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Steroid Use: A Competitive Boost
Clay Garrett
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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Steroid use and abuse is in the news almost daily. The media talks about steroid use in professional sports, Olympic athletes, college athletes, and even high school athletes. Steroid use is illegal in the United States, but many athletes still think it is a must do to gain a competitive edge in their sport. Non-athletes are even using steroids to make enhancements in their appearance and improve their self image. However, steroids use is not a new concept, but an evolving one. The purpose of this article is to analyze a group of scholarly journal articles concerning the ever evolving topic of anabolic steroid use.

The history of steroids is outlined in William Taylors book, Macho Medicine: A History of the Anabolic Steroid Epidemic. The steroids that are most talked about today are anabolic steroids, which are groups of molecules that include male testosterone and synthetic, or man made, testosterone. Testosterone was first isolated in the early 1930s by Fred Koch and Lemuel McGee, a professor and medical student at the University of Chicago. After isolating testosterone they tested its effects by injecting it into rats. After the testosterone was injected into the rats, they moved on in their research and tested it in human males. They were considered almost gods in the scientific world for replicating a human hormone. Taylor says that Koch and McGee noticed the enhancement in testosterone levels and the possible treatments of major diseases of the time. While some scientists were trying to use testosterone to treat diseases and disorders, other scientists took notice of the effects it was having on muscle development. German scientists then elaborated on Koch and McGee’s experiment and started testing steroids for the physical gains it produced.

The use of testosterone as an anabolic steroid in sports was first thought to be used by German and Russian weightlifting competitors according to Charles Yelasis in his book, Anabolic Steroids in Sports and Exercise. After the German and Russian weight lifters made tremendous strength gains by using steroids other athletes took notice and steroid use started spreading to different countries. The steroids taken by the German and Russian athletes were those that were talked about in Taylors book. By the mid 19th century almost all sports had been tainted by steroid doping. The concern with steroid use and the after effects it leaves started to spread by the 1970s. Steroid users started to see the adverse affects it had on their body. Since steroids had not had long term testing no one knew the effects it could have. Education on the effects of steroids started to spread throughout the United States and other countries. Even though the public was learning about the adverse affects of steroids, steroids use was still a growing concern.

Since the early 1990s, steroid intervention has become a large part of high school coaches and athletic director’s job. To put steroid intervention programs into place doctors had to analyze steroid users and the reasons they choose to justify steroid use had to be addressed. John Fuller and Marc Lafountain did a study that interviewed fifty athletes that admitted to using steroids. They found that the steroid users knew that it was a harmful drug, but they reasoned themselves into doing them. Fuller and Lafountain placed the users into four categories based on how they reasoned themselves into using steroids: denial of victim, denial of injury, condemnation of condemners, and appeal to higher loyalties. Fuller and Lafountain talked of several problems that were revealed in their interviews, such as: “the ease with which our sample was collected and the loss of credibility of the medical and coaching professionals” (974). They were shocked at just how easy it is to buy steroids, and how doctors and coaches could be so naïve to steroid use.

The writers of ESPN.com talk about some of the side-effects of using steroids in their article “Anabolic Steroids.” Surprisingly enough it is not just football players or body builders using steroids, but non-athletes as well. Most steroid users say they do not care about the side effects it can have, but not all users understand all of the side effects. According to the ESPN writers some the side effects for prolong use in males is “impotence, development of breasts, shrinking of testicles, and painful urination” (“Anabolic Steroids” 3). The long-term effects of steroid have not been because of the rationality of testing on humans and restrictions placed on steroids. Another reason doctors didn’t know the long-term effects is because the steroid users from the early 1960s and 70s are just now seeing the long-term effects it is having on their body.

One of the shocking things that the ESPN writers and Yesalis talk about is the amount of steroid use in women. Speculation of steroid use in Soviet female athletes started in the 1960s according to Yesalis. The female steroid use spread to the Eastern bloc countries throughout the 1960s. As years past, more females started using steroids in sports ranging from basketball and gymnastics to lacrosse and softball. Women that use steroids start to grow facial hair, their voice deepens, and their menstrual cycle changes (“Anabolic Steroids” 3). Both ESPN and Yesalis argue that the use of steroids in women is starting to be a major concern in professional sports and the Olympics games.

A major concern that doctors and school administrators have is steroid use in adolescents. In a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “the studies on steroid use have shown a continuing and significant increase of use among adolescent athletes” (“Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids: A Subject Review” 904). The writers at ESPN also voiced their concern with adolescent steroid use because it can cause the growth plates to grow together limiting the adolescent’s potential height. With the studies done by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “practitioners cannot depend on community education programs or drug testing to curb the use of anabolic steroids in adolescents” (“Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids: A Subject Review” 906). The practitioners that voiced their opinion in the Pediatric journal believe they are going to have to take on the burden of trying to eliminate adolescent steroid use by educating and confronting possible steroid users. A concern the journal has is the way in which the doctors are going to have to confront patients believed to be using steroids. The journal argues “Responses that are confrontational, judgmental, or in violation of doctor-patient confidentiality will quickly eliminate any opportunity to influence the patient’s decision making” (“Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids: A Subject Review” 907). If a doctor confronts the patient or makes him think he is going to get into trouble for using steroids the doctor will not have a chance to influence the patient to quit using steroids.

