As reported by Hartford Magazine, September 2005.
How Steroids Are Harming Our Kids
UConn Doctor Says Kids As Young As 10 Are Using Them, And In Some Cases, Their Parents Are The Suppliers
By James Battaglio
I was prepared to hear that some of the jocks Robert Arciero sees in his UConn medical practice are on steroids. I really was. After all, why should the privilege of bulking up and excelling in athletics be confined to professional sports? As the pros do, so too do their little brothers and sisters.
But 10-year-olds on 'roids and growth hormones? And some of them getting these from parents to boot? No way was I ready to hear that. I was practically dazed by the image of munchkin hulks power-lifting their little sisters before a vanity mirror while admiring their biceps and quads. “You can dismiss that image,” says Arciero, a doctor who specialized in orthopedic knee, shoulder and sports medicine. "The 10-year-old girls using steroids are estimated at about 3.5 percent, not much below the 5 percent of boys this age using them."
New image: Little boys and girls power-lifting Mom and Dad. And if you think your sports-loving child isn't built like The Hulk and therefore you needn't worry about him or her experimenting with steroids, you could be wrong.
The thing is, steroids need testosterone to give one the bulky, muscular look. But the drugs don't need testosterone to give a kid added strength and speed. That almost makes the situation worse—kids can be using steroids for quickness and power but still remain disguised from the telltale Charles Atlas look.
At the junior high level, when kids are entering puberty, they don't have the full complement of testosterone needed to shape muscles like those of the pros. The result is that they can get stronger, for sure, but it doesn't show as it does in an adult.
Things, as the good doctor points out, are "definitely getting out of hand."
And while some parents might ask how they can tell if their child is on steroids, others, perhaps desirous of having sired the next Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, know full well where these drugs come from. They’re the kids’ suppliers.
Arciero said he's heard of parents looking for ergogenic aids (anything that makes one bigger, faster stronger). Mostly, steroids are available through the traditional drug networks: gymnasiums, the street and foreign countries via the Internet. "It's just not that hard," says Arciero. "A 1999 study from West Virginia showed 7 percent of all high school football players were current or former steroid users, and 15 percent of them started taking the drug before age 10. In Minnesota the percentage of seventh graders queried showed 9 percent had used steroids—5 percent male and 3.5 percent female—statistically making the percentage of users between boys and girls about the same. Sixth graders, seventh graders, high school kids...steroid use is rampant; it's like a street drug."
For the most part, doctors are finding that the kids who use steroids are the same kids prone to a higher usage of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs, almost as if there’s propensity to take drugs, regardless of what kind. That makes it sounds as if just the bad kids are taking illegal performance enhancing drugs, right? Not so.
A 1997 Sports Illustrated article by Michael Bamberger points out that in 1995. Olympic athletes were offered the following scenario: “If you were guaranteed to win and not get caught, would you use steroids?” Of 198 Olympians—the good, wholesome kids who supposedly represent the best of everything—only three said they wouldn't take the substance. Scarier yet: The same athletes were asked if they would take steroids if they could be guaranteed to win every competition for the next five years but would definitely die from them afterward. More than half said yes!
It gets worse. Studies taken both in the United States and Canada show that of the thousands of kids experimenting with steroids, a fair percentage are injecting themselves, and one-third of them share their needles with friends.
Further, only half the kids using these drugs think of them as bad.
"These kids and their families are influenced by multimillion-dollar athletes," says Arciero. "I see bizarre injuries outside the norm that make me suspicious, but I can't verify they're caused by steroid use because every kid denies it."
What's a "bizarre injury?" Doctors are seeing non-contact injuries whereby muscles have become too great a force, especially if there's an imbalance between muscles and hamstrings, thereby causing noncontact knee injuries. The general suspicion here is that this person may be using steroids.
Bursts of speed create very troublesome injuries in kids who participate in strength training, even without steroids, but if you add steroids to the equation, it has a negative effect on tendons and ligaments by weakening them.
