Steroids And Athletes Essay

What kind of role model is Mark McGwire? Many people are familiar with his
seventy homeruns in one season, but do they know that he has been using
androstenedione, a type of steroid that boosts testosterone levels? While it is
perfectly legal in the United States and in the major leagues, it sends the
wrong health message to athletes of every age. If young adults take
androstenedione, or any other steroid, they may regret it for the rest of their
lives. Artificially high levels of testosterone have been shown to permanently
damage the heart, trigger liver failure, and stunt a teenager’s growth (Gorman
21-22). All are too great of a price for any sport. What it all comes down to is
that we need to educate both ourselves and all intercollegiate athletes about
the risks involved with steroid use. Anabolic-androgenic steroids are chemical
derivatives of the male sex hormones. Anabolic refers to the constructive or
building-up process of the body’s metabolism. Androgen refers to male-life or
masculinizing characteristics. There are also two other types of steroids:
estrogenic or corticosteroids. Estrogenic steroids produce female or feminizing
characteristics, and corticosteroids originate in the cortex of the adrenal
glands and have a shrinking effect. The latter is used to treat tissue stress,
reduce inflammation, and to ease pain (Ringhofer 174). Users take steroids in
cycles lasting six to twelve weeks or more. Stacking, or the use of more than
one type of steroid, helps to maximize strength gains, minimize side effects,
and avoid detection. To build size, strength, and speed, athletes often use 10
to 100 times the medical dosage (Yesalis xxv). Anabolic-androgens can be taken
either by mouth, by injection, or, more recently, by skin creams or patches
(Cowart 25). The two main reasons that athletes use steroids are to improve
athletic performance and to improve their appearance. In 1985, Anderson and
McKeag did the first study of college athletes correlated with steroid use. They
interviewed 2039 male and female athletes and discovered much new information.

Nine percent of football players used anabolic-androgen steroids. Other male
sports included track and field (4%), baseball (4%), tennis (4%), and basketball
(3%). The only women’s sport associated with steroid use was swimming, in
which 1% were users. Five percent of Division I athletes were users in 1985, as
well as 4% of D-II and 2% of D-III athletes. The same study was repeated in
1991, in which 2282 athletes were questioned. Overall, steroid use slightly
increased, especially since three women’s sports became associated with
steroid use. Swimming remained at 1%, but one percent of basketball players and
track and field athletes also admitted to using the drugs. For men’s sports,
the figures are the following: football (10%), track and field (4%), baseball
(2%), basketball (2%), and tennis (2%). Five percent of both Division I and II
athletes admitted to using steroids, as well as 4% of D-III athletes (Yesalis
60). Since then, steroid use has decreased in Division I sports, but increased
among females. Steroid use by adolescent girls in the US is low but significant
(Cowart 61). The use of anabolic-androgenic steroids can lead to some cosmetic
side effects. First, they have an effect of body hair. Body hair patterns are
steroid hormone dependent. Normal anabolic-androgenic steroid use can lead to an
increase in facial hair growth and a gradual recession of the hairline. Balding
is accelerated with long-term administration to normal individuals with the
balding gene. Androgens increase sebaceous gland size and secretion rates, which
can result in acne. Relatively weak androgens can increase sebum production and
skin lipid cholesterol content also. Lipid cholesterol content appears at peak
levels in the sebum excretion after three or four weeks of androgen
administration (Yesalis 115-116). Gynecomastia, the development of abnormal
breast tissue in males, “occurs in men when estrogen levels increase or
androgen levels decrease relative to the amount of estrogen present” (Yesalis
116). Many other side effects occur that are not visible. Increase in appetite,
energy, or aggressiveness, and a more rapid recovery from strenuous workouts may
be some of the first to appear. Anabolic-androgenic steroids can affect the
liver and cardiovascular and reproductive systems. Liver function can be
damaged, resulting in jaundice, blood-filled cysts, and benign and malignant
tumors. An increase in blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure can lead to
early development of heart disease, which can increase the risk of heart attacks
and strokes. For males, production of naturally occurring hormones may be
increased, which can result in shrinking testes, low sperm count, and
infertility. In females, male-like characteristics may appear, such as broader
backs, wider shoulders, thicker waists, flatter chests, more body and facial
hair, and deeper voices. The clitoris may enlarge, and menstrual cycles may
become irregular or stop completely (Ringhofer 175). The central nervous system
can also be affected by anabolic-androgenic steroids. An increase in mental
awareness, elevation in mood, improvement in memory and concentration, and a
reduction of sensations of fatigue can all be partly related to the stimulatory
effects on the central nervous system (Yesalis 163). When individuals
discontinue use of steroids, their size and strength diminish, often
dramatically. These effects motivate renewed use (Yesalis 171). Physical
dependence on steroids, or any other drug, is characterized by symptoms of
withdrawal (Yesalis 197). Dependent users are usually heavy users that more than
likely began taking steroids before the age of sixteen. They complete more and
longer cycles of use, combine multiple anabolic steroid drugs simultaneously,
and use injectable anabolic steroids. In addition, they are more likely to
perceive peers as steroid users. Dependence can occur within nine to twelve
months after initial use. Severe dependence is marked by an excess of dependency
symptoms and social dysfunction. Withdrawal from anabolic-androgenic steroids
can be broken down into two phases. The first phase may begin and end in the
first week. It is characterized by increased pulse rate and blood pressure,
chills, goose bumps, nausea, headaches, and dizziness. The individual is often
anxious and irritable. In the second phase, which may begin in the first week
and last for months, the person shows depressive symptoms and has cravings (Yesalis
205-6). The most critical task of prevention programs is to target the risk
factors of anabolic steroid dependence or abuse, which I hope that I have made
clear. Prevention programs must address the broader cultural context, especially
in the U.S., that places high values on physical attractiveness and on winning
competitions. Successful programs address these influences by providing
alternatives for managing them. Treatment is needed when the severity of
dependence hinders the user from stopping safely on his or her own. The major
goal of treatment is not only, abstinence from anabolic steroids, but also
restoration of health (Yesalis 208). As coaches of possible anabolic-androgenic
steroid users, I suggest three ways to educate your players. First, give a clear
message that any non-medical use of steroids and other performance- or
appearance-altering drugs is illegal and harmful to physical and emotional
health (Ringhofer 138). Promote the importance of participation, fun, and fair
play in sports instead of “win-at-all-costs” values. Lastly, point out that
the physiques of body builders, and other role models like McGwire, do not
represent healthy or necessarily attractive ideals for young people to follow.

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Coaches need to accept the responsibility of making their players aware of the
dangers of steroid use. If they do not, then who will?
Cowart, Virgina. The Steroids Game. Chicago: Human Kinetics Publishers, 1998.

Gorman, Christine. “Muscle Madness.” Time. 7 September 1998: 21-22.

Ringhofer, Kevin R. Coaches Guide to Drugs and Sports. Champaign: Human Kinetics
Publishers, 1996. Yesalis, Charles E. Anabolic Steroids in Sport and Exercise.

Champaign: Human Kinetics Publishers, 1996.


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