There are more forms of doping, or substance use, in athletes and bodybuilders than just steroids. With pharmaceutical advancements a supplemental substance that is on the rise is the use of androstenedione. Androstenedione, or androstene, is an all natural over the counter supplement that increases the production of testosterone. According to “Androstenedione et al: Nonprescription Steroids”, an article written by Lisa Minneapolis, “androstenedione and other steroid supplements are anabolic steroids” and that “natural doesn’t mean safe” (2). Androstenedione and other supplements may be legally sold over the counter, but they are still considered an anabolic steroid. Even though androstenedione is a natural supplement the Olympics ban its use and most professional sports discourage or look down upon its use.

The Olympics, professional, college, and high school sports are trying to curb steroid use by implementing drug tests. Drug testing is a very controversial issue at the high school level because some believe it invades students’ privacy and that their rights have been violated. At all levels of athletics there is a system set up for punishing those that are caught using steroids. If an Olympic athlete tests positive for steroid use they are sometimes banned from the Olympics and sometime the sport completely. One problem with testing for steroid use is that some of the over the counter supplements, like androstenedione and norandrostenedione, will leave trace contaminates in a urine sample causing an athlete to fail the test (Caitlin et al. 2618). With these supplements showing up in a drug test, it could cause some athletes to be falsely accused of steroid use in a sport where these supplements are legal to use.

To play a sport at the professional level most athletes believe that they must take something to make them a step above their competition. Athletes are not only taking steroids for their physical gains, but are also taking things such as stimulants, narcotic analgesics, blockers, diuretics, peptide hormones, and are blood doping (MacAuley 211-12). Domhnall MacAuley analyzed research done from the 1960s to the late 1990s on the drugs taken by athletes and wrote the article “Drugs in Sports.” His research shows that there has been a drug problem in all aspects of sports since the 1960s, but as was discussed by Taylor and Yesalis drugs in sports has been around along time before the 1960s. MacAuley cites a problem in his research because the magnitude of drug doping in professional sports cannot be analyzed because it is a very underground operation.

With this problem being cited, drug testing is the next topic that MacAuley analyzes. MacAuley analyzes a survey conducted by the sports council in 1995 that asked athletes several questions about doping in sports and even about drug testing. Athletes responded by saying “34% percent expressed dissatisfaction at the range of competitors selected for testing and 41% expressed dissatisfaction about the frequency of testing” (MacAuley 213). With this many athletes being disappointed at who is drug tested and the frequency at which their competitors are tested leads to conclude that the athletes surveyed know there is more drug doping in sports taking place than what is being caught in drug tests. Caitlin also argues that drug testing is not efficient or thorough enough in professional sports.

Steroid use has been around for a long time with many different opinions expressed on the practicality and morality of its use in athletes. People still choose to use steroids when study after study shows that its use can be harmful to the body and mind. Athletes will continue to use them because they believe it puts them a step above their competitors while non-athletes choose to use them because of the gains to their physical appearance. There is one thing that all the authors talked about agree upon, and that is the health risks of using steroids and other drugs outweigh the physical gains that are achieved when using them. Steroid and drug use will always be a part of athletics because people believe it raises them above their competitors, but doctors and the authors want users to know that they are setting themselves up for failure by using these drugs.

Works Cited

“Adolescents and Anabolic Steroids: A Subject Review.” American Academy of Pediatrics Jun 1997. Proquest Direct. Oklahoma State University. 27 Sep. 2004 <http//80-proquest.umi.com .argo.library.okstate.edu/>.

“Anabolic Steroids.” ESPN. 6 Sep. 2003. 26 Sep. 2004 <www.espn.go.com /special/s/drugsandsports/steroids.html>.

Caitlin, Don H., et al. “Trace Contamination of Over-the-Counter Androstenedione and Positive Urine Test Results for a Nandrolone Metabolite.” JAMA 282.20 (2000): 2618-621.

Fuller, John R., and Mark J. LaFountain. “Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Sport: A Different Form of Drug Abuse.” Adolescence 22.88 (1987): 969-76. MacAuley, Domhnall. “Drugs in sport.” British Medical Journal 313 (1996): 211-15.

Minneapolis, Lisa Schnirring. “Androstenedione et al: Nonprescription Steroids.” The Physician and Sportsmedicine 26.11 (1998). ProQuest Direct. Oklahoma State University Library. Article 36381719. 3 Oct. 2004 <http//80-proquest.umi.com.argo.library.okstate.edu/>.

Taylor, William N. Macho Medicine: A History of the Anabolic Steroid Epidemic. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1991. Yesalis, Charles E, ed. Anabolic Steroids in Sport and Exercise. Champaign: Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc., 1993.

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