Characteristics that set great athletes apart from good athletes are their competitive spirit and willingness to do whatever is necessary to succeed. Whether it be training multiple hours a day, intensive dieting, or the use of performance enhancing drugs, athletes always desire more. This desire for more can be the motivation for great athletes to accomplish historic tasks, such as setting new records in a sport, or it can lead to the demise of an athlete’s career, and life.
The first case of athletes using drugs to improve performance was in the 1950’s. Cyclists began taking amphetamines to minimize the effects of fatigue while in competition (Noakes, 2004). The drug was referred to as, la bomba by italian cyclists, which translates to the bomb. It was extremely popular and began the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs across all sports. In 1958 the FDA approved an anabolic steroid for sale, dianabol. This steroid was created by Dr. John Bosley Ziegler and was released by Ciba Pharmaceuticals (Peters, 2005). Dr. Ziegler studied how Russian weightlifters used testosterone supplements to improve their performance, and decided to experiment on United States weightlifters. He claimed his drug synthesized strength-building properties of testosterone, while minimizing the negative health effects of the drug (Peters, 2005). Later in Ziegler’s life he started retracting his statements of the drug with very good reason. In the early years of the drugs existence, not much was known about the negative side effects the drug could cause. However, as it became more popular, athletes started seeing various changes in their mental and physical health.
The mental effects steroids put on a person may be very hard to overcome for some users. Some even have to seek clinical help for depression, anxiety, and various other mental health issues. Lindqvist (2013) found 13% of steroid-using elite Swedish male athletes sought professional help for clinical depression. P?¤rssinen (2000) also found increased rates of suicide among steroid users vs. non-users. Drugs tend to affect all individuals differently, making it very hard for a cause and effect relationship between steroids and mental health problems to be identified. However, there is correlation between the two and it’s found on a consistent basis. P?¤rssinen (2000) studied Finnish Powerlifting champions from 1977-1982. He found many dangerous risks caused by dianabol, some being fatal. Sixty-two dianabol using weightlifters were studied, along with a control group of 1092 Finnish volunteers. At the end of the twelve year study P?¤rssinen found a 12.9% mortality rate among the lifters, and a 3.4% mortality rate among the control group. The mean age of death among the lifters was only forty-three years old, and eight of the deaths were due to suicide. This gives a 7.75% suicide rate among the lifters, which is over four times higher than the global suicide rate of 1.8% (Suicide.org, n.d.). On top of the negative mental effects inflicted by steroids, there are also many negative physical effects. In a survey of 117 male steroid users in London, 96.4% of the men reported negative side effects. Testicular atrophy was reported by 51%, insomnia by 47.7%, and hypertension by 19% of the male steroid users (Bolding, 2002). What Bolding found in 2002 directly contradicts Dr. Ziegler’s claims of minimizing the negative health effects of the drug. Dr. Ziegler, soon before his death in 1983, was referred to as The Godfather of Steroids. He later spoke out against his invention, stating he wished he never created the anabolic steroid after seeing athletes abuse the drug (Peters, 2005). While athletes still use steroids to enhance performance, the use of anabolic steroids has grown to a far bigger population than just athletes. We now see non-athletes using steroids solely to gain muscle or trying lose weight. While these people have the goal in mind to achieve a more desirable body, anabolic steroids can have detrimental effects on mental health.
We idolize the perfect body as being muscular and lean, but gaining significant muscle while also trying to lose weight can be very hard for most people. Our culture has promoted the use of steroids whether we intended to or not. This makes steroids a popular option amongst all age groups. Durant (1993) found a 4.2% prevalence rate of steroid use among 13-18 year old students in Richmond County, Georgia. Looking back at P?¤rssinen (2000) a four times increase risk of suicide was found among steroid users. Seeing how prevalent the use of steroids is among youth is extremely frightening. In a population that is already at very high risk of depression and other mental problems, the addition of a substance that can increase suicide and depression at such high rates is very problematic. Durant also found that 20.7% of steroid use among the youth population also reported use of cocaine. So not only are these users more prone to negative mental and physical health effects, but they are also more likely to use hard drugs at a very young age. The obsession of obtaining a more desirable body is the main reason non-elite athletes use steroids. The fixation of the perfect body can be detrimental to one’s self esteem, and can often lead to mental disorders. Never in our educational career’s are we taught about steroids or the health implications they may cause. While most youth are given access to this drug through parents or coaches, they are never taught the risks of what steroids can do to your health.
Anabolic steroids can cause numerous behavioral changes and can potentially lead to the development of behavioral disorders. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a body-image disorder in which a person obsesses over an imperfection they may see for multiple hours every day (Adaa.org, n.d.). This is a common disorder among anabolic steroid users. Kanayama and colleagues (Kanayama et al. 2006) found anabolic steroid users more likely to show symptoms of muscle dysmorphia (BDD) than non users. This study does not identify a causal relationship between BDD and steroids, but it can potentially be a factor in the development of this disorder. BDD is mainly caused by social and environmental factors. Appearance is very important to almost all weightlifters and bodybuilders, the addition of steroid usage in an individual who is part of the bodybuilding/weightlifting community can create a very high risk for this disorder. Lifters suffering from BDD may spend multiple hours in the gym every day trying to obtain a desired image. However what they see is not reality. In their eyes, they may appear as a very skinny man or woman when in reality they may be the most muscular person in the gym. People suffering from BDD also tend to isolate themselves and suffer from anger issues, which is another negative effect caused by steroids. Increased anger and aggressiveness is one of the more common effects steroids may cause. Choi and Pope (1994) found anabolic steroid users, while on a steroid cycle, report significantly more fights, verbal aggression, and fights with significant others compared to periods of non use. The term roid rage is often used to describe an episode of anger coming from a steroid user. Corrigan (1996) found among the steroid users he studied, 56% showed increased irritability and aggression. When playing a team sport, the very last qualities you want a teammate to have are poor anger management and uncontrollable aggression. This can be detrimental not only to a person’s well being, but also to a team’s cohesion and success.
The desire to succeed can lead athletes to greatness. However it can also lead athletes to cheating and using anabolic steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. Steroids can be irresistible to people who want to improve their performance by any means. While there is nothing we can do to stop people from abusing this drug, the negative effects steroids can cause need to be know. Our youth are being given this drug by coaches, teachers, and parents who don’t know the long term effects this powerful drug may cause. Not only can they harm you physically, but they can mentally destroy you, your team, and your relationships with the people around you.