Most parents are happy to encourage a teenager's involvement in sports. They see the sports environment as a healthy one, safe from the other pitfalls of the teen years. But even as early as age fourteen, teenage male athletes are more likely to try an anabolic steroid, a drug with serious health consequences. Anabolic steroids are a group of synthetic hormones similar to the male sex hormone, testosterone. Some teens believe that steroids will help them develop improved muscles, physical appearance, and performance in sport more quickly than through exercise.
High school steroid users typically come from white middle-class families. Most are boys. Few teenage girls use steroids because girls usually want to lose pounds, not gain them. Pressure to use steroids is particularly intense for members of health and fitness clubs, those involved in weight training, and members of provincial sport teams.
The 1993 National School Survey on Drugs and Sport suggests that 83,000 Canadians between the ages of eleven and eighteen have tried anabolic steroids. This large-scale study for the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport found that more than half of the guys who take steroids do so to improve their abilities in sports. That means almost as many boys use steroids for other reasons -- for muscle definition and that "cut" body look. Steroids are being taken by fourteen-year-old boys in a hurry to mature, by seventeen-year-olds who hate being skinny, as well as by eighteen-year-olds desperate for a university sports scholarship.
Know the risks
For the growing boy, steroids pose the risk of stunting growth by accelerating puberty and prematurely closing the growth centres of long bones. Steroids increase acne and the growth of body hair. All users risk high blood pressure and liver and kidney damage. And although steroids may temporarily increase one's interest in sex, they shrink the testicles, cause sterility and impotence, and enlarge the breast tissue in males.
It's still controversial whether anabolic steroids are physically addictive, but dependence and depression from withdrawal have often been reported. They are a hard habit to break, nevertheless, users get hooked on the look that steroids give because when they discontinue steroids, they lose body mass and feel fat and weak.
Steroids can be taken orally or by injection. One of the risks of taking anabolic steroids is the risk of contracting HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, or Hepatitis B by sharing needles or even the same vial of steroids.
Page 1 of 3 - Learn why communicating with your teen boy is so important on page 2
Promote a "winning isn't everything" attitude
While young teens tend to value the camaraderie and excitement of playing sports, by the time they reach eighteen, winning may have become the only thing that matters. With this attitude shift, kids in sports are more likely to use drugs. As a parent, what values do you project? When your son crashes through the front door after a game, is the first question you ask, "Did you win?" A better opener might be "How was the game?" or "How did you play tonight?" Make sure your son knows that you value most the efforts he puts into training, into playing by the rules, and into working toward a personal best.
Thirteen is not too young to talk about steroid use as a form of cheating. Discuss the importance of playing drug-free. As your child gets older, he'll take more responsibility for getting himself to practices and games, so you won't have as much contact with other team members and coaching staff. But keep your eyes open. Is there any indication that your son is subtly or overtly being pressured into taking steroids either by his teammates or his coach? If you suspect that steroids have infiltrated the team, it's time for you to intervene.
Finding pills or vials and syringes in your son's bedroom may make you paralyzed with anger and fear. But doing nothing is the worst thing you can do for your son. The Sport Medicine Council of Saskatchewan recommends the following:
• Take action. First-time users may not know what they're getting into and need the facts.
• Seek professional help from a physician who specializes in sports medicine.
• Show your support. Going off steroids can be physically and emotionally traumatic.
Page 2 of 3 - Learn what signs to look for on page 3
How do I know?
Almost all anabolic steroid users experience side effects. The Canadian Centre for Ethics In Sport offers these indications of steroid use.
Swollen or puffy face
This common side effect, sometimes described as a round or "'moon" face, is caused by water retention.
Severe acne Steroids can either cause acne (especially on the upper back, shoulders, arms, and face) or make existing acne worse.
Rapid weight gain
Users can gain between 5 and 10 kg (11 to 22 lb.) during the first 6 to 12 weeks.
Your child may experience extreme mood swings from bursts of anger known as 'roid rage, to near euphoria.
The eyes and skin become yellow, indicating liver disease.
Premature hair loss
Certain steroids can cause hair thinning or even balding.
Users may be preoccupied with their image, body, and the foods they eat.
For more information, contact your local drug addiction centre, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, or the Drug Awareness Program of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
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Excerpted from Understanding Your Teen: Ages 13 to 19 by Christine Langlois. Copyright 1999 by Telemedia Communications Inc. Excerpted, with permission by Ballantine Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.