Steroid Use Among High School Athletes

Maybe you saw the storyline on the first season of Friday Night Lights. Brian “Smash” Williams, the star running back for the Dillon Panthers, was told by a recruiter that he had to be stronger if he was going to make it into college football. In an act of desperation, Smash turned to steroids. He became irritable, angry, and frustrated. When his mom found out, she approached Coach Taylor, who struggled with how to punish Smash. In the end, Smash missed some important games and had to regain the trust of the most important people in his life.

Sport Role Models Using Steroids

Through the late 90s and early 2000s, steroid use came into the forefront of Major League Baseball. Players gained a lot of muscles quickly and raced to hit more home runs than their counterparts. This has created much discussion throughout MLB on how to crack down on these players. Even though he’s the all-time leader in home runs, Barry Bonds’ name will forever be marked with an asterisk because of his connection to steroids. In July 2013, Ryan Braun faced a 65-game suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs. Shortly thereafter, 12 MLB players accepted a 50-game suspension. Alex Rodriguez faces a 200-game suspension (which he is currently appealing) for implicating other players. (Radutzky, 2013)

So what does a young high school player do when they see this? On one hand, they want to improve their game and know that steroids can increase strength, with harmful side effects. And they know it’s wrong. On the other hand, they see their heroes get away with time and time again.

This leads to a problem discussed in locker rooms around the nation. When athletes see the positive effects of steroids in the ball park or in the field, the lure can be appealing. But the darker side often isn’t told. “There has been a spate of high-school-athlete suicides in the past decade associated with steroid abuse; teens are particularly at risk because the pattern of cycling on and off these drugs messes with their hormone levels, leading to mood swings and severe depression.” (Butterworth, 2012)

With the high expectations of some sports programs, athletes will sometimes turn to steroids to quickly gain an edge in their sport. But the effects can be far-reaching and detrimental to a young athlete.

Who is Using Steroids?

Some steroid use is from young men and women concerned about general body image.
Some steroid use is from young men and women concerned about general body image.

In a 2002 National Institute of Drug Abuse study, 2.5% of 8th graders, 2.5% of 10th graders, and 4% of 12th graders admitted to using steroids at some time. (Steroid Abuse Moves Into the Scholastic Arena, 2008) It is reported that 6% of athletes have used steroids, but the actual number is thought to be much higher. (Abuse, 2006)

It’s important to note that not all steroid use is by athletes. Some steroid use is from young men and women concerned about general body image. Girls make up about one-third of all steroid use in high schools. (Steroid Abuse Moves Into the Scholastic Arena, 2008)

What Do Steroids Do?

For many years, athletes have seen increased strength and speed in peers and professionals who use steroids. Indeed, it can be seen as a quick fix. In the Newsweek cover story, Toxic Strength, the authors break down the process.

“Steroids are hormones, and for body-building purposes the ones of interest are ‘anabolic’ steroids–a number of related compounds that mimic the effects of testosterone, the male hormone secreted by the testes.  Anabolic steroids build strength by entering a muscle cell and switching on the genes that manufacture muscle proteins. “ (Jerry Adler, 2004)

Combined with exercise, steroids can produce quick gains for the athlete. They can improve both endurance (helping to workout longer) and speed (helping to run faster), both of which can be appealing for someone who is trying to get a college scholarship for sports.

How Can Steroids Harm the Body?

Steroids can have long-lasting and sometimes irreversible side effects on the body. Anabolic steroids have been linked to increased cholesterol, stroke and blood clots, urinary and bowel problems, and problems with the musculoskeletal system. Since steroids are a hormone, much like testosterone, the effects on sex characteristics can be far reaching, causing a kind of hyper-masculinity in young men. They can also cause male-pattern baldness and shrinking of the testicles. The excess of testosterone can also have feminizing effects on young men, such as breast development. (Jerry Adler, 2004)

Steroids don’t only disrupt the body; they can have detrimental effects on the mind.  As far as behavior is concerned, anabolic steroids often lead to increased irritability and aggression, sometimes leading to criminal acts such as fighting, burglary, and vandalism. (Abuse, 2006) Steroids have also been linked to depression, with some instances of athletes committing suicide.

In summary, side effects from anabolic steroid use include:

  • Acne
  • Mood swings
  • Aggressive behavior
  • High blood pressure
  • Heightened sex characteristics (increased facial and body hair and deeper voice in women; baldness and impotence in men)
  • Liver damage (Jerry Adler, 2004)

What Can We Do About This Problem?

In order to stop steroid use, coaches and parents must talk to their children early on about the effects – negative and positive –  of steroids. This has been shown to be more effective than just teaching about the negative effects. Students gain more from a balanced approach to the topic. (Abuse, 2006)

Oregon Health & Science University has developed two programs that effectively address steroids in high school sports – ATLAS (Athletes Training & Learning to Avoid Steroids) and ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise & Nutrition Alternatives).  Both of these programs are peer-led, gender-specific, and help athletes learn about healthy sports nutrition and training. (ATLAS)

If parents or coaches notice both a sharp increase in strength and erratic behavior in a young athlete, they should sit down with the athlete and calmly discuss the situation. Medication for overcoming steroid use is rare, but can be used in cases to restore hormones. (Abuse, 2006)

No one wins when a young athlete feels like he or she needs to resort to steroids in order to further their athletic career. If Major League Baseball can start cracking down on their players’ steroid use, maybe younger athletes can see it’s not worth it in the long run.


Works Cited

Abuse, N. I. (2006). Anabolic Steroid Abuse. Washington DC: US Department on Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health.

ATLAS. (n.d.). Retrieved from Oregon Health & Science University:

Butterworth, T. (2012, July 2). Don’t Juice. Newsweek, p. 12.

Jerry Adler, A. U. (2004, December 12). Toxic Strength. Newsweek, pp. 44-52.

Radutzky, M. (2013, August 16). Alex Rodriguez implicated fellow players in doping investigation. Retrieved from CBS News:

Steroid Abuse Moves Into the Scholastic Arena. (2008, April). Education Digest, p. 52.

Photo Credit: PetrovVadim