Girls and Steroids
A study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in December 1997 shows that as many as 175,000 American high school coeds have used the illegal drugs.
Surveys done in 1991 showed steroid use among high schoolers, both male and female, bottomed out in response to new laws. But a continuing national study indicates that between that time and 1996 there has been a steady rise among girls. The number of tenth-grade females who reported using the drugs increased from 0.5 percent to 1.1 percent. During that same five-year period, the number of boys reporting steroid use stayed level at 2 to 3 percent.
Why the increase? Kathryn Lambert, DO, director of sports medicine at UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine, believes it's a direct result of the recently accepted practice of women doing weight training. "Fifteen years ago, wide use of weight machines or free weights by high school girls was unheard of," she says. "The focus was on aerobic exercise. Female body builders were considered a subculture. But now female athletes are encouraged to incorporate weight training into their exercise programs."
It's mostly while working out at neighborhood gyms, not in school, that teens meet steroid peddlers. "High school students have told me that people at their local gyms come up and ask them if they've ever considered using supplements to help build muscle mass," she states. "Among the products they sell, out of briefcases, are steroids."
Lambert points out that anyone who uses these black market drugs runs the risk of ingesting compounds with impurities. "Most likely, some of the drugs are shipped here from outside the United States, where there is no quality control," she says. "You don't really know what you're taking. It could be a compound, for example, that was made up for veterinary use."
But there are far more serious consequences to worry about. Steroids will help increase muscle mass, but prolonged use can result in serious, irreversible side effects. In females, the breasts may shrink and the clitoris may become enlarged, Lambert says. A women may develop hair on her chest, face and abdomen, her voice may deepen, and ovarian function and menstruation may also be adversely affected. Males who take the drugs become feminized, with shrinkage of the genitals. There is also a small, but very real, risk of developing liver disease or liver cancer.
"Steroids also cause mood swings and violent behavior," the specialist says. "This is so common that a ferocious outburst by someone on the drugs is known among users as a 'roid rage.'"
Anabolic steroids do have a medical use. When supervised by a physician, they can be helpful in building body mass in older people who are frail, or patients with chronic illnesses who have poor nutrition. "But under no circumstances should an otherwise healthy individual take these drugs," says Lambert. "It's not that the jury is still out, as is the case with some supplements. We know steroids have serious side effects.
"The trouble is," she says, "there will always be those
who want to take shortcuts and get the edge. And they're willing to take
risks to do it."
Spring - Summer 1998 Table of Contents