"It's a real paradox because you're doing it to get strong and this becomes counterproductive. Steroids add a double whammy. Now you have a strong muscle and a weak tendon. The result is bizarre, severe injury," says Arciero.
Okay, so what's the solution for those parents who aren't supplying their kids with these drugs and who do care about the injuries their young athletes may sustain if they fool with 'roids?
"I think it has to start at the education level. If you're going to talk about marijuana and cocaine, you need to throw steroids in there, too," says Arciero. "You've gotta get to them when they're young."
Sounds like first grade isn't too early.
How Steroids Affect Kids and Young Adults
By Jeffrey M. Anderson, M.D.
In order to explain why the use of anabolic steroids is perceived as being desirable by many young adults, particularly athletes, it's important to think of anabolic steroids as pharmacologic agents that have both desired and undesired physiological effects. In understanding these actions, we can also evaluate why there are substantial medical concerns regarding their use and why they are banned by almost all sports-governing bodies.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic hormones that are related to the male hormone testosterone. Both the desired and undesired effects of these substances are related to the hormonal effects of massive doses of these hormones in the body. The term "anabolic" refers to steroids' ability to stimulate the growth of tissue in the body, specifically muscle. Anabolic steroids are different drugs than corticosteroids, such as prednisone, which are used regularly to treat inflammatory disorders such as asthma and arthritis. This is a source of much confusion with athletes. The effects of corticosteroids on the body are dramatically different than anabolic steroids, and most regulatory bodies in sports do not ban them.
This leads us to the desired effects of anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids, when taken in large enough doses, will promote the increase in muscle mass in a user. In combination with appropriate training, they will assist the user in becoming bigger, faster and stronger. This can translate to improved athletic performance. Even nonathletic populations are increasingly using steroids for these effects. Both male and female nonathletic teens are using the drugs in an effort to enhance their body shape. The concern is that the risks of using anabolic steroids outweigh their benefits, both on an individual and a societal basis.
These risks are multiple, due to the male hormone effect of anabolic steroids. It is not possible to garner the desired effects of anabolic steroids without facing their risks. Risks faced specifically by male users include shrinkage of the testicles and sterility, impotence and irreversible breast enlargement. Females may experience the development of masculine characteristics including thinning of scalp hair, increased body hair, breast shrinkage and deepening of the voice. Both sexes can increase their risk of acne, liver tumors, kidney disease, blood clotting, elevation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, decreases in HDL (good) cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease and strokes.
Of particular concern are the psychological side effects that have been linked to steroid use. An increase in aggressiveness or "'roid rage" can lead to increased violent behavior. Also, the discontinuation of steroid use may be associated with episodes of deep depression, insomnia, loss of appetite and loss of energy. There have been teen suicides that have been blamed on steroid use and withdrawal. Just like any medication, different users develop different side effects, and all side effects do not occur in all users.
Other drugs have been withdrawn from the market for far lesser side effects, which is why anabolic steroid use without a prescription is illegal. Prescription uses for steroids include a very limited number of clinical entities.
In sports where their use is permitted or simply ignored, a culture develops in which steroid use is necessary for success. I have sat with a minor league pitcher who came to me because he had been told that the only way he would make the major leagues is by using steroids. In fields where the rewards for success are extremely high, the temptation to risk one's health with steroid use is great. In that situation, there is no substitute for a stringent drug-testing policy to protect the health of all of the participants in that sport. Among adolescents, educational programs, such as one implemented in Oregon public schools, have been shown to alter teens' perception of steroid use in a healthy fashion. Although the use of artificial substances to gain a competitive edge will always be present, the continued combination of education and enforcement is important in protecting the health of our teens and young adults.
Dr. Jeffrey M. Anderson is the director of sports medicine and team physician for the University of Connecticut Athletic Department. He is also assistant clinical professor of family medicine at the UConn Health Center in Farmington.