than half of those who have tried steroids had done so in the month prior.

What are the risks? The promises of bulging muscles and improved athletic performance attract many athletes to steroids. The risks, however, are not so attractive. Side effects include liver tumors and cancer, jaundice, high blood pressure, increases in cholesterol levels, kidney tumors, fluid retention and severe acne. Men may experience testicle shrinking, reduction in sperm count, breast development and increased risk of prostate cancer. Women may experience growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, changes or cessation in menstrual cycle, and deepening of the voice. Normal growth may stop in adolescents who take steroids. In addition to physical complications, steroid use can lead to emotional problems, including dramatic mood swings such as "roid rage," depression, paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions and impaired judgment.