What are the potential adverse effects and possible health risks associated with anabolic steroid use by males and females, including psychological manifestations of use that have been observed in many athletes who have used these substances indiscriminately?
The possible adverse effects on both male and female athletes from the use of anabolic steroids can be tremendous, even fatal. As with many other synthetic drugs, anabolic steroids, which are used to increase muscle mass and strength, were designed to imitate the effects of naturally-derived substances, in this case, testosterone. As with other synthetic drugs, they also carry with them substantial risks for both the physical and mental well-being of those who use them.
One of the first instances of the use of anabolic steroids by a prominent athlete coming to the public’s attention was the 1992 death of retired professional football player Lyle Alzado. The official cause of Alzado’s death was from a brain tumor, and the linkage to his confessed long-time use of anabolic steroids was uncertain, but Alzado remained convinced to his death that his use of steroids was the underlying cause of his illness:
“I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I’m sick, and I’m scared…But all the time I was taking steroids, I knew they were making me play better. I became very violent on the field and off it. I did things only crazy people do.” [Alzado interview with Sports Illustrated magazine, July 8, 1991]
Alzado’s death, while tragic, served to focus attention on the abuse of anabolic steroids by athletes, which was transformed into a cottage industry in the former Soviet bloc countries of Russia and East Germany. The latter’s female swimmers, with their massive muscle tone and other male features, became prominent advertisements both for East Germany’s commitment to advance its political social agenda through the propaganda value of Olympic medals and for its state-sponsored abuse of its citizenry.
Unfortunately, abuse of anabolic steroids has not diminished over time. In fact, as the tribulations of many prominent professional athletes over the past decade attests, the problem of performance-enhancing drugs has actually increased.
Specific to anabolic steroids, in addition to muscle mass and strength, they are directly linked to what are called androgenic effects, the growth of facial hair and of deeper voices on women who use them.[“Performance-Enhancing Drugs: Know the Risks,” Mayo Clinic staff, www.mayoclinic.com/health/performance-enhancing-drugs/HQ01105] The Mayo Clinic lists the following as serious physical side effects for men: Prominent breasts; baldness; shrunken testicles; infertility; impotence. For women, the side effects are: a deeper voice; enlarged clitoris; increased body hair; baldness; and infrequent or absent periods. In addition, both genders face increased risks of tendinitis and tendon rupture; liver abnormalities and tumors; heart and circulatory problems; psychiatric disorders and aggressive behavior, including rage or violence; and increased risk of infections. [“Performance-Enhancing Drugs: Know the risks,” Mayo Clinic staff]
The risks associated with use of anabolic steroids are enormous, yet athletes continue to pursue ever-more sophisticated versions of these substances, always on the watch for chemicals to increase their performance while evading detection during drug tests.