Through the ages the human race has become bigger, better, and overall stronger. Time and time again we have proved that we are the fittest for survival, and today this mindset continues in our work, daily life, and most especially in our sports and exercise. Exercise and sports have grown through the ages, becoming more competitive and consequentially causing the human being to seek for new ways to develop and improve certain skill sets. However, for all the good that sports and exercise do for the world, if taken to the extreme, a once beneficial activity can become an individual’s downfall.
There are many negative aspects that can develop from sports and exercising, but of them all Anabolic Steroid (AAS) use is most prominent. Anabolic steroids were first developed in Germany in the 1930s and used to treat depression, however this didn’t last very long. In the 1954 Olympics, Russians were found to be using anabolic steroids to enhance their performance and form that moment in time on anabolic steroids use took off. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, by about the 1980s, “anabolic steroid use began to extend into the general population” with young men becoming the primary users in hopes to not improve their athletic performance but rather physical appearance.
Science has proven that using anabolic steroids can practically make the dream of becoming a “perfect man” a reality. Synthetically derived from the male hormone testosterone, anabolic-androgenic steroids have been altered to last longer in the blood stream, prolonging the effects of muscle growth. The two main effects from using, include an anabolic effect and an androgenic effect. An anabolic effect on the body causes muscles to grow and become stronger, while the androgenic effect is a masculinization of the body. It was once thought that steroids could procure a possible path to “perfection”, however research reveals just how devastating the cost. Those who pursue the extreme effects of long-term steroid supplementation, eventually suffer from numerous biological problems and dangerous psychological effects.
Dick Pound, the chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency once stated, “Doping [using anabolic steroids] is the most serious problem we have… if we don’t do something about it, spots will degenerate into an extreme and violent sport of mutant gladiators” (464 Cox). Biologically, anabolic steroids seem to be the answer to skinny bodies and frail figures, but through scientific research serious unintended side effects have been discovered. Adverse effects are different for men and women, physically men can develop breasts and shrunken testicles while women can have and increase in body hair and absent periods. These physical mutations are extremely concerning, but far worse are the internal side effects to organs such as the heart, liver, and immune system.
In 1989 a group of researchers wanted to discover the effects of Anabolic steroids on the immune response. Their work came to an interesting conclusion, individuals who had been “doping” for three years or more had significantly lower “immunoglobin levels” thus weaker immune systems and higher levels of toxicity in their body (Calabrese). The growing toxicity levels users exemplified in Calabrese’s findings, can lead to nerve damage which in turn can develop into severe brain damage or worse. Unfortunately, so many of these internal biological problems go untreated for years and lead to much more harmful and irreversible bodily conditions truly making users “glorified mutants”. As one system of the body begins to decline others soon follow, a weaker immune system brings about a weaker neurological system followed by the decreasing function of psychological processes leading to further decline and complete deterioration of the body from the inside out.
The question, “do steroids increase aggression, or is the aggressiveness of steroid users simply a result of competitive gym rooms and the personalities of the bodybuilders who use them” has long been debated by researchers. The most common psychological effect of steroid use is severe mood swings, also known as “roid-rage”. In 2017, Johanna Seitz and other researchers performed and in-depth study of long term AAS use on the brain, their results proved that long term use lead to “psychiatric and cognitive abnormalities” in the brain. The greatest of these abnormalities was found in relation to the amygdala which plays a vital role in processing emotion. Test subjects who had been long-term AAS users were found to have enlarged amygdales with impaired functioning capabilities.
The high levels of endo and exogenous testosterone introduced to the body by AAS alter the brain chemistry of an individual, and “the higher the serum level the higher the level of aggression” (Bahrke 465). Humans naturally have a wide range of emotions, aggression being one of them, all with varying levels of intensity, however there is a clear link in association with high levels of aggression and high levels of testosterone in the body. This condition brought about by super-physiological doses of testosterone makes it more difficult for the individual to control their behavior and can lead to violent tendencies, chronic depression, and many other mental ailments. The hardest part of arguing against anabolic steroid use is the results that they bring about. When living in a world of instant pleasure seekers steroids deliver. Users become idolized and complimented for their looks, skills, and remarkable feats of strength, with such extrinsic motivation they have no reason to want to stop.
The pressures of social acceptance have been another major influencing factor in contributing to the negative aspects of exercise and sports. Though cases have been small in past years, a new mental condition has developed which focuses on a better physical appearance and increasing one’s muscle mass in an extremist fashion. This new mental disease is called “muscle dysmorphia” (NIDA), a preoccupation with how one sees their muscle size as inadequate. The culture one lives in plays a significant role in how they perceive themselves. When television shows portray “manly” men with rippling muscles as the hero and total babe magnets, young men see this and then want to grow up to become just like them. These same young men who want to be bigger and better than life become obsessed with reaching a fictional standard and turn to whatever means necessary to get there.
Just like anorexia and other similar cognitive disorders, muscle dysmorphia can slowly pollute the mind of an individual until it has total control. This body image has led to a type of “reverse anorexia” (Cox 480) or unreal pursuits of bigness. Individuals who have been classified as such constantly think about their muscularity and have little control over their compulsive exercise and dietary regiments. Researchers have hypothesized that the illogical drive for superior muscularity that men suffer from is extremely similar to the psychological inadequacies that of what women face. Positive psychological processes like determination, self-efficacy, eustress become altered by the mental condition into negative mental processes. In conclusion, increased levels of muscle dysmorphia are associated with high levels of social anxiety, depression, and perfectionism along with overall decreased perceived body attractiveness.
In order to combat the unceasing tides of negative measures against exercise many organizations have come together in hopes of educating coaches, parents, and individuals so that future generations can enjoy the positives of exercise and sports. Currently there are two main approaches to battling drug abuse, “cognitive techniques” and “behavioral techniques” (Anshel 2006). Cognitive techniques are used to influence behavior and attitude through intellectual and psychological methods. A good example of this would be that of a coach or parent setting parameters for appropriate behavior, creating an atmosphere of teamwork and unity, but most importantly teaching and educating individuals who are under their care.
In 2003 Strelan and Boekmann proposed a deterrence theory, this theory not only told individuals to say no banned supplement use, but rather taught the individual to perform a cost-benefit analysis of the choice and then make an informed decision. As for behavioral techniques, athletes need to be taught alternative ways to strengthen and improve their performance without the use of drugs. An alternative method could be teaching motor skills or new techniques so that an athlete develops a more advanced way of performing. This type of cognitive strategy works best with younger athletes by providing them early on with improvement strategies and showing them that there is always a better way to accel in life. Though no system is entirely perfect at combating substance abuse it is vital that every effort is taken to become educated enough to make healthy life style choices.
As sports and exercise keeps growing athletes and recreational athletes alike will always be looking to perform at their best. With how fast technology is advancing new opportunities will arise and give athletes the next “new and cutting edge” boost they all look for. Though some discoveries may actually be validated, it is advised that the individual become well educated on how to best perform in their sport or recreational activity. In conclusion becoming the “best” takes time and effort, there are no short cuts or miracle pills that can get you there. An athlete should enjoy the struggle and the challenge their sport brings and remember to stay focused and not become overwhelmed with perfection. When individuals truly enjoy exercising for the sake of exercising, reaping the rewards in their due time, the harmful negative effects that can come along wont.