Anabolic agents, often referred to as anabolic steroids, are synthetic substances which have a similar chemical structure to the body’s natural testosterone — and subsequently have a similar effect upon the body when they are taken for medical or other reasons.
Most people will have heard of anabolic agents because of their controversial use by some sportsmen and women. However, most non-medical users of steroids are young men who take them in order to improve their physical appearance. These drugs, which can be taken orally, injected, or applied to the skin through creams, gels or patches, reduce the user’s weight and increase their strength; it is easy to understand why athletes might find them tempting or why young men might see anabolic agents as a short-cut to the perfect six-pack.
When it comes to professional sport, there is no room for maneuver over whether it is ethical to use steroids. Most, if not all, major sporting organizations have banned completely the non-medical use of anabolic steroids by sportspeople. It is easy to see how an increase in strength could give users an advantage throughout their training regimen and in competitive events.
As the sporting rules suggest, however, there are many valid medical uses for steroids, and in some cases, they can be an essential part of the way serious diseases and conditions are treated. Anabolic agents can be used to treat children with growth problems or to induce delayed puberty in young men, while at the other end of the age scale they are used as hormone replacement therapy for men with low natural levels of testosterone. Steroids are a vital component in the treatment of people with gender dysphoria, particularly women transitioning to becoming a man, and are currently being tested as a potential reversible male contraceptive. Most commonly these drugs are used to treat some of the side effects of cancer, AIDS and other chronic conditions by helping to increase and preserve muscle mass and stimulating the appetite.
Even if there is a valid medical reason for steroids, these drugs should always be handled with caution. Anabolic agents have several side effects, particularly among those who have taken them over a long period. Long-term steroid abuse has been examined in some detail over the years, and evidence has emerged of serious side psychological effects including increased aggression and violence, and there have even been several suicide cases linked to long-term use of steroids. Physically, these drugs can cause high blood pressure and heart disease. Long-term use has led to premature baldness and severe cases of adult acne. If steroids are used too frequently by children and teenagers, there is evidence that they can cause growth problems.
While there are many valid medical reasons to take steroids if they have been prescribed by your family doctor or administered in hospital, their use needs to be monitored closely to ensure that the possible side effects do not cause any serious health problems. Use of anabolic agents for sports or to improve your physical appearance is not advisable, as these are often self-administered — meaning that there is unlikely to be a doctor monitoring their effect on your general health and well-being. These are powerful drugs which, while vital for many physical conditions, have now been banned by most professional sporting organizations, not just because of the advantage users can gain but also because of the damage that can be done to the body when steroids are abused or used incorrectly.