Anabolic Steroids and Sports: A Combination of Misconceptions and Major Health Risks

Anabolic steroids and sports continue to be a “team effort” for some athletes, either professional or non-professional. From high schools and colleges to professional leagues, steroid testing and education about the health consequences of the drugs hasn’t yet extinguished the desire of athletes to continue using them. In fact, teen athlete abuse of steroids is believed to have increased, both in pill form and by injection. Celebrity athlete usage of steroids during the past few decades may have contributed to a misconception of the drugs’ power, especially by younger athletes. Many athletes who use anabolic steroids may not be aware that the drugs cannot actually improve a person’s ability or skill level, which are more determined by things like genetic factors and overall physical size. Some, especially users at the high school or college age, may not know the dangers of the drugs and might mix them with other stimulants or hormones. Anabolic steroids are a controlled substance, meaning they are only available through a doctor’s visit and then a prescription. They can be prescribed for conditions ranging from tissue disease, some forms of cancer, arthritis or disorders of the blood. When used for sports training or competition, athletes are considered steroid abusers and are using a banned substance – a crime punishable by up to five years in jail in some states. By mimicking the hormone testosterone, found naturally in the body, anabolic steroids increase muscle tissue and elevate body mass. Reasons for steroid abuse among athletes can vary. Some are after the enhanced performance and hope to increase their chances of winning, or making it to the next level of competition. Others want to outshine teammates or become famous. Some anabolic steroid users may also try substances like creatine, an over-the-counter dietary supplement, to try to build muscle strength. Often marketed to have few or no side effects, creatine can cause cramps or digestive problems, and although more research is needed, creatine may also be linked to kidney and muscle problems. Sometimes users combine supplements with stimulants like ephedrine to raise stamina, and this increases the risk for dangerous complications. Side effects from the quest to do more, and do it better – if fueled by steroids – can be drastic. The drugs may increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels, leading to heart problems, and can also contribute to a stroke. Liver disorders and even tumors have been linked to anabolic steroids, and it has long been known that they can stunt growth for teens and cause acne. Males can become sterile, grow larger breasts or have an enlarged prostate. Psychologically, anabolic steroids cause athletes to have drastic swings in moods, become overly aggressive or even depressed. They may have psychotic episodes (lose contact with reality) and become addicted. Breaking the cycle of addiction to steroids often requires a withdrawal treatment program that is managed under doctor’s supervision. Educating athletes about healthy alternatives to anabolic steroids may be part of the solution for the drug’s abuse trend. Alternatives can range from precise, targeted training regimens or a focus on excellent nutrition. Sports participants who get enough sleep have higher rates of stamina. Mentally, the drive for anabolic steroid use can be curbed if athletes concentrate on effective goals and celebrate accomplishments.

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