- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
Steroids in Sports
To excel in athletic competition is an admirable goal. Most high school, college, amateur and professional athletes participate in sports for the opportunity to pit their abilities against those of their peers, and to experience the satisfaction that comes from playing to their potential.
Others do so to satisfy a desire for recognition and fame. Unfortunately, this latter group includes some athletes who are determined to win at any cost. And, they may use that determination to justify the use of steroids, despite evidence that these drugs can inflict irreversible physical harm and have significant side effects.
Athletes use steroids in believing that steroids can improve competitiveness and performance, uninformed or misguided athletes, sometimes encouraged by coaches or parents, use these drugs to build lean muscle mass, promote aggressiveness, and increase body weight. Some athletes frequently take two or more steroids together, mixing oral and/or inject able types, and sometimes adding other drugs, such as stimulants or painkillers. This is called "stacking." The athlete believes that different drugs will produce greater muscle size than by using just one drug. What they don't know, or choose to ignore, is the damage steroids can cause.
Steroids were first developed in the 1930's. The Germans first experimented on dogs then on their own soldiers in the Second World War, as well as used them on their prisoners to help them stay healthy because they suffered from significant malnutrition. Then in the 1950's many Russian and European athletes began to find that steroids were very beneficial to their goals and soon after began dominating the sport of power lifting, crushing previous world records (Charlie Francis).
Steroids in baseball
The question of steroid use in baseball has been an ongoing issue for Major League Baseball since the mid 1990s and into the 21st century. Steroids are performance-enhancing drugs which have been banned from baseball. While rumors of drug use by players have persisted for years, the controversy over steroids has grown considerably due to the drastic rise in home runs since 1995. During this time Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds have all surpassed the home run record set by Roger Maris - whose 61 homers in 1961 had not been challenged in over 30 years.
In a 2002 interview with ESPN's Dan Patrick, baseball author and commentator Bob Costas referred to 1994-present as the "Steroids Era", noting that while there had been only eighteen 50+ home run seasons in Major League Baseball to that point, there have been nineteen since the 1995 season. While there are many theories to explain the dramatic increase in home runs, including the "juiced ball" theory, the replacement of many pitcher-friendly or neutral parks with more hitter-friendly venues, and dilution of the pitching ranks via expansion — drug use, especially steroids, is most commonly named as a primary reason (Dan Patrick , 2002)
On February 17, 2003, Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler collapsed and died on the practice field at spring training of heat stroke. The medical examiner ruled that the over-the-counter drug Ephedra played a significant role in Bechler's death. One week later, Bud Selig banned all players with minor league contracts from using Ephedra. Major League players were not held to the same rules. Former player Ken Caminiti, the 1996 National League MVP, detailed the health consequences he suffered as a result of his steroid use, telling Sports Illustrated that "his testicles shrank and retracted; doctors found his body had virtually stopped producing its own testosterone and that his level of the hormone had fallen to 20% of normal." Caminiti would later die as a direct result of substance abuse (SF Chronicle, 2005).
Steroids in Football
Steroid policy in football and the NFL as we know it began in 1987. But to understand the use of steroids in football, first we need to take a look at the emerging trends in the high school and collegiate ranks. So what´s going on in high school? Well, if we look at an examination of the heights and weights of members of the annual Parade Magazine´s High School All-American Football Teams from 1963-1971, we see no significant changes in the Body Mass Index of these elite high-school athletes. Now, if we take another look and examine those same players´ heights and weights but this time we compare 1972-1989, we see a clear trend towards an increased pattern in Body Mass Index. These are interesting results, to say the least. If we take a look at an elite collegiate program such as Michigan State University, we see this trend again. In 1975, their average player weighed 213lbs, and by 2005 that weight had jumped to 236lbs (Bill Romanowski, 2005).
