Steroid Use and Young Athletes

Congress heard from Major League Baseball (MLB) players regarding their use of steroids, and none have proven to be the heroes they claim to be. Baseball is not shaping up to be the great American sport some believed. Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted to his steroid use, but he has no regrets about it. He even vetoed a bill that would require California high school coaches to teach about the dangers of steroid use. While those "idols" were relatively safe using steroids because they did so under a doctor's supervision or the probable guidance of peers in MLB, there are stories of users who have not been so lucky, such as Efrain Marrero of Vacaville, California, a nineteen-year-old athlete who used steroids and killed himself shortly after stopping, possibly because the drugs are not only injurious to one's health while being used but hard to quit "cold turkey" as Marrero did.

Steroids can be classified into two categories: anabolic, which refers to muscle building, and androgenic, which increases masculine characteristics. While they can be taken legally by prescription to treat certain disorders or muscle weakness, other forms of steroids are used and frequently abused by athletes in order to enhance performance. Anabolic steroids can have serious side effects, such as liver tumors, cancer, jaundice, high blood pressure, increased bad cholesterol, and kidney tumors. Men, women, and adolescents experience different physical side effects, but they can all suffer from the psychiatric side effects associated with anabolic steroids. Some users feel positively about themselves but also experience major mood swings and a tendency towards violence. It has also been shown that the withdrawal symptoms of steroids are similar to those of methamphetamines. A user experiences a severe low when he/she stops using the drugs, resulting in extreme mood swings that may enhance suicidal tendencies.

With the known emotional and physical dangers about steroids, why isn't the message to young athletes more clear? Perhaps in part because high school sports players see their heroes, such as Mark McGuire, unwilling to talk about their mistakes.

When Marrero's parents told him he had to stop using steroids, he argued, "But Barry Bonds does it." Young athletes look up to professionals as people who have succeeded, often despite their economic status, and now fans might also think that they can thrive in sports regardless of their athletic abilities. Steroid use in professional sports teaches fans that the allure of fame, money, and record-breaking outweighs the dangers of drugs. MLB must more strictly regulate the use of steroids, and there must be more testing done on these players in order to send a straightforward message to their young follower.

Michal Raucher is a research intern at the America Council on Science and Health.