Anabolic Steroids And Our Teens

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MEMO TO HIGH SCHOOLS: You have a problem. Anabolic steroids are becoming the rage among teens. . . . They are undeterred by the risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, liver damage, cancers, strokes and blood clots and headaches and cramps and nausea and baldness and acne and sterility and increased breast size in males, shrunken testicles, stunted growth and many more." -- Doug Robinson, "No sweat? Teens are swept up in roid rage," Deseret News, June 11, 2002.

"Scare tactics don't work." -- Asa Hutchinson, DEA chief, "Dennis Miller Live," August 1, 2002


I guess some journalists didn't get the DEA memo before sending out their own? Scare tactics have failed abysmally, but those in the mainstream media keep churning out hyperbolic drivel like this all the time. It suits them fine. Cheating Olympians and juiced-up sports stars provoke public disapproval, but the idea of our nation's teens abusing anabolic steroids is rightfully appalling to the public, including most parents. Journalists know this, and the problem of teenage steroid abuse has received tremendous media attention.

Big Muscles are Great...
Long Jail Sentences...
are not
!!!



What the Stats Say

What is the percentage of teens using steroids? According to the 2001 Monitoring the Future survey, 2.8% of 8th graders, 3.5% of 10th graders, and 3.7% of 12th graders reported using steroids at least once in their lives. Obviously that's troubling. But as compared to the previous year, the 2001 number was down for 8th graders and exactly the same for 10th graders. The number of 12th graders who reported ever using steroids went up, but only from less than three out of one hundred to less than four out of one hundred students.

Let's compare these figures to teen cocaine use. Significantly more 8th and 10th graders reported ever using cocaine or LSD than steroids, and the number of 12th graders who reported using cocaine at least once during their lifetime was 8.2% -- more than twice the number who had ever used steroids. The number of 12th graders who reported using LSD at least once during their lifetime was 10.9% -- nearly triple the number who had ever used steroids. And what about alcohol, which is responsible for the deaths of more than 6,000 teen drivers annually (data from the National Safety Council)? Yes, that's six thousand kids killed behind the wheel in alcohol-related collisions every year. The number of 12th graders who reported being drunk at least once was a truly alarming 63.9%, with a higher increase over the past year than the increase seen with steroids.

These statistics are not intended to minimize in any way the social problem presented by teen steroid use, or teen drug use in general. It's simply to put things in the proper perspective and to hopefully put a damper on enacting any overbroad, reactionary laws. Adolescent steroid use is undeniably a problem, and as mature adults we ought to be doing more about it.

Assessing the Seriousness of the Problem

We can and should recite for our teens the traditional list of possible steroid side effects that are presented to all users, but we should present only the real risks, not some hyperbolic "Reefer Madness" version that destroys all credibility. While the media have exaggerated and sensationalized steroid side effects, there are potentially serious side effects even to adults. The true potential for health risks should not be ignored, but rather qualified. While Legal Muscle includes an exhaustive look at the medical literature related to steroid side effects, a brief recitation of the concerns is crucial here.

Liver toxicity is the foremost adverse effect on the laundry list of potential health risks associated with anabolic steroids. The serious liver problems attributed to anabolic steroid use include hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) and peliosis hepatitis (blood-filled sacs within the liver). But while serious liver problems are often cited in the media as a common result of steroid use, it's a classic case of telling the truth without telling the whole truth. It's certain oral steroids -- ones that are "C-17 alpha alkylated" -- that are unusually stressful to process. Even moderate short-term administration of these particular steroids can affect liver function test readings. But contrary to public belief, injectable steroids -- which are more popular among bodybuilders than oral steroids -- generally have little if any effect upon liver function. Since adverse liver effects are associated almost exclusively with C-17 alpha alkylated steroids, studies that generalize these effects to all anabolics are misleading at best. [Note: although the dangers of anabolics to healthy mature adult males' livers appear to have been exaggerated, it must be recognized that an apparently healthy subject with a previously existing but undiscovered liver problem could do serious damage by self-administering C-17 alkylated anabolic steroids.]

Cardiac risk and adverse cholesterol changes are also concerns. Again, there is a legitimate risk with regard to the C-17 oral steroids in particular, which seem to affect blood lipid levels, causing a reduction in HDL (high-density lipoproteins, the "good" cholesterol) levels in some steroid users, as well as an increase in LDL (low-density lipoproteins, the "bad" cholesterol).

