Steroid use by teens has risen steadily since the early 1990s. That’s because news of steroids and athletic superstars caught using them has catapulted them into the limelight as both unsavory and savior to those seeking a dramatic physical transformation.
Children and teens are impressionable. The media knows this and capitalizes on it whenever possible. The caveat, however, has been the backlash effect of the notorious becoming celebrated. Celebs and sports stars are readily admitting that they are human, and therefore, fallible. But in the process, it has given carte blanche to teens to begin experimenting in the realm of vanity-driven drug use. So while its confession feels good to the adult soul, it merely renders permission to those waiting for a sign for affirmation from his or her idol.
Sales of androstenedione (a pro-hormone) skyrocketed following news reports that St. Louis Cardinals’ star slugger Mark McGwire was using the very same substance. While it isn’t illegal to purchase or use a pro-hormone, it’s just another example of how influential sports superstars are over their youthful followers.
Yes, “his” or “her”. Teen steroid use is no longer just limited to young men in adolescence. Steroid use now invites women into the fold to partake of its make-over properties. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 12% of teenage boys and 2% of teenage girls use steroids for one purpose or another. For boys, it’s typically to enhance athletic performance in a socially competitive environment where failure is at a great cost. But lest you think it’s all about vanity for the girls, don’t delude yourself!
In actuality, because female athletic participation has increased ten-fold in the last two decades, and competition for time in an ever-growing media spotlight on women in sports is also increasing, use among middle school and high school girls is on the rise at an alarming rate too. But plenty are still using steroids to achieve the muscular look they now see is accepted and sexy in the mainstream media. Many of those girls have eating disorders and other body image issues that prevent them from making sound choices in the first place. Steroids, it seems, are just waiting in the wings as yet another methods to manipulate the body into doing a teenage girl’s will.
Have a weight problem as a young teen? Steroids can help. Have a problem getting dates? Steroids can help. Want to be accepted by the popular kids? Steroids can help. When you think about it, steroids are a cure for all the ails any number of insecurities about appearance or performance. Problem is, teens practically embody the concept of insecurity for a good many years, so they are particularly vulnerable to the lure of anabolic steroids. And sadly, teens also suffer much more psychologically with the use of steroids during adolescence when hormones are already ebbing and flowing at an alarming rate, than adult males or females.
It is estimated that teens who use steroids have a much higher chance of developing “Roid rages” that include wild aggression and delusions. Teen pregnancy from increase libido is also a risk. But even worse, because a teen’s body is not yet fully developed, growth can be stunted and parts of the body that were scheduled to grow by Mother Nature, may not get the opportunity to full mature. And steroid use is even crueler to girls, because it can deepen the voice, alter facial structure, change patterns of hair growth, suppress breast development, and cause depression, paranoia, excessive anger, and enlargement of genitalia on developing girls. The social death a girl might experience over these side effects, might be far too overwhelming for any young girl to handle, and suicide is also a risk.
But where are these teens procuring steroids? Even worse news… Many who live on the west coast simply make a trip down to Mexico for the day, and buy them in the local Farmacias. This availability, to anyone, makes policing teen steroid use almost impossible. Anyone at the age of 16 can be out all day on a Saturday and raise no suspicion. And there are so many cars that traverse the borders daily, it’s pretty difficult to check every car for illicit purchases. But they are just as readily available in hardcore gyms across America, for a higher price.
The risk, of course, is that steroids are fake and contain no real ingredient (not such a bad alternative for teens, however) or worse, that they contain something other than what is advertised. Sadly, pure, harsh, testosterone is often the only ingredient, and carries with it the maximum penalty of side effects possible. For girls, this would be devastating. For boys, it may cause excessive aggression, acne, and sex drive that pushes the potential for risky behavior, such as unprotected sex, recreational drug use, and even date rape, through the roof!
Looks are very important to teens. So is achieving an athletic edge prior to college. That’s why it’s so important for parents, teachers, coaches and other mentors, need to educate themselves about the signs of steroid use. Steroid use doubled among U.S. high school students between 1991 and 2003, according to the CDC. These statistics should be enough to convince adults to train a more watchful eye upon the teens and pre-teens in their lives.
Luckily, some states are pushing for steroid testing of high school athletes. But gaining control of this wildfire aberration of teen behavior will require much more than just random urine tests in the locker room before home games! Control over this epidemic must begin at home, and extend into school guidance counseling offices, and classrooms.
Dr. Eric Small, Chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on sports medicine, says that “adults should gently ask youngsters about possible steroid use.” And, he warns, “Talking about steroids and supplements needs to start in third grade. If you wait until ninth grade, it’s too late.”
Here are some of the warning signs to monitor and talk about as soon as they are seen:
Things to watch
Odd Eating Behaviors
Obsessive Focus on Body
Outbursts of Anger
Mysterious Packages that Come to Your Son or Daughter via Mail
Signs of Steroid Use
Quick Weight or Muscle Gain (if teen is also working out)
Aggressive or Combative
Jaundice (skin yellowish – partial to full liver failure)
Purpose or Red Spots on the Body
Swelling of Feet and Lower Legs
Sudden Explosion of Severe Acne on the Shoulder and Back/ Excessive oil
Persistent Odor or Bad Breath
Your Son Develops Breasts/ Your Daughter Loses Breast Tissue and Gets “Lean”
Note: The liver, cardiovascular and reproductive systems are affected the most by steroid use.
Know what your kids and teens are doing. How do they spend their time and with whom? Do they aspire to something beyond their current physical capabilities? It’s your job to steer them in the right direction before they get in over their head and alter their bodies forever.