Steroid Use and Abuse

Steroid use has ruined many sports careers, from Roger Clemens, thought to be the best pitcher in major league baseball, to Marion Jones, winner of five medals in track and field at the 2000 Olympics. But steroids aren’t just used by the famous, they are abused by many more athletes worldwide.

Anabolic steroids were first introduced in the 1930’s as a treatment for men who underproduced testosterone. In the 1950’s, weightlifters and bodybuilders began using them to build muscle. These and other athletes began using them to improve their performance and they were often used by Olympic athletes until they were banned in the 1960’s. The International Olympic Committee didn’t begin testing athletes until the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Like testosterone, steroids help develop male sexual characteristics and skeletal muscle grow. In the U.S., they are available by prescription only but there are supplements on the market that can be gotten over the counter. People who abuse steroids, often to develop muscles or perform better in sports take much larger doses than recommended. Increasingly, young teens are using steroids.

Steroids can be taken orally, injected or topically in the form of a cream. Sometimes steroids are taken together or with other types of drugs. Steroid use is thought to affect how the limbic system, part of the central nervous system, functions.  This would explain aggressive and erratic emotional behavior. It might also affect the hypothalamus which uses the body’s hormones to regulate body function.

As with abuse of other drugs, steroids cause many unwanted side effects. Men can experience atrophy of their testicles, decreased sperm count as well as motility, breast development, psychotic behavior, prostate enlargement and baldness. In women, psychotic behavior can also occur as well as increased body hair, acne, aggressiveness, changes in menstruation, deepening voice and aggressive behavior.