The Steroid Lies, Lies, and Wolf Cries

by Josh Hodnick

The government has long used their power to persuade. A highly ambitious campaign was put together to eliminate marijuana use more than a half a century ago. To stop all the “reefer madness”, The government put forth the effort to convince society that marijuana smokers literally lost their minds from the herb, and they would turn into maniacs capable of murder, rape, and suicide after smoking marijuana. The scare tactic did in fact work for some time, but after time passed people realized that’s all it was, a scare tactic.

The scare tactic is often used by parents on their children. I remember being told that if I swallowed the seeds in an apple, a tree would grow in my belly. As a small child, I feared having a tree growing inside my body, so I avoided the seeds at all costs. My parent’s goal of not having a child with an upset stomach from apple seeds worked out, even though it was accomplished with a lie meant to instill fear. The government often times plays this same parental role, and sometimes try to decide what’s best for society. Sometimes this is controlled by lies and scare tactics. This attempt to curb the use of certain substances over the years has been shown to be very ineffective, and it appears that it can actually cause more harm than good.

Much of the trouble with steroids started in the 1960’s, when female Eastern Bloc athletes started looking too muscular and doing too well at the Olympics. It was suddenly clear that steroids threatened the level playing field of sport, and jeopardizing the foundation of athletic competition, and the big business surrounding it. By 1975, steroids were added to the Olympics list of banned substances. College and professional football soon followed, with other sports getting in line. Athletes had already heard about the performance-enhancing powers of testosterone, and the bans weren’t enough to stop the use. Something needed to be done, and the organized sports establishment decided to solve the problem by educating athletes that anabolic steroids don’t build muscle. It was a lie of course, so they needed a credible source to tell the message and make it believable. The American College of Sports Medicine was used to spread the news, and in 1977, they claimed that steroids have no effect on lean muscle; the effects athletes are seeing are the result of water retention; the effects are all placebo. The claims held some weight for only a short period, and with too much anecdotal evidence, the ACSM finally had to admit that anabolic steroids were responsible for the recent increase in muscle in athletes.

Well, I guess one lie leads to another. Next, the ACSM came up with a different approach to tell athletes that steroids are bad for them. Make them sound horrible. Magnify every side effect from every study that had ever been run. It was reported that athletes who take heavy doses of anabolic steroids should expect to die in their thirties and forties. The fear of developing cancer or dying of a heart attack still wasn’t enough to stop the use of steroids among athletes. Maybe people already saw through the bullshit and the fear wasn’t truly there. The attempts by the ACSM at persuading athletes not to use anabolic steroids had failed miserably, and now Congress had to act. In 1990, Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Control Act, which criminalized these drugs. For the first time, steroids using athletes were not just cheaters, but were now considered criminals.

Almost forty years have passed since the American College of Sports Medicine first attempted to persuade athletes that anabolic steroids didn’t increase muscle, and it would lead to athletes not making it out of their forties before dying of conditions brought on by steroid use. Millions of people have used anabolic steroids since the ACSM first made their claims. Well, with as common as steroid use was in the NFL during the 70’s and 80’s, the bodies should be piling up. But they aren’t, and many former steroid using athletes are walking around alive and well today.

As with marijuana, people realized that they weren’t going to turn into homicidal maniacs before jumping to their death from smoking some weed. What was really most likely to be killed was a bag of Cheetos or a box of Twinkies. Stoners around the country accept that the government lied and cried wolf about the dangers of marijuana, and they go about their merry way. Probably with no harm done.

Similarly, steroid users have realized that they were also fed a long list of lies about the dangers of steroids. Once it was realized that you wouldn’t go into cardiac arrest or go on a murder spree due to a bout of roid rage once anabolic steroids were injected, it was game on. Everyone saw through the smokescreen, and the plan of stopping the use of steroids backfired. There are more steroids used in competitive sports than there ever has been. I highly doubt that the scare tactics used, in regards to health risks with steroids, ever slowed steroid use with high level competitive athletes. It was more than likely viewed as part of the job or a work hazard. Maybe how a coal miner in West Virginia might view the danger of cave in’s and breathing in coal dust all day. It’s not something that’s thought about much. The professional or high level athlete makes up less than one percent of actual steroid users today. The rest are just average, working-class members of society. This group of people, the majority of steroid users, don’t rely on athletic performance to earn a paycheck. They aren’t judged by how many touchdowns they score or how many homeruns they hit, so they probably would’ve been the ones most influenced not to use anabolic steroids due to the reports released by the ACSM. The athlete seemed to gamble more and ignore the risks, even though they were the ones initially targeted by the reports.

Today, we can positively say that millions of people use or have used anabolic steroids with experiencing the long list of life threatening conditions that were once associated with steroids. It is very easy to see that the health risks associated with steroid use is greatly misrepresented. One could say that the ACSM and the government cried wolf with the dangers of steroids. We all know what happened to the boy who cried wolf. His false cries took away his credibility, which ultimately led to his doom.

While much of the information that describes anabolic steroids as being dangerous can no longer be viewed as credible, minimizing or dismissing the health risks associated with these drugs can be damaging. That is what has seemed to happen. Because the negative effects of anabolic steroids have been overemphasized or exaggerated, substantially in many cases, users have come to believe the drugs are relatively safe, as long as common sense is practiced. What may be considered steroid use to one may be considered abuse to another. When a bodybuilder succumbs to kidney failure, heart failure, or even death, it’s common for the next bodybuilder using steroids to point the finger at factors such as recreational drug use, genetics, or body weight as the culprit instead of the steroids. Admitting that bodybuilders are experiencing serious health problems and even death from using steroids would be a tough pill to swallow. By doing this, they would also be admitting that they are subjecting themselves to the same fate. It would take them out of their comfort zone and make them realize they are heading down a path of self destruction. Often times bodybuilders point out all the differences between them and someone that has experienced ill effects or death, while avoiding the one big similarity and common denominator in the situation, and that is steroid abuse.

What we are beginning to see now are the effects of years of steroid abuse among bodybuilders. Heart attacks, strokes, and sometimes death is becoming more common in bodybuilders in their 40’s. I still believe that anabolic steroids can be used safely, and relatively side-effect free by most people. It is important that periodic check-ups are administered by a doctor and blood work should be performed.

Much of the damage that has occurred because of steroid use, that we are now starting to see among bodybuilders didn’t happen overnight. It is accumulative, and much of it is a result of chronic elevation of blood pressure and lipid profiles.

The lies and scare tactics used to slow steroid use in sports could very well have caused hard. It was quickly learned that the horrors linked to steroid use were false. As time passed, and steroid use became more common, the fear of any dangers were often completely dismissed. While I can say that health risks associated with steroids are often overplayed, they still exist, and preventive measures should always be taken.