Steroid Use Is Exploding In The General Population - Here Are Some Observations.
Updated: Jan 21, 2021
Now I know some of you will have read this blog's title and immediately raised eyebrows. I'm writing about this because I find this topic interesting and the idea came to me when writing my "social media personalities doing some good" blog. Hear me out. As of two years ago, it was estimated there were almost a million people using steroids in the UK. Between 2016 and 2017, there was almost a 4 fold increase in steroid users. Like it or not, these drugs are becoming more popular, and understanding why is important. Before we get into it, one of my favourite vidoes to show patients is of a bodybuilder who admitted to using steroids. He is 3-4 weeks after a surgery to repair his ruptured patella tendon. I show this to people to demonstrate of how quickly and dramatically muscle loss occurs due to injury, as it is something people often underestimate. Here is the video, and so ends the tangent.
Steroid use reason number 1: Body image comparison.
It is well documented that social media can lead to body image issues as many individuals use doctored images, special lighting and other more "substance" specific enhancement to change their own appearance. This in turn makes a layperson more likely to use the same methods in order to "measure up" to an unrealistic standard. There are now multiple youtube personalities who have used or are using steroids that also spend their time educating the general public on their exact effects and risks, as well as analysing the routines of various celebrities or instagram influencers who claim to have natural physiques. Hugh Jackman, Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler are all very much thought to have used steroids in the past, and the youtube videos made on them are convincing. This is not to forget the dozens if not hundreds of instagram influencers who obviously abuse steroids, that young people now see on a daily basis.
Steroid use reason number 2: "You can do it safely" (Hint: this is misleading).
There is one big caveat to signposting specific individuals in the steroid exposure realm - the biggest personailities usually use their platform to push their own steroid clinics. Steroid education is a side gig for them, a way of getting customers for their real revenue generators - the designing and supervised implementation of steroid programmes. Now I have to give credit where it's due - these guys will keep risk literally as low as it can possibly be. A big teaching point for these guys is using "minimum effective dose" rather than the "maximum tolerated dose" the latter of which is what most uneducated people use. However, the risks, in some capacity, no matter how reduced, are unavoidable. Here are some proposed strategies:
Using steroid "cycles" i.e. taking time off/using different dosages/alternating different chemicals for different goals or stages of training. Interesting fact: apparently many athletes are caught doping because they think they're buying and taking drug X which would be out of their system in a matter of days, whereas they're actually being sold drug Y, which stays in the system for a much longer period.
Getting regular blood work done to monitor physiological effects and ending cycles early if bloodwork is showing concerning signs. Interesting fact: many people accused of steroid abuse use bloodwork as evidence that they are not, however they use inferior or cherry picked testing to do so. Just look at this video on the variability of testosterone levels shown from the exact same blood sample according to how good the testing method is.
Many high profile steroid users get their drugs prescribed by a doctor. Getting more sunshine isn't the only reason a lot of bodybuilders live in certain countries - doctors have varying levels of leniency when it comes to prescribing certain drugs, which is often dictated by region. An example of one of the most common steroid treatments over seen by doctors is testosterone replacement therapy.
However the responsible among the individuals above still aknowledge that even with the use of all these precautions, when you use steroids you are at increased risk of the following: cancer, stroke, cardiac disease, hair loss, low mood, eating disorders and sexual dysfunction. And that's not an exhaustative list.
Steroid use reason number 3: A huge number of high profile athletes use them.
You know why Lance Armstrong was hated by other cyclists? It wasn't because he used drugs. They all used drugs. It was because he was a bully and a hypocrite. He advocated silence and vilified people who spoke out about doping culture, while he bribed doping officials to investigate more closely individuals he felt threatened by. "The Secret Race" by Tyler Hamilton is the best sports autobiography I ever read, and I cannot recommend it enough. Second recommendation: "Icarus" on netflix. This documentary started off as an amateur cyclist approaching a top Russian doping scientist for advice to see what type of results he would get, but morphed into something which laid out just how bad doping is at the highest level. Icarus demonstrates perfectly a summary of doping in professional sport: for some athletes, their country's sport regulatory body tries to catch them doping, for others, their country's government designs and provides their doping programme. For those unaware: as a result of the events captured in the documentary, Russia is banned from the next Olympics. Now why is this relevant to steroid use in the general population?
It gives the impression drugs are more acceptable. Everyone on tv is doing it, right?
You realise that to perform like the best, drugs aren't just a little shortcut, or a boost. If you really want to be the best, or failing that, to achieve your absolute max potential, either in performance or in terms of physique, they are essential.
What needs to be the emphasised to impressionable people is that these short term aspirations, or achievements, come at a cost. Two of the most high profile steroid users in history outside of professional sport, Rich Piana and "Zyzz", died of heart attacks. It turns out that cyclists on EPO had to wear hearbeat sensors overnight and get up to sit on an exercise bike for 20 minutes when their heart rate dropped too low. This was caused by EPO changing their blood consistency so dramatically that their heart couldn't pump it effectively when they were stationary for too long.
So in summary, steroids will never be completely safe. No matter what that person in the gym says. No matter what people in that online forum say. Hopefully everyone reading understands this, but in the next few years, keep an eye out for an increasing trend of steroid abuse, driven by dishonest social media influencers particularly. Hopefully something is done about this trend sooner rather than later, but at the moment this seems unlikely, and in the meantime, education is everything.
I hope you found it an interesting read, as always feedback is welcome!