During a research study it was found that one in fifteen high school seniors reported steroid use, with around half of them reporting use based on performance enhancement in athletics, and 27% saying they used steroids to enhance their appearance (Chiras, 2005). It is widely known that athletes around the world use steroids in order to bolster their performance, even when athletic leagues have banned the practice. However, the fact that steroid use has been glorified enough for high schoolers to feel the need to use them is appalling. Perhaps the problem is that both adolescents and adults alike are not fully aware of the consequences of taking steroids. In order to discuss the cons of steroid use, it also becomes important to discuss the pros so that one can properly weigh the benefits against the consequences.
What are Steroids?
There are different types of steroids, some of which are naturally occurring in the body and function to maintain bodily homeostasis. However, the type of steroids used in performance enhancement are called anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are synthetically produced hormones that are created to resemble testosterone (Chiras, 2005). Testosterone is a naturally occurring hormone commonly known as the male sex hormone, it is responsible for producing male attributes like male genitalia, facial hair, muscles, and the lower pitch of the male voice (Shmerling, N.d).
While anabolic steroids are commonly given in medical treatments, the doses used by those seeking performance enhancement are 10 to 100 times as high as those given for medical purposes (Chiras, 2005). And it is this fact that causes problems for users of steroids.
The Pros of Steroid Use
As mentioned earlier, steroids aren’t all bad, if they were, people wouldn’t be so quick to use them. Steroids work to stimulating protein synthesis in the muscles of the body, thus increasing muscle size and strength (Chiras, 2005). This allows individuals to lift more than they could prior to use, and work harder due to extra muscle strength. For the appearance factor, it creates the look of big bulging muscles, which is seen as more manly according to conventional appearance standards. Those 27% of high schoolers who used steroids in order to enhance their appearance probably had this exact pro in mind. Especially in high school where teenagers are extremely harsh on one’s appearance and males are hitting puberty and finding interest in the girls around them, a young man may feel pressured to fit into the mold of what a man should look like. Steroids allow them to do that, to build muscles, and increase size and strength.
Another popular pro to taking steroids is the fact that they allow an individual to work out or practice a sport, longer and harder than they previously could. This is because steroids reduce inflammation that generally occurs after periods of long exercise (Chiras, 2005). When the inflammation isn’t present, or isn’t great, an individual is less likely to take it easy or rest entirely; which allows an athlete to get in the maximum amount of practice to master their skills.
Lastly, steroid use is a quick fix to a rather hard to fix problem. When an individual needs to be able to lift more, practice longer, exercise harder, etc, steroids allow them to do so within a very short period of time. Think about how long it takes to build ample muscle strength to lift weights in a competition. How about how much practice it takes to hit a baseball out of the park, or accurately and efficiently tackle an opponent. It may take months or years to practice and exercise enough to reach one’s goals. With steroids an individual can see results within one to two weeks, so the convenience is much greater. This isn’t to say people use them out of laziness, just that results are produced faster, and combining them with hard exercise and practice produces even better results than would be seen with exercise and practice alone.
The Cons of Steroid Use
Although steroid use has several great pros that make them seem like an excellent supplement to one’s exercise routine, they also have some very serious side effects. For one, there are a great many psychiatric consequences involved in taking steroids. Many individuals report severe depression during and after stopping use (Chiras, 2005). Furthermore, psychotic episodes of invisibility and hearing voices can also occur, especially when taking steroids in high doses. One may argue that with side effects like these, how can anyone improve their athletic performance? Too bad this isn’t where the list stops. In addition to the aforementioned psychiatric complications, those who stopped use have reported feeling suicidal (Chiras, 2005).
There are also a number of physical side effects. While your muscles may get larger and your abilities greater, steroid use can also affect one’s health by damaging the heart and kidneys, and putting one at higher risk for liver cancer. In women, the use of steroids brings on more masculine attributes like a deepening voice, and an enlarged sex organ; while in men, testicles shrink in size (Chiras, 2005).
For individuals who are looking to steroids to increase their appearance and enhance manly features, it should be kept in mind that severe acne can occur from increasing testosterone in the body. So, while you’re gaining muscle size and strength, you may be compromising the health of your skin appearance.
For the one in fifteen high school students who admitted to steroid use, it should also be noted that use of anabolic steroids during youth is especially dangerous. Steroid use by teens and other developing individuals can stunt growth, cause infertility, and encourage psychological problems (Chiras, 2005). The latter can be especially difficult on youth due to the already demanding nature of puberty and coming into being an individual. So, while steroids may make you larger and physically more appealing, it can also cause permanent consequences that will affect you for the rest of your life.
Weighing the Options
Keeping both the pros and cons in mind, it seems clear that the consequences of steroid use are significantly greater than the pros that use offers. Danger to one’s mental and physical health does not seem like a good trade off for bigger muscles and strength. Overall, the risks simply aren’t worth it, and there are other healthier options for enhancing one’s performance and strength. While the results aren’t as quick as steroids, they’re definitely safer. If steroids are decided on as an option, it would be best to take them in limited, small amounts, as larger amounts greatly increase physical and mental damage.
It should also be kept in mind that many athletic leagues have banned the use of steroids by their athletes. If an individual gets into the habit of taking steroids early in their career it could greatly impact their changes of getting into, or staying in, their league of choice. Furthermore, discontinued use will cause a decrease in former abilities. This is a definite downside that should be considered before steroid use is initiated.
Chiras, D.D. (2005). Human Biology, 5th Ed. Jones and Bartlett, Mass.
Shmerling, R. (N.d). Testosterone – What It Does and Doesn’t Do. Harvard Health Publications.