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Intensification of athletic competition has made athletes to strive for higher performance to attain success. The mentality of winning in competition has fuelled the use of performance enhancing drugs such as steroids. However, these steroids have adverse effects on the athletes using them as a way of enhancing their performance. This paper identifies the effects of steroids on athletes.

Background on Steroids

Statistics indicate that approximately 1 to 3 million people; have already used steroids in the United States alone (Sjöqvist, Garle & Rane, 2008). In the history of sports, there have been scandals related to the use of performance enhancing substances especially steroids.   For instance, Barry Bonds was put on investigation for suspicion of steroid use after breaking Hank Aaron’s home run in baseball (Smith & McCambridge, 2009). Various athletic governing bodies and associations have put in place bans against use of steroids to encourage fair competition and safeguard the safety and health of the athletes. Despite this, athletes are still using steroids by looking for ways to prevent detection, without considering the consequences. According to Cheatham, Hosey and Johnson (2008), steroids influence collagen synthesis, bone metabolism, muscle strength and size and lean body mass. Indeed, Smith and McCambridge (2009) concur by arguing that supraphysiological doses of testosterone combined with strength training results in increases in muscle size, fat free mass and strength in a normal man.  The steroids promote growth of skeletal muscles by increasing growth of muscle fibers through protein synthesis and prevention of muscle catabolism (Caple & Cabrera, 2011).Athletes may take steroids orally to prevent detection as the drugs are rapidly cleared from an individual’s body. Other athletes take the steroids through intramuscular injections, which stay in the body for longer durations and can be detected after several months.

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Adverse Effects of Steroids

There is a limitation on studies conducted to determine the effects of steroids on athletes. This arises from the fact that generalization of the effects of steroids is difficult based on the limited published studies because of variations in steroid regimens and preparations (Smith & McCambridge, 2009).  In addition, many steroid users have not come out openly to allow for studies to be carried out on the effects of the steroids. Despite this, various effects have been identified for steroid abuse among athletes. According to Graham et al (2008), the severity of the adverse effect will depend on the steroid being abused, duration of administration and the dosage.

Steroid abuse results in the disruption of normal production of hormones resulting in reversible and irreversible changes, and among the youth high levels of artificial sex hormones lead to premature stop in the growth of bones (Ungerleider, 2009). Adolescent athletes using steroids face the risk of growth plate injury resulting from strength gains and accelerated muscle development (Smith & McCambridge, 2009). Long term use of steroids results in the suppression of follicle stimulating hormone and the luteinizing hormone leading to secondary amenorrhea for the females as well as disturbances in the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis leading to testicular atrophy and infertility in males (Graham et al, 2008).

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There have been reports of adverse psychological effects for steroid users such that higher doses result in increased aggression and mood changes (Smith & McCambridge, 2009). Individuals with personality disorders are highly susceptible to negative psychological effects characterized by increased aggression when using steroids. Caple and Cabrera (2011) argue that athletes depended on steroids may experience various effects upon withdrawal including suicidal thoughts, depression, impaired concentration, psychomotor retardation and fatigue. Further statistics indicate that an estimated 1 to 2 percent of steroid users experience extreme forms of behavior (Pearl, 2009). Specifically, there have been studies documenting irritability with use of steroids generating hypothesis that not all of these substances lead to mood changes (Pearl, 2009).

Although there is scant data to establish direct relations between steroid use and cardiovascular diseases, cohort studies have suggested links (Pearl, 2009). Cardiovascular effects from the abuse of steroids include alteration of lipid profiles and an increase in the blood pressure, as well as certain cancers such as hepatocellular carcinoma (Calfee, Calfee & Fadale, 2008). The abuse of steroids causes hepatocellular carcinoma as these substances elevate liver enzymes creating blood cysts in the liver that cause the cancer(Busconi& Stevenson,2009). Steroid abuse has been associated with hormone dependent cancers including uterine and breast cancers among women athletes (Ebrahimi, 2009). Moreover, steroid abusers are at a risk of cardiomyopathy, myocardial infarction and cardiac death (Cheatham et al, 2008). Smith and McCambridge (2009) also report other cardiovascular effects of the steroid use including stroke, impaired cardiac function, cardiac hypertrophy, and hypertension.

Steroids use not only result in adverse effects on the health of an individual, but also, have career implications. Athletes detected for using steroids to enhance their performance are put on suspension from participating in future events. This affects their performance in sports as they lack the opportunity to evaluate their performance on national and international levels. In other cases, other athletes are completely banned from participating in any sport events, which ends an athlete’s career with its positive future prospects. The associated health costs from abuse of steroids are an additional economic burden to an individual and the society. According to Ghigo Lanfranco and Strasburger (2011), 13 percent of power lifters deaths were associated with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, hepatic coma, myocardial infarction and suicides. Therefore, steroid abusers are at a higher risk of mortality from the adverse health effects of these substances. This makes it important to identify interventions for preventing the abuse of steroids among athletes to protect their health as well as their careers.

In conclusion, abuse of steroids has health adverse effects on athletes including cardiovascular, psychological, and hormonal that increase economic costs and mortality. Furthermore, the careers of athletes abusing drugs are in jeopardy, if dictated by athletics governing organizations. Hence, coaches and athletes need to find safer ways for enhancing their performance, rather than relying on steroids. Through this, the associated health, economic and career implications of steroid abuse can be reversed.

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