Anabolic steroids, technically known as anabolic-androgenic steroids, are regarded as prescription-only synthetic substance medications that possess the ability to mimic the effects of the male hormone testosterone. They increase muscle mass and stimulate protein-production, and are popularly used by athletes, weightlifters and martial artists to enhance performance. All usage of anabolic steroids that are not prescribed by a licensed physician is more properly defined as ‘Steroid Abuse’. The reason for this is clear – Steroids are hormones that are powerful and at the same time can be dangerous. Steroids, as water-based and oil-based injectable solutions, tablets, sublingual tablets, capsules, liquid drops, sub dermal implant pellets, creams or gels are administered unlawfully on many occasions.
Abusers tend to administer the products either orally, intramuscularly or topically (applied on to the skin). The dosage may be 10 to 100 times higher than the approved medical treatment doses. General users typically take at least two anabolic steroids simultaneously in a cyclic manner. They believe this is far more effective, and the risk of side effects is minimal. Some
athletes, both male and female, consume anabolic steroids due to their immediate effect.
Anabolic steroids, like any other illegal drug, can be quickly addictive. In the beginning, persons indulge in a mythical consumption that taking steroids promotes health and strength. Gradually, it turns into a dangerous habit. Addicts usually refer to steroids by slang names such as – Gym Candy, Stackers, Pumpers and Juice.
Factors Leading to Steroid Abuse
(i) Desire to improve appearance
(ii) Craving to enhance performance by athletes and bodybuilders
(iii) Used by adolescents to help in their sports activitiesM
(iv) More prevelant among adolescents who exhibit risky behaviour viz. drinking and driving.
Facts related to steroid Abuse
(i) More prevalent among males than females
(ii) Among adolescents, most commonly abused by 0.5% of 8th graders, 1% of 10th graders, and 1.5% of 12th graders at least once in a year.
(iii) Preferably abused by most people to enhance physical strength and appearance.
(iv) Promulgate a sense of euphoria and heightened self-esteem.
(v) Most commonly abused among persons of the age group 18 – 20 years.
(vi) Abusers tend to be mostly middle class heterosexual individuals.
(vii) The rate of steroid abuse among bodybuilders is comparatively higher than other persons involved in sports.
Effects of Steroid Abuse
Anabolic steroids do possess certain legitimate medical uses and may be prescribed by doctors to people suffering from cases of anemia or low production of testosterone, low count of red blood cells, delayed puberty etc.
At first, on consuming them, the human builds a certain kind of tolerance, consequently leading to a deep craving for more and more in order to get better results. There grows a tendency among young adults to become dependent without even being aware of it. Slowly this dependency makes them require progressively larger doses, despite facing certain physical problems. At this stage if a person tries to give up, he/she faces withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, anorexia, depression etc. Abusers face certain health risks and potentially harmful effects, some of which are listed below:
(i) Prolonged use of steroids can cause advancement and fusion of the epiphysis (growth plates in the bones), thereby resulting in stunted growth.
(ii) Some anabolic steroids can change into variants of dihydrotestosterone, the obvious cause of hair loss, and in some cases, male pattern baldness.
(iii) Steroids also bring about fluctuations in the desired amount of cholesterol levels, thereby giving rise to chances of heart strokes, atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular abnormalities.
(iv) Administering steroids tends to shun the need of the body’s natural testosterone. Therefore the body ceases the production of its own supply of testosterone and causes the shrinking of testicles. This condition is known as Hypogonadism.
(v) The ability of steroids to heighten the red blood cell count and hematocrit levels in the body brings about a significant raise in the blood pressure levels.
(vi) Steroid abuse also causes abnormalities such as prostate enlargement (leading to prostate cancer) and gynecomastia (development of breasts in men).
(vii) Women who abuse steroids may experience irreversible clitoral hypertrophy and deepening of the voice.
(viii) Some steroids cause sexual dysfunction and infertility in both men and women.
(ix) Liver toxicity leading to damage and hepatitis may be one of the worst effects of steroid abuse.
(x) Steroid abusers often undergo the risk of contracting HIV, ultimately leading to death.
(xi) Steroid abusers tend to become forgetful and distractive. At times, they are even unaware of their confused or bizarre behaviour.
(xii) Once addicted, the user or rather abuser will often experience hallucinations and delusions, resulting in instability in familial and social relationships.
Prevention of Steroid Abuse
People often tend to overlook the lethal effects of steroids in their quest for increased stamina and enhanced looks. This makes the implications shift from steroid use to steroid abuse.
In the recent times, many international organizations have endeavoured to prevent steroid abuse especially among high school athletes. Basically, these organizations work to create awareness among students. This is done by:
(i) Directing debates by coaches and young sports team leaders
(ii) Enlightening students about the harmful aspects of anabolic steroid usage
(iii) Reuniting students in discussion tables
(iv) Training students and motivating them to deny drug offers in streets and gyms
(v) Making youngsters aware of the natural way of building up stamina and good health without the use of steroids.
(vi) Encouraging proper health habits among students. These may include – the importance of proper sleep, good food habits, correct training routines etc.
Besides, the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) is motivating nations to create their own internal agencies that will promote sportsmanship and the right competitive spirit among their sportsmen.
Moreover, many countries have issued strict laws and regulations to combat the illegal trade of steroids. Many professional sports organizations have jointly agreed that use of anabolic steroids must be totally banned in all sports events. Research studies have revealed that through the untiring efforts of such agencies and organizations, steroid abuse among young athletes has been lowered by as much as 50%.