Hormones are substances produced by glands (or organs) that are transported to different sites in the body to affect bodily functions. There are several types of steroid hormones. Anabolic steroids are hormone-like substances related to testosterone, the major male sex hormone. Anabolic steroid hormones are different from the steroids produced by the adrenal glands that are similar to “cortisone” and are often prescribed to treat inflammation, asthma and rashes. The abuse of anabolic steroid hormones among young people has been rising over the past several years.
Anabolic steroids can be useful, but doctors prescribe them only in some specific situations. Steroids can help to rebuild tissues that have become weakened because of serious injury or illness. They have been used to help treat certain types of anemia Steroids also are used to treat men who have a low level of testosterone, those with a rare genetic problem that causes episodes of swelling, called angioedema, and to treat some types of breast cancer.
Abuse of anabolic steroids is turning into a major health problem, and is creating serious risks, especially to our nation’s youth. Young people and adults may take them in large doses to enhance physical performance and improve their body image. Even though young people may take them with good intentions, these are powerful and potentially very harmful drugs.
Steroid use among professional and Olympic athletes is believed to be widespread. Athletes use steroids to build muscle mass and to speed up recovery time from training and injuries, although some may use them because they want to improve their physical appearance. Athletes may continue to take anabolic steroids because of a feeling of confidence and even euphoria (extreme feeling of well-being) that may result.
Unfortunately, there are a number of unhealthy and damaging effects from the use of anabolic steroids, which can lead to both emotional and physical problems. Studies have shown that abuse of steroids can increase aggressive behavior, cause mood swings, and impair judgment. More recent studies have reported an association between steroid use and later abuse of other harmful drugs. Other reported effects include male-pattern baldness, acne, and blood-filled liver cysts, which have ruptured resulting in death. Using steroids can increase the risk of heart disease, stimulate the growth of certain cancers and worsen other medical problems. Steroids taken orally have been linked to liver disease.
Use of anabolic steroids by adolescents is especially troubling. Young, developing bodies are more sensitive to the harmful effects of steroids. Some of these effects may be permanent, such as stunted height in adolescents whose bones should still be growing. Although long-term studies are scarce, experts believe that some harmful effects may not appear until many years after the abuse of these drugs. To make matters worse, anabolic steroids often are injected. In one study 25% of users shared needles. This increases the risk of contracting serious infections, including HIV and hepatitis.
Steroids are attractive drugs, because they are linked with sports excellence and body image, and their use by high profile athletes is well known by many teens. Unfortunately, some of these sports figures serve as role models for many young people, and the use of performance-enhancing substances among adult sports figures can influence their behavior. Although sports can build skills in cooperation and competition, and sports performance can enhance self-esteem, use of anabolic steroids harms young athletes’ bodies and minds.
For young women, “body image” is a powerful motivator, often based on inappropriate entertainment and media models. More young women are taking steroids to satisfy their perceptions of body image. A national study from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey found in 2003, over 7% of 9th grade girls reported using of anabolic steroids at some time in their life.These drugs can help to decrease body fat for example, satisfying the urge to be thinner. However, for women, anabolic steroid use can lead to a more man-like appearance and can cause permanent voice lowering and facial hair.
Easy access to performance enhancing drugs, combined with the pressures of popular culture, presents a complex and serious problem. Unfortunately, we still don’t know how great the problem is throughout all of society, and don’t know what the effects steroid abuse ultimately will be.