As weight gain and water retention can result from anabolic steroid use, hypertension can result. But while hypertension is often cited as a confirmed consequence of anabolic steroid usage, reports indicate that high blood pressure is perhaps one of the most exaggerated claims of steroid-related health risks.

Taking exogenous male hormones can cause the shutdown of endogenous production, making the testicles decrease in size. Basically, like skeletal muscles, the testes can get small and soft if not used. This effect has been a favorite of steroid scaremongers and has been widely reported in the media. However, widely popular ancillary medications can prevent this effect. Also, like impaired fertility, testicular shrinkage is generally fully reversible upon discontinuation of use.

Testosterone can be converted by enzymatic processes in the body into other hormones. One of these derivative hormones is called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a steroid molecule that may be significantly responsible for certain adverse effects including male pattern baldness, acne, and prostatitis. The occurrence and extent of these adverse effects varies by the individual. For example, while steroids won't cause baldness, male pattern baldness can be exacerbated in individuals who already have a genetic predisposition to it.

Testosterone also has the capacity to be converted into female hormones by chemical reactions and enzymes within certain body tissues. Those anabolics that are easily converted into estrogen can cause a formation of female breast tissue known as gynecomastia. While largely dose related, a natural propensity for this condition can cause it to occur even at moderate dosages.

A few researchers have suggested that psychiatric symptoms including increased aggression are a common side effect of anabolic steroid use. But other experts have regarded the conclusions of these researchers with skepticism. In fact, anabolic steroid supplementation (testosterone enanthate) may actually decrease irritability, anger, sadness, tiredness and nervousness, while increasing energy levels, friendliness and good feelings in hypogonadal men. Not surprisingly, when psychiatric problems do occur in study subjects, there seems to be a direct correlation between dosage and prevalence of syndromes.

It has been suggested that anabolic steroid use in conjunction with intense weight training causes muscular adaptations that outpace adaptations by the connective tissues, leading to injuries. Moreover, in light of the extreme degree of musculoskeletal stress imposed, it is not unreasonable to expect muscle and tendon tears in hardcore strength athletes, regardless of steroid use. Whether these injuries are steroid-related is as yet unknown, although some animal studies have suggested that steroids may cause tendon degeneration and increased risk of tendon rupture.

Today, many authorities concede that we really don't know much about the long-term effects of high-dose anabolic use. Massive amounts of anabolics may well have unknown long-term adverse effects. But we don't have any proof of it. Further, the existing risks are increased when the products are obtained on the black market, and when use is unsupervised.

In addition to the risks for adults, steroid use prior to puberty or in adolescence can cause premature closure of the growth plates of the long bones, preventing the young user from attaining full natural height. Although looking good on the beach right now sounds good, even the most thick-headed teen can see the advantage in being a few inches taller a couple years from now.

Additionally, new research on animals conducted at Northeastern University suggests that steroid use in adolescents may permanently alter brain chemistry, whereas the mental effects on adult users typically subside following cessation of use (BBC News, August 16, 2002). Although this issue requires further research, this study provides support for the contention that introducing exogenous hormones to an endocrine system that has not yet fully developed can potentially have permanent and immediate consequences.

But the most dangerous aspect of teen steroid use may not be physiologically based at all. It's psychologically based: the potential for abuse. The teenage years are the peak period of insecurity for most of us; the time when we are most susceptible to peer pressure. Impatient and eager for fast results, many teens are less focused on the distant future including possible health consequences many years ahead. Plus, there's generally a big difference in the mentality of most forty-year-olds from that of most seventeen-year-olds. There ought to be, if you've learned from life. Maturity doesn't come overnight. Teen years are often colored with a higher level of recklessness, sporadic irresponsibility, and a pervasive feeling of invincibility: "The bad stuff will never happen to me." Remember thinking like that?

And, of course, teens are typically less inclined to admit their use to a disapproving physician. This leads to an increased risk of health consequences by failing to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol and cardiovascular health.

Further, the effects of anabolics upon size and strength are partially (and sometimes even completely) temporary. Teens seem particularly less willing to suffer these post-cycle size and strength reductions. Thus begins a vicious cycle resulting in a reluctance to ever "come off" the juice, which can lead to permanent health problems. A dangerous reliance on steroids can develop, as the only perceived way to build muscle and the only incentive to go to the gym. I've seen some young people who give up training entirely when they're not "on cycle."

