– by Doug West
©2003, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
In the increasingly competitive and lucrative world of pro sports, more and more players feeling the pressure to get the competitive edge are trying to increase performance through synthetic and, often times, illegal means. The problem is so newsworthy that steroid use in professional baseball was the topic of numerous news reports during the summer of 2002. One common theme running through all the reports is that ballplayers find the allure so powerful due to the potentially profitable – in the short term at least – rewards of increased strength and performance. That same attitude and desire for excellence has filtered down to our young student athletes who choose to use steroids in their pursuit of coveted athletic scholarships.
Beyond the economic incentives of steroid use lies the delicate and potentially more dangerous issue of body appearance. Young boys are vulnerable developmentally as they approach and progress through the traumatic, awkward and sometimes painful stage of adolescence. As boys begin to discover and define who they are and what place they hold in the relational structure of youth culture, they discover the value of conformity to cultural standards of “manliness” and strong masculinity. The media complicates matters further as it defines, directs and influences the fleeting and elusive “perfect body” ideal. Boys scramble to get in line and might be tempted to “juice” up to avoid being taunted, intimidated, and teased by others. Consequently, the growing desire to enhance their physiques, improve their appearance, and elevate their social standing by the use of anabolic steroids is understandable.
The emotional kindling of today’s youth is ignited by an image obsessed culture. It’s fanned by those who consider themselves as less than physically desirable in society’s eyes. It’s stoked by the logs of perception that boys and girls pile on the fire as they take a look in the mirror and are disappointed by what they see/know to be “true.” The fire will build to immeasurable portions in a society that fails to embrace the Scriptural truth that each person is valuable solely because they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God looks at the condition of the human heart – not the exterior body. Sadly, it appears that if we don’t act soon, we’re on our way to a raging wildfire burning out of control.
Anabolic steroids come in many forms and are taken orally, injected or rubbed into the skin. They are used to increase the production of testosterone, which, in turn, builds muscle mass and increases strength and speed without any additional effort. Trends of steroid use are tracked annually in the Monitoring the Future Study (http://monitoringthefuture.org). The percentage of boys in 2001 who reported using steroids in 8th, 10th and 12th grade was 2.3%, 3.3% and 3.8%, respectively, while percentages for girls remained constant at around 1% across the three grade segments. Sadly, only 59% of 12th graders perceive a “great risk” with taking steroids. Apparently there is no lack of availability for steroids as 44% of 12th graders say steroids are “fairly/very easy” to get.
The price of steroid abuse is high. We might say that there are many “tolls” to be paid – usually deferred – by those who choose the fast and dangerous road of steroid abuse. Here are just a few examples that you should discuss with the children and teens you know and love:
The Physical toll: The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that heart attacks, strokes and liver cancer are the more serious life threatening effects of steroid abuse. Side effects for male users include acne, baldness, breast development, shrinking testicles and impotence. Side effects for female users include facial hair, changes in menstrual cycle, breast reduction and voice deepening. Inflated hormone levels may also stunt or stop bone growth in adolescents.
The Psychological toll: Steroid abuse affects far more than one’s muscles. “Roid Rage” is a term coined for the uncontrollable bursts of anger that often accompany steroid use. Depression is another potential problem, as is addiction with its accompanying withdrawal symptoms. Other problems include irritability, aggression, impaired judgment, delusions, and paranoid jealousy.
The Soul Toll: Steroid users are cheating and living a lie. They’ve also bought into the prevailing “ends justifies the means” way of ethical decision-making, something which goes against the grain of God’s standards. This “whatever works for you”, approach to morals and ethics is evidenced by high-profile steroid use and former major league baseball player Ken Caminiti: “I’ve made a ton of mistakes. I don’t think using steroids is one of them” (Sports Illustrated, June 3, 2002). While his body is racked and scarred by steroid abuse, Caminiti’s steroid abuse yielded an MVP season. Steroid use might be viewed as a values-neutral means to a justifiable end of bigger bodies, bulging bank accounts, and broken records, but the structure on which such reasoning rests is certainly shaky.
Fortunately, we’re not at the point where “everybody is doing it.” But an increasing percentage are, and the lucrative and appealing trail of shattered records, athletic scholarships, high salaries, and notoriety is being blazed to an unanticipated and dangerous destination by high profile players and sports heroes. They’re drawing legions of unsuspecting and impressionable youth down the dusty, desolate, dead-end trail.
It would behoove parents, youth workers, and educators to not only become better educated about steroid facts, but to exert a more positive long-lasting influence on our kids by investing our time and ourselves in loving them for who they are while shattering the false images our culture convincingly sells regarding who they must be.
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