Sports fans know that many sports, at varying times and frequencies, are plagued by the use of steroids. Steroid scandal has hit professional athletes in track and field, baseball, cycling and gymnastics (to name a few). While the use of steroids in professional sports is disturbing, of particular concern is the use of steroids in young girls. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2011 2.9% of high school girls admitted to using steroids. While that figure is down from the all-time high of 5.3% reported in 2003, it is more than double the 1.2% reported in 1991. While steroid use may not be as pervasive among young girls as alcohol or marijuana use, the practice is nothing to be ignored, and efforts should be made to decrease usage among girls.
As defined by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) steroids, or anabolic steroids, are synthetically produced variants of testosterone that are abused in an attempt to promote muscle growth, enhance athletic or other physical performance, and improve physical appearance. While the initial effects of these drugs may tempt girls, the side and long-term effects may include:
Dramatic mood swings
Increased hostility and aggression, impaired judgment (“roid rage”)
Deepening of the voice
Increased facial and body hair
Male patterned baldness
Infertility or sterility
Unfortunately, these serious physical and emotional side effects are not enough to stop some young girls from experimenting with steroids.
The drive for girls to become winning athletes can overshadow the need to maintain healthy bodies. The pressure to win and to earn scholarships at athletically competitive colleges can motivate girls to supplement their eating and exercising regimens with illegal steroids, leaving them susceptible to extreme health risks. In addition to the pressure of success, studies suggest that the media also motivates girls to use steroids. Increased use of steroids coincides with an increase in images of thin, toned women in the media. The more frequently girls are bombarded with images of women with “perfect physiques,” the more they feel pressured to conform to those images.
One obvious solution to the increased use of steroids is education. Educating girls about the harms of steroids can deter girls from using steroids; however, attempts to warn girls about steroids should be specifically tailored to fit the audience. Because girls have not fully developed their mental capacities, they often make decisions without considering risks or long-term effects. The immediate physical results of steroid use can be extremely motivating, so it is key that educators stress the short-term negative effects of steroid usage. In girls, the threat of acne, a deepened voice, and facial hair may make more of an impression than the threat of infertility. Additionally, seeing is believing for youngsters, so it is important that girls hear directly from former female steroids users about the consequences of steroid use rather than just read about them in textbooks. Finally, there should be a cultural shift in the importance placed on perfection. Girls are unfairly pressured to be the perfect student-athlete with the perfect body. Perfection is an impossible standard and girls should be taught that what is important is doing their absolute best, not winning or perfection. Intrinsic pressures to win and extrinsic pressures from the media must be countered with lessons of natural hard work, determination, fairness and success. While steroid use among girls may never completely go away, saving many girls from the harms of steroids is a very real possibility. Educators, coaches and families have a duty to make efforts to ensure that their girls know that the seemingly attractive, temporary effects of steroids are only masks for the very real, harmful and permanent consequences of steroids.