Add it all together and you have all the ingredients for disaster: a high propensity for uninterrupted usage at dangerously high dosages without medical supervision. Even the regulars at hardcore steroid discussion boards on the Internet oppose and vigorously discourage teen use, as did the late Dan Duchaine, author of the Underground Steroid Handbook II (1989) and a favorite target of the anti-steroid brigade. Clearly, even in countries where they can be legally obtained without a prescription, the choice to use anabolics for physical enhancement should be made by mature, informed adults with a pre-established dedication to serious weight training.

Many teen steroid users find parents who lecture them on steroid use ludicrous on several levels. First, the parents often spout off what they've read in the mainstream media, and the kids know better. Second, teenagers tend to be sensitive to hypocrisy, and are apt to dismiss a health risk lecture from a coach or parent who smokes cigarettes or drinks to excess. (And, quite frankly, between us, they have a point. It's tough to get preachy until you clean up your own act. If your teen is using steroids, it may be a perfect opportunity to reevaluate your own poor health habits.) I've spent enough time talking to teens in gyms across the country to know that trying to scare the bejesus out of them will only serve to make us look foolish. The same will go for you if you try it. For one thing, some of these teens may know more about the real health risks than you do. The approach to take to discourage teen steroid use, I am convinced, is one of honesty.

The Underestimated Value of Honesty

A few years ago, I overheard a nineteen-year-old college student quietly asking about steroids at a local health club I used to frequent. He weighed about 160 pounds. I only heard snippets of his gripes, but basically he was complaining about his lack of progress and was looking to boost his muscle gains with anabolics. I shook my head as I continued my own workout. When I finished my set, he asked for my opinion. What follows is what I told him. If I had a teenaged son, it's what I'd tell him, too.


Steroids May Work
But So Does The
Prison System

The way I see it, most everything has risks and benefits. That's especially true of medications, such as anabolic steroids. The choice of whether or not to take steroids involves weighing the risks against the benefits. The risks for teens include numerous possible side effects, including the possibility of altering brain chemistry and never growing to the height you should have been. Have the risks been exaggerated in healthy adult males? Absolutely. Lots of people have taken steroids and seem fine, even many years later. But a few have gotten very sick. Using certain types of steroids can screw up your liver. Using too much can have all sorts of negative effects. And that's not even addressing the fact that most black market products are made for animals and are of unknown purity. There's always some doubt as to what exactly is going into your body. And whose advice are you taking as to dosages and cycles? What are his credentials? Shouldn't a physician be involved in the administration of any serious medicine? What if you have a hidden health problem you may not be aware of, like high blood pressure, liver or prostate disease, or a small undiscovered cluster of cancer cells? After all, we really don't know all of the long-term effects. Is it worth the trade-off at this particular point in your life?

Further, there's another risk that nobody talks about much. Not in the future, but here and now. That's the legal risk of getting yourself busted. In many states, simple possession is a felony. I know -- I've represented a slew of personal users who got jammed up. You'll be handcuffed, interrogated, and treated like a criminal. You'll probably spend a night in jail, maybe with an overly friendly guy named Bubba. You'll probably wind up needing to call your parents to bail you out, and then needing to hire a lawyer and go to court and see a judge, maybe a bunch of times. Your parents will foot the bill, and they'll never let you forget it for the rest of your life. If you're in a small town, the local papers may print your name, which happened to three teen juicers in Utah recently. You probably won't go to jail in the end, although you might! Maybe you'll be lucky and just get probation, but that puts a huge crimp into your social schedule, believe me. If you're convicted of a felony, you can lose many valuable civil rights including your basic right to vote. Even if you're just convicted of a misdemeanor drug offense, you can lose some very important privileges including the license to drive your car and the opportunity to receive federal financial aid for college. Your folks will really love you for that, huh?

Word will probably get around about your arrest. Your teachers will see you differently, as will your neighbors. The girls at school won't think you're cool. They'll see you as a cheater. In fact, they'll attribute any muscles you have purely to the steroids. They'll disregard any hard work you may have put in at the gym. In their eyes, you'll be a lazy kid who cheated with some chemicals that made him bigger, and they will probably be right. You didn't pay your dues.

