Recent figures show a worrying increase in anabolic steroid abuse in people under 25 over the last few years. The British Crime Survey states that are 42,000 regular anabolic steroid users in the UK but other experts say there could be as many as 100,000 – which is on a par with heroin users.
Caring parents who are paying for their children’s gym subscriptions to encourage them to have a healthier lifestyle could be exposing their child to a dangerous steroid culture. Education is the best prevention against your child experimenting with steroids and so I’ve tried here to outline the dangers of steroid abuse, advice on how to talk to your child about steroids and to provide details of where you can get further information.
What are steroids?
Anabolic steroids are used in medicine to treat anaemia and muscle weakness after surgery and for veterinary use. They shouldn’t be confused with other kind of steroids, such as corticosteroids, which are used to treat medical conditions, such as asthma.
Anabolic steroids can be bought as tablets or as a liquid which is injected. Steroids are a class C drug and can only legally be prescribed by a GP and supplied by a pharmacist. Whilst it is not illegal to possess steroids, it is illegal to supply them. Street names for drugs can vary around the country – a common slang term is ‘roids’. Product names include Sustanon 250, DecaDurabolin, Dianabol, Anavar, Stanozolol.
Why do young people take steroids?
Steroids enable people to train harder, build muscle mass quicker and can help users to recover from strenuous exercise faster. Young people may come into contact with steroids in the gym, from peer groups, siblings or over the internet.
The motivations for taking steroids vary with each individual but they include a desire to have the same toned looks as celebrities, feelings of low self esteem and unhappiness with body image, peer pressure and, sometimes, parental or sports coach pressure to achieve athletic goals.
What are the dangers of steroids?
Like all illegal drugs, the first danger is that you can never tell what is in the drug, how pure it is, the strength etc. Users can rapidly become psychologically addicted to steroids and the side effects are damaging and potentially long lasting. Young people are especially at risk as it can slow their growth and cause acne, extreme mood swings and depression.
Using anabolic steroids will put you at risk from liver damage, high cholesterol, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease and some types of cancer. Long term users have also reported suffering from hallucinations and paranoia. If you are injecting steroids and sharing needles you are at risk from life threatening infections including HIV and hepatitis. Steroids are harmful to both sexes, can make you infertile and wipe out your sex drive. Male users are at risk from erection problems, shrinking testicles and gynomasty – which is the abnormal growth of male breast tissue. Also because of hormonal changes, women users may develop potentially irreversible masculine traits including facial hair and deepening voices as well as a reduction in breast size. Pregnant women risk miscarriage and still birth.
Withdrawal symptoms include headaches, lethargy and depression.
How would I know if my child was taking steroids?
If your child, or their friends, are quickly developing muscle mass, appear nervous, have mood swings, seem different and spend many hours in the gym or working out, then you need to talk to them about steroids.
How do you start a conversation with your child about steroids?
Even if you do not have any suspicions that your child is taking steroids, it would be a responsible act to ensure that they are aware of the dangers of the drugs. I would suggest getting some information leaflets and asking your child if they know what steroids are – perhaps you could then read through the leaflets together. Be open and invite questions and help your child research the answers: the Talk to Frank website is a great teenage friendly resource: www.talktofrank.com
For children concerned with their athletic abilities, you may want to explain that steroids are a cheat’s way of competing and will prevent them from knowing the extent of their natural abilities. Setting realistic goals and being proud of your achievements is the best way to train. You may want to emphasise the steroids won’t make them a better sports player. Yes, the artificially build muscle but they don’t improve hand eye coordination, balance, reaction, or reflexes — which are all neurological factors.
If you would like more information about steroids or have concerns about someone close to you, Talk to Frank run a confidential, free, 24-hour helpline where you can talk to a professionally trained advisor. Talk to Frank: 0800 77 66 00