The competition in athletic sports, whether at school or on a professional level like the CrossFit Games, can cause much pressure and physical stress on athletes. So much so, that some resort to using performance-enhancing drugs. The most common of these is anabolic steroids. Sporting authorities and bodies like WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) have been vigilant about steroid abuse by athletes for decades. They’ve made steroid drug testing, as well as the testing of other prohibited substances, a priority.
Not only that, but sporting bodies themselves have increased their urgency to catch out athletes who cheat and take prohibited substances. The CrossFit Games, is one of these, who enforce their own drug testing. This has resulted in the banning of several athletes. Most notably Australian Ricky Garard, who was stripped of his podium finish at the 2017 CrossFit Games and given a four year suspension for testing positive to a banned substance.
But why is it so important to test athletes for steroids?
What are Steroids?
Anabolic steroids are performance-enhancing drugs that can be taken orally or through injection. It attracts athletes and bodybuilders because is it quickly builds muscle mass and enhances stamina. These are synthetically produced drugs that were initially designed to function like testosterone and used to cure hormonal problems in male patients. It helps patients with problems of impotence, delayed puberty, and HIV. Sadly, it has become an abused substance in many recent cases.
It is important to note, however, that anabolic steroids are not the same as catabolic corticosteroids as doctors prescribe the latter as anti-inflammatory medications.
Dangers of Steroid Use
With all the muscle mass and endurance gained with less effort within a short period, an athlete could feel confident and strong. However, when the ill-effects manifest and when addiction sets in, it’ll be difficult, although not impossible, to stop using the drug.
Here are some of the ugly and dangerous effects of anabolic steroids:
- Hormonal Imbalance – Taking in too much steroids can instead hamper the production of natural testosterone and cause various hormonal problems.
Hormonal effects on men:
Testicular atrophy or shrinking testicles
Low sperm count
Gynecomastia or breast enlargement
Risk of prostate cancer
Hormonal effects on women:
Disrupted or stoppage of the menstrual cycle
Excess body hairs
Reduced breast size
Muscular body form
Teens of both sexes could suffer from stunted growth in height and muscular development. Some of these effects are reversible with hormonal therapy, but some are permanent.
- Liver Damage – Steroids have adverse effects on the liver. Prolonged abuse of anabolic steroids can lead to life-threatening liver diseases, such as liver cancer and peliosis hepatis or the formation of tumors in the liver.
- Cardiovascular Diseases – Overuse of anabolic steroids to mask poor endurance can stretch your cardiovascular system’s normal capacity. It also increases the cholesterol in your bloodstream, which can lead to a heart attack and stroke.
- Skin Diseases – One seemingly obvious sign of steroid abuse can be found on the skin. It can cause overproduction of oil from sebaceous glands, which leads to severe acne, oily or greasy scalp and hair, and other skin infections that can be contacted from the use of non-sterile needles.
- Mental Disorders – The effect of steroids on the mental stability of a person won’t immediately manifest compared to other abused drugs. Nonetheless, it still affects normal mental functions in the long run and leads to these problems:
- Mood swings
- Loss of concentration
- Violent tendencies
- Other Infections – The use of injectable steroids can expose a person to various life-threatening diseases. You could contact Hepatitis virus, HIV, and other bacterial or viral infections with the use of contaminated needles
Steroid Drug Testing
Steroid junky athletes can often make the playing field unfair. Their performance is enhanced without going through training. Prolonged abuse can also affect the quality of their performance negatively later on. That is why athletes are required to take steroid drug testing. Heavy fines and suspension await an athlete who is found guilty of using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. For non-athletes, early detection of steroid abuse can prevent the development of severe effects in one’s health.
To detect the presence of anabolic steroids as well as other synthetic substances in the body, here are some of the methods used:
- Urinalysis – Uses urine samples to screen the presence of substances.
- Hair Follicle Test – Hair samples are analyzed for signs of drug use within the recent 90 days.
- Gas Chromatography – Blood or urine samples are vaporized and later separated from a gas solvent into a solid or liquid, which is then analyzed for the presence of steroids or other substances.
- Mass Spectrometry – Using an electron beam, blood and urine samples are blown up to fragments that are brought down to a detector. The patterns of the substances are matched with the identification guide in the mass spectrometer.
- Immunoassay – Uses antibodies to detect substances present in the urine. A fluorescent dye or radioactive substance is tagged on the antibody and is then measured.
Steroid abuse, like any addiction, is treatable. With commitment to professional help and therapy, an athlete can recover and go back to doing sports. Anabolic steroids can only offer a short period of success. Its damaging effects can outweigh far more the strength and form you get from it. Early detection and treatment can save you from a lifetime of regrets.
Written by Serhat Pala
Serhat Pala is a drug testing industry expert, who educates athletes about the health concerns related to steroid use.