At nineteen, you're technically an adult and can make up your own mind, but are the benefits really worth it? The way I see it, to really get the benefits, you're going to need to take more steroids than an older guy. Why? Because your own natural testosterone levels are really high right now as suggested by your acne. Once you take in synthetic testosterone from outside, your own natural production shuts off. It can go to zero pretty fast. You'll need a lot of juice just to get you up to where you were to begin with. An older guy, whose levels have gone down over the years, might double his natural levels by taking half of what you'd need just to break even. Studies have shown that testosterone levels of teenaged boys can jump to as high as 2,000 nanograms per deciliter of blood -- about two to four times of your typical adult. How can you really justify not taking advantage of the highest natural testosterone levels you'll ever have in your life? How can you justify just shutting them down? The kids who start juicing without having built any natural foundation get big fast and then get small again just as fast when the cycle ends, like a yo-yo.

If you were 200 pounds and 35 years old, I'd agree your potential for further gains after years of training might be pretty much expended. But that's not you. You haven't even scratched the surface of your natural potential. Look at you. If you need steroids to break the 160-pound barrier, take up tennis. You could easily gain twenty pounds without touching anything that might get you busted. I'll bet your training stinks, your diet stinks, and you haven't even begun to pay the necessary dues of hard work. You want fast results? At your age, this is probably the only time in your life that you'll be able to get them without juice. Milk it for all it's worth. Revamp your training, start eating right, and stop asking people about steroids at nineteen years old.

Did I get through to him? Yes, at least for now. I gave him an exercise program and a sound nutrition plan. He's now training consistently four days each week with brief but intense workouts and heavy basic movements, hitting each body part once per week. He's also increased his protein intake to one gram for each pound of his body weight, not most days but every day. He's cut out the junk food, is consuming healthy fats, and is eating six small meals each day. He's making progress, and he's decided to forego juicing up and instead give his body's own resources a chance to work for him. Contrary to the views of the sports establishment's "Ministry of Truth" scaremongers, honesty and sound reasoning can work better than scare tactics and lies.

Perhaps there's hope for more effective approaches to the problem even at the institutional level. ATLAS (Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids) is a drug prevention program designed for high school male athletes. Initiated in 1993, the curriculum utilizes a "highly scripted" hands-on-approach, with interactive activities and role-playing. A unique feature of the program is the use of an influential coach and peer leaders as facilitators in a team setting. In addition to ten, 45-minute classroom sessions, there are three exercise sessions in the weight room. Regrettably, the fact that the National Institute on Drug Abuse funds the program suggests that at least a portion of it may be devoted to the same old scare tactics, which perpetuate the public acceptance of prosecuting mature adult personal users. On the other hand, the more positive aspects of the program involving diet and exercise seem to show promise. The program claims to have reduced the new steroid usage of participants by 50%.

At the individual level, parents need to know their children and be alert to significant behavioral changes, steroid-related or not. If you have suspicions or concerns about possible steroid use by your teen, a good primer may be found in J.E. Wright and V.S. Cowart, Anabolic Steroids: Altered States (Carmel, IN: Benchmark Press, 1990), Chapter 4, "Recognizing Anabolic Steroid Use in Adolescents," 71 -91. Some steroid users may benefit from behavioral therapy or other counseling to diminish future usage, particularly where the use arises out of extraordinarily low self-esteem or so-called "body dysmorphia" issues.

Wrap-Up

Now here's the message to pass on to teens: Before you even think about anabolic steroids, learn everything you possibly can about training and apply it in the gym. Become an authority on muscle-building nutrition, and eat right consistently. Pay your dues in the gym -- not for months, but for years -- while taking advantage of the highest natural testosterone levels you will ever have. When you reach your drug-free genetic potential, you'll be shocked at how far you've come.


Rick Collins, J.D., is a veteran lawyer and advisor to the strength, health and fitness communities, and is a nationally recognized legal authority on anabolic steroids. He actively serves on numerous bar associations, including the New York State Bar Association Executive Committee on criminal justice, and is a frequent author and lecturer. A knowledgeable weight trainer for over 25 years, he is a former bodybuilding competitor and certified personal trainer. This article was adapted from a chapter of LEGAL MUSCLE: Anabolics in America, available through SteroidLaw.com, and 1-800-525-6758. [© Rick Collins, 2003. All rights reserved. For informational purposes only, not to be construed as legal advice.]


Submitted by DMorgan on Sun, 04/08/2007 - 4:51pm.