With the image of Barry Bonds’ bulky body burned into our brains, the issue of steroids is once again on the sports shows and front pages. The book “Game of Shadows” chronicling Bonds’ steroid use has been published to great publicity, and as he closes in on Hank Aaron’s home run record, the public eye can’t help be fixed upon the slugger who was once a comparatively frail rookie.
But with a role model like Bonds taking the spotlight under such scrutiny (and presumably under the influence of a performance enhancing drug), what will young athletes think, especially those who wish to bulk up?
With proper education and better role models, the hope is that athletes will consider alternatives to performance enhancing drugs, especially in light of the immense number of negative effects many steroids carry. Outlined below are just a few of those byproducts affecting both men and women users.
For men using steroids, the physical side effects are largely sexual in nature. When a male uses steroids for an extended period of time, his body begins making less testosterone. This is the body’s natural reaction to the increased amount of the chemical, and can result in a diminishing of the size of the testes. A reduced sperm count, infertility, and even impotence can result from steroid usage, despite an initial increase in sexual desire.
Steroid use can also lead to baldness in men because of the increased presence of the chemical known as DHT. DHT is one of the factors that leads to baldness, and because steroids convert largely into DHT once inside the body, the spike in the presence of the substance can speed up the process greatly.
Men may also go through a period of feminization, especially after ending a steroid cycle. During this time, the natural presence of androgen is often low, and the female hormone estrogen easily overshadows it. When this occurs, men can have an increased tendency toward fatty deposits on the body, softer muscles, and even the development of breasts, a condition known as gynecomastia.
Women taking steroids often have side-effects that mirror those of their male counterparts. During and after use, women can undergo a period of masculinization due to the large amounts of androgen present in steroids. This can reveal itself physically in a number of ways. Increased facial and body hair, a deepening of the voice, reduced breast size and an enlarged clitoris can all make themselves evident over extended periods of use.
In addition, steroid use can cause menstrual problems, thinning of the hair, and changes in the texture of the skin.
It should be noted that children and adolescents who use steroids can suffer irreparable physical damage as these are the most pivotal years for bodily growth. Adolescent growth can be prematurely slowed or even stopped due to accelerated skeletal and muscular development due to the increased amount of hormones in the body.
Emotional Side Effects (Both Sexes)
Even though the physical effects of steroid use can be devastating, the mental and emotional impact can be just as severe. A wide range of psychological symptoms can affect users, though they are often marked by similar experiences in varying degrees.
While taking steroids, especially in excess, men and women can suffer from wild mood swings and an unstable temperament. Increased irritability can lead to an extreme and sometimes dangerous state of anger often referred to as “roid rage.”
Additional psychological side effects include a variety of symptoms, including depression, paranoid jealousy, delusional states, and impaired judgment, often stemming from a feeling of absolute invincibility. Some research has even shown users suffering from hallucinations tied to excessive use of steroids.
No matter the reason for using steroids, the side effects of use can be extreme, and in some cases, life-threatening. Despite those effects, however, athletes-both amateur and professional-continue to use performance enhancing drugs. For some, they may work with little physical detriment. But for most users, the little needle or pill they use to bulk up can have consequences that reach far beyond their grasp, making them a danger not only to themselves, but the world around them, as well.