Hello, you last heard from me when Michael Jackson died, although I’m behind the scenes at NIDA almost every day. This time, I’d like to talk about the news that famous cyclist Lance Armstrong has given up his battle against charges that he used steroids to improve his cycling skills. This is not an admission that he used steroids, but it is major news because the Tour de France will take away all seven of his titles—he will probably return his trophies, and his name will be removed from the official records. Whenever something like this happens, NIDA gets calls from reporters and from the public wanting to learn more about steroid use.
So what’s the fuss about? First of all, everyone agrees Lance Armstrong has done a lot of good in this world. In 1996, he was diagnosed with cancer that had spread to his stomach, lungs, and brain. Doctors were not sure he would live. But he fought back, and when he was better he started a foundation that has raised close to $500 million to help people with cancer.
About the steroids: Only Lance Armstrong knows the full story behind the accusations. But the news gives us all a chance to step back and look at the reasons why people so strongly oppose using steroids to improve athletic ability—especially since so many gifted athletes have admitted to using them, including the St. Louis Cardinal’s Mark McGwire, whose record-breaking 62nd home run made big baseball news in 1998.
SBB has discussed steroids several times, so I don’t need to tell you how much they can hurt your health.
So why do smart and talented athletes risk their health and happiness this way? The same question could be asked about all drugs. Although most teens stay away from steroids, many teens use other drugs like alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and stimulants. Do they think they’ll be happier, more popular, or smarter by doing so?
Science shows that taking drugs doesn’t get you any of those things. Even professional athletes who take steroids still have to work out and train 24/7 to get any results. The best way to achieve strength, popularity, or success in school is to work hard, take care of yourself, and be the best person you can be—the real, natural YOU.
As for Lance Armstrong, if he did use steroids, he might experience more health problems as he gets older. For now, he has publicly stated that he wants to move forward with his life to devote himself to raising his five kids, fighting cancer, and attempting to be the fittest 40-year-old on the planet. Now, he says he is drug free and wants to be the best person he can be—naturally. Soon, news reporters will stop calling us about Lance Armstrong, but NIDA will keep working hard to let kids know the truth about steroids and other drugs.
Update: Since Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles, he cut ties with his Livestrong Charity. On January 17, 2013 the world saw him openly admit to steroid use in an televised interview with Oprah Winfrey.
About 4 years ago, my good friend tried to die by suicide; the reason behind it? She felt like she didn’t match up to the women you see in magazines; she felt like she wasn’t beautiful or skinny enough. The thing about these pictures: The models themselves don’t even look like their pictures—they are Photoshopped.
My name is Elisabeth Burton, Liz, and I’m