With regards to football, it would seem that current educational efforts are not working well, either. At the high school level education about steroids was studied on six different. Two football teams received a lecture on steroids and a four-page handout, two of them were given just the handout, and two teams were controls (and didn't receive any education on steroids). Also, at this level of football, the incidence of self-report of current steroid use was 1.1%. After the education was given to the athletes, focusing of the adverse effects possible with anabolic steroid use, no differences in their attitudes toward the use of anabolic steroids occurred as compared to controls, at all. So that's the starting point we have to look at anabolic use in professional football. Education, in its current form isn't changing the attitudes of high-school players, and at the elite level of high-school and college, the players are getting significantly bigger. So what does the landscape of professional football look like? In a story that is very similar to its roots in high school and collegiate football, NFL linemen are weighing well over 300lbs on average today. Roughly 25 years ago, they weighed over fifty pounds less, on average.
The nonmedical use of anabolic/androgenic steroids among adolescents and young adults is of growing concern. Teenagers under age 18 may be abusing these drugs to improve athletic performance, appearance and self-image. Anabolic steroids can halt growth prematurely in adolescents. Because even small doses can irreversibly affect growth, steroids are rarely prescribed for children and young adults, and only for the severely ill. Data gathered by researchers and doctors showed interpretive evidence that preteens and teens taking steroids may be at risk for developing a dependence on these drugs and on other substances as well.
Evidence that mega doses of steroids can affect the brain and produce mental changes in users poses serious questions about possible addiction to the drugs. While investigations continue, researchers have found that long-term steroids users do experience many of the characteristics of classic addiction: cravings, difficulty in ceasing steroids use and withdrawal symptoms. Adolescent users display a primary characteristic of addicts-denial. They tend to overlook or simply ignore the physical dangers and moral implications of taking illegal substances. Some athletes who "bulk up" on anabolic steroids are unaware of body changes that are obvious to others, experiencing what is sometimes called reverse anorexia.
Steroid users can spend lots of time and money trying to get the drugs. And once users stop taking steroids, they're at risk of developing irritability, paranoia, and severe depression, which may lead to suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide. Some of the long-term effects of steroids may not show up for many years. People who use steroids also appear to be at higher risk for using other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine.
Treatment programs for steroids abusers are just now being developed as more is learned about the habit. Medical specialists do find persuasion is an important weapon in getting the user off the drug. They attempt to present medical evidence of the damage anabolic steroids can do to the body. One specialist notes that medical tests, such as those that show a lowered sperm count, can motivate male athletes to cease usage.
One health clinic considers the anabolic steroids habit as an addiction and develops treatment around the techniques used in traditional substance abuse programs. It focuses on acute intervention and a long-term follow-up, introducing nonsteroids alternatives that will maintain body fitness as well as self-esteem.
Prevention is the best solution to stop the growing abuse of steroids. The time to educate youngsters is before they become users. Efforts must not stop there, however. Current users, as well as coaches, trainers, parents, and doctors need to know about the hazards of steroids. The young need to understand that they are not immortal and that the drugs can harm them. An education campaign must also address the problem of covert approval by some members of the medical and athletic communities that encourages steroids use.
The only things that work to discourage doping are testing and penalties. You can talk about personal responsibility until you're blue in the face, but to stop steroid use, testing is necessary. Cocaine and steroids have ceased to be big problems in professional football because of testing. In most other professional sports, the inmates are running the asylum. There is no effective testing, and the penalties are pitiful. If Congress pushes this issue, and if professional sports and unions stop obstructing, and if some of the professionals get busted, we may get somewhere (Michael Dillingham).
So where does that leave us? Well certainly, the world of sports has embraced the use of steroids, or at least the athletes have... the use of steroids in sports is certainly visible but not as widespread as thought. It is not the problem that it is often made out to be, and it is not a problem that is easily defined or to put a number on. Statistically, it is a very elusive topic, and sources often present conflicting data. But one thing remains true, regardless of statistics, Congressional hearings, or admissions of guilt. Although some athletes still compete for the love of the game, prestige often accompanies success. And today, just as two millennia ago, athletes often find the opportunity to compete for both prestige as well as money. And that is why they sought out performance enhancers in the ancient Olympic Games, and that's why athletes are using steroids in sports today.