Anabolic steroids are effective in enhancing
athletic performance. The negative aspect of this is the undesirable side
effects that could put one’s own health in jeopardy. Steroids have an effect on
numerous organ systems, in which some are irreversible. This life-altering drug
not only causes severe discomfort, but can even cause death if
administered in heavy doses. Steroids were first
introduced as a form of synthetic testosterone in the early 1930’s by a team of
scientists. The substance was utilized as an aid for men that were not able to
produce enough hormonal growth, development, and sexual functioning, secondary
to naturally secreted low testosterone levels. After World War II, an American physician
developed a more selective form of what we know today as anabolic steroids. According
to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, “today, illicit sale of steroids
are still prevalent and surveys show that adolescent use of steroids is on the
rise and that a great number of adults are actively using” (52) anabolic

human males, the reproductive system is greatly affected in relation to the use
of steroids. The prolonged use of anabolic steroids can result in an increase
of abnormal sperm cells, which decreases male fertility, and causes atrophy of
the testes. According to Lawrenson, “other effects that can happen are abnormal
sperm and a decreased sperm count” (117). Using more than one kind of steroid
at a time increases the chances of infertility, but after a cessation of
steroid use, the changes in infertility reverse after one to three months,
depending on the individual and the dosage administered. There has been case
studies regarding male infertility. For example, a thirty-one-year-old
bodybuilder with a six-year history of infertility due to his low sperm count,
had reportedly consumed steroids for approximately five years. According to his
published medical findings, “an examination revealed shrunken testicles, a low
level of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), low levels of luteinizing hormone
(LH) and a low testosterone level” (fitFLEX 24). However, after a year of
steroid free, his sperm count was highly improved. The subject’s wife became
pregnant twenty months after the cessation from the use of steroids.

The use of anabolic steroids, also produces hormonal imbalances. One
significant side effect is that of gynecomastia, which, irreversible in nature,
causes breast formation in males. This happens because of the increased levels
of estrogen, which are typical female sex hormones. The way it works with some
people can be totally different from the way it affects another person, but the
progression for suffering gynecomastia can be as rapid as a matter of two to
three days and as long number of weeks after consuming anabolic steroids. Gynecomastia
is a common side effect of anabolic steroid use. It can be preventable but it
most cases young male and females have it. Even with the effects of gynecomastia,
sexual desire in males is increased, even though the rate of erectile
dysfunction is increased as well. Erectile dysfunction is a condition in which
a person cannot keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. Many
people believe erectile dysfunction is caused by physical problems but “the
initial stirrings of an erection begin when your brain sends signals to your
body, through a vast network of cables called the central nervous system” (Oz
7).  This might seem to be incongruous,
but sexual desire is dependent on the androgen hormone (a steroid hormone that
controls the development and sustenance of masculine characteristics), while
erectile dysfunction is not. Steroids also cause a person to become more
aggressive. When this level of aggressiveness meets the level of sexual desire,
the risk of sexual assault is increased.

Females have some of the same side effects as
males, such as increased sexual desire and aggressiveness, but they also have
certain side effects that are unique to females. Such side effects are
irregularities in the menstrual cycle, hypertrophy of the clitoris, sudden acne
breakouts, hair loss, receding hairline, increased facial hair, deeper voice,
and breast atrophy. Women who use anabolic steroids usually experience
masculine side effects. Unlike the male’s ability to recover from most side
effects, the female steroid user’s deeper voice, hair loss, enlarged clitoris,
and decreased breast size are irremediable. In addition to this, pregnant women
who use anabolic steroids can become prone to pseudo-hermaphroditism or growth
hindrance of the female fetus. It could even lead to fetal death. Women using
anabolic steroids have a difficult time getting pregnant “and those who did,
had a disproportionate number of miscarriages” (Ungerleider 93).  According to Ungerleider, “of those who did
give birth, a number had babies with clubfeet or blindness” (97).

Anabolic-androgenic steroids can also produce
psychological effects such as hallucinations, euphoria, confusion, paranoia,
and insomnia. The University of Gothenburg did a study regarding the connection
between anabolic-androgenic steroids and mental health problems. They used
seven hundred previous athletes that consumed anabolic-androgenic steroids
throughout their youth. Many of those were wrestlers, and weightlifters who
competed approximately between 1960 and 1979. Out of those seven hundred, “twenty
percent of them admitted using steroids during their active careers” (ScienceDaily
10). According to Claudia Fahlke, director of Centre for Education and Research
on Addiction, “we have found a clear link. AAS users were more likely to have
been treated for depression, concentration problems, and aggressive behavior” (14).
 Because of the sense of euphoria, along
with other potential factors, steroid users could become addicted to the drug,
followed with symptoms of withdrawal, which is a physiological and mental
readjustment that accompanies the discontinuation of the use of an addictive
substance. Such symptoms consist of mental depression, suicidal behavior, and
in some cases, severe psychosis. The rate of suicide has been increasing in the
United States in the past thirty years. Several factors can lead a person to
attempt suicide or have suicidal ideations. In the case of anabolic steroid use,
“3.9% of a sample of 77 those classified as AAS Anabolic-Adrenergic Steroid
users reported attempting suicide” (Darkes 142).

Of all the possible negative effects of
anabolic steroid abuse, the most perpetually detrimental, would be that of
death. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some of the most prominent causes of death in anabolic
steroid users are “heart attacks and strokes, even in athletes younger than 30”
(58). The human heart and the brain are the most vital organs in the human
body. In anabolic steroid abusers, an imbalance of lipoproteins causes fatty
thrombi to form in the vessels after being pumped through the heart. As the
thrombus travels through the body, it can cause a decrease or a cessation of
blood returning to the heart, which may lead to cardiac arrest. If it travels
up the carotid arteries in your neck, which feed your brain with oxygen rich
blood, it could prevent that blood from reaching your brain, causing a stroke.
Although these may be common occurrences in today’s society based on several
other lifestyle choices, it is not typically encountered in people under thirty
years of age. This is a direct correlation to the anabolic steroid’s disruption
in high and low density lipoprotein levels in the arteries of the human body.
Anabolic steroid abuse also greatly affects the liver. Studies from the
National Institute on Drug Abuse have shown that “steroid abuse has been
associated with liver tumors and a rare condition called peliosis hepatis, in which
blood-filled cysts form in the liver” (86). The liver is very vascular. If steroid
use is not discontinued, the engorged cysts continue to grow, or are not
treated accordingly, there lies the dangerous possibility of cystic rupture,
which would cause internal bleeding, and ultimately, death.

The essence of competition is what drives a
person to give it his or her all. For some, the use of steroids is an expedited
way to reach their personal goal of aesthetics. To others, it is much more than
mere aesthetics. Prospective athletic careers hang in the balance, and people
are willing to sacrifice anything to reach the highest podium, run the fastest
lap time, or shatter personal weightlifting records in extraordinary times. It
is distressing that some people feel as though they have to alter themselves in
order to succeed, in order to be accepted. If the general public could be made
aware of the detrimental physical and neurological side effects of anabolic
steroid use, it could help deter people from negatively altering not only their
bodies, but their lives.


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