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Anabolic Steroids: Your Child's Road to the Gold or to the Grave?

Widespread use

According to a 1999 National Institute of Drug Abuse survey, steroid use among students is now at its highest point in a decade, with an estimated 479,000 students nationwide, or 2.9 percent, having used the drug by their senior year of high school.

Steroid use has spread like a wildfire to all levels and types of sports. According to espn.com, the size of the black market is as much a mystery as the number of athletes using the drugs. But public health experts say the market is larger -- perhaps far larger -- than the $300 million to $400 million estimate by the U.S. General Accounting Office in 1988, the last time government made an effort to quantify the problem.

While steroids have been used by athletes for at least five decades as a way to gain strength and enhance performance, it was only after Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids at the 1988 Olympics that steroid use became what it remains today: one of the most controversial issues in the history of sports.

Possession is illegal

As much as 80% of the steroids used by athletes are obtained on the black market from doctors, pharmacists, trainers, and coaches, and fellow athletes. While some are produced in the U.S., most are smuggled into this country from Mexico, where, unlike the U.S., steroids are available without a prescription, and are of unknown quality and composition. Distribution or possession of steroids with intent to distribute is a federal offense punishable by up to one year in prison and/or a minimum fine of $1,000.

Serious side effects

While steroid use leads to increased lean body mass, strength and muscle definition and decreases the recovery time from exercise, it also can have serious long term side effects (some of which may not be apparent until after a long-time abuser's playing days are over).

Steroids can have effect the following:

  • Liver
    • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)

    • Hepatitis

    • Liver tumor

    • Cancer

    • Peliosis hepatitis (blood filled cysts in the liver)

  • Cardiovascular system

    • Coronary artery disease

    • Heart arrhythmias

    • Decreased HDL (good cholesterol)

    • Increased LDL (bad cholesterol)

    • Heart attack

    • Abnormal blood clotting

    • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

    • Stroke

  • Male reproductive system

    • Decreased testicular size

    • Sterility

    • Prostate gland disorders

    • Increased breast development (Gynecomastia)

    • Increased nipple size

    • Changes in sex drive (usually up then down)

  • Female reproductive system

    • Amenorrhea (disruption/cessation of menstrual cycle)

    • Shrinkage of breast tissue

    • Clitoral enlargement (irreversible)

    • Deepening of voice (irreversible)

    • Excessive hair growth (irreversible)

    • Male pattern baldness (irreversible)

  • Psychological

    • Aggression

    • Anger

    • Hostility

    • Irritability

    • Restlessness

    • Violence

    • Paranoia

    • Hallucinations

    • Delusions

    • Depression (often accompanied by suicidal thoughts)

    • Major mood swings

    • Males taking steroids can experience the male counterpart to anorexia nervosa, which may be the most dangerous side effect of all