Anabolic steroids have been used by professional athletes in order to gain a competitive advantage for decades. However, once it became common knowledge that athletes were using steroids in order to help with their recovery from injury or to increase their muscle mass, sporting authorities started to crack down on their use. Now testing for steroids is carried out after every competition, and even between events to ensure that athletes in all sports are clean.
WADA, the World Anti-Doping Authority, has put steroids on its list of substances which are banned at all times, not just during competitions but even during training periods as well. Punishments for athletes who use banned substances, including steroids, are severe; most are banned for months or even years, and if they are found to have used steroids in competitions they won, then they will have their medals and records taken from them.
Why Athletes Use Steroids
It is most common to find steroid abuse among professional athletes who take part in sports which require strength, and a lot of muscle. Anabolic steroids help to build muscle mass and make that muscle stronger; ideal for weightlifters, and track and field athletes, especially sprinters.
Some of the most high-profile athletes caught using steroids have been 100m sprinters like Ben Johnson, who was stripped of the 1988 Olympic gold medal at that event after tests found that he was using steroids. There is some evidence that even amateur athletes who play American Football and rugby are using steroids to build up their bulk, while they are increasingly popular with young men who want to have the perfect physique for vanity reasons, not for sport.
Side Effects of Steroids
While steroids have been banned by WADA because of the competitive advantage users gain, there are also medical reasons for the sporting authorities to discourage their use. Abuse of steroids by athletes leads to mood swings and increased aggression, a decreased sex drive, acne and premature baldness, and more serious conditions like high blood pressure, cancer and raised cholesterol levels, which can lead to cardiac problems.
Steroids can be used for genuine medical problems including HIV, Muscular Dystrophy and to help cancer patients build up their strength after chemotherapy treatment. However, there are no valid medical reasons for most healthy, professional athletes to be taking steroids as medication, and if they test positive for steroids then the assumption has to be that they are trying to cheat.
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WADA and Steroids
Athletes are tested very frequently these days, both during competition and during their training sessions; they can even be punished just as severely if they fail to turn up for drug testing as if they had tested positive for steroids or another banned substance. Every professional athlete today has a biological passport which helps the experts at WADA spot any potential discrepancies which could be an indication of steroid use.
If an athlete is found to have been using steroids, either as part of their training regimen or to gain an advantage during races or matches, then they face a lengthy ban from taking part in competitions lasting months or even years, depending on the rules of their sports’ own ruling bodies.
This can devastate a professional athlete’s career; even if they make a comeback after serving their ban, their fans will not look at them the same way, and they face training and competing under a microscope for the rest of their lives.
The advantages gained by using steroids are not insignificant, but the damage that they can do to both your health and to your prospective sporting career means that it is simply not a risk worth taking. You are risking serious illness and a long ban if you are caught — and the rigorous testing programs employed by all sports from college to professional level means you will be caught.
Lesser Known Beneficial Uses For Anabolic Steroids
Anabolic steroids have had a bad press in recent years, thanks to their prevalence in schools and colleges, and their use by athletes to gain an advantage over competitors.
While it is true that the abuse and misuse of anabolic steroids is illegal in professional sports, and that these drugs can be highly dangerous if taken inappropriately without proper medical supervision, they are also an extremely useful and beneficial medication for a variety of conditions.
Patients can often become nervous and uncomfortable when their doctor suggests using anabolic steroids for a legitimate medical reason, but the horror stories we have all heard about the side effects or their illegal use should not put you off if they can help you feel better.
Anabolic Steroids and Cancer
Many treatments for cancer can leave the patient weakened, and with a significant loss of muscle tissue throughout their body.
Doctors will often prescribe their cancer patients a short course of anabolic steroids to help them build up their strength, either in anticipation of further treatment or surgery or simply to help them become stronger in order to return to their normal life as soon as possible.
Men with testicular cancer sometimes have one or both testicles removed – to cure the disease and to try and prevent its return. However, this leaves the men unable to make testosterone naturally.
Anabolic steroids can be prescribed to ensure that normal levels of testosterone are maintained, thereby ensuring that there is no change in the patient’s secondary sexual characteristics such as facial hair, body hair and a lower voice.
Anabolic Steroids and Hormone Problems
There are other medical conditions associated with our hormones which can be treated with the use of anabolic steroids. Some young men have a condition which affects their pituitary gland, and stops them from producing testosterone naturally when they reach puberty. Anabolic steroids can replace the natural testosterone production, allowing them to go through puberty and continue to live a normal life.
Transsexual women who wish to become men are often given anabolic steroids to boost the levels of testosterone in their body; this helps them to develop more manly facial features and deepens their voice. Although the US has not officially approved the use of anabolic steroids for this purpose, there are many clinics where transsexuals can be prescribed these drugs legally.
Studies are currently being carried out to establish if anabolic steroids could be used in the development of a male contraceptive, similar to the pill taken by millions of women around the world.
Unfortunately, attempts to research this potential benefit has been held back because of the widespread abuse of steroids; there are concerns that making the drug more widely available as a male contraceptive pill will lead to more young people abusing steroids for other purposes.
Being prescribed anabolic steroids for a genuine medical reason is no reason for concern – and no reason for embarrassment or shame either. While there is no doubt that widespread abuse of these drugs has led to stigma about their use, it is important to remember that some people on steroids will be taking them for a medical condition, and not to gain an advantage in sporting competition or for youthful vanity.
Regardless of the reason you think you should be taking steroids, remember that they are dangerous drugs, and should only be used when prescribed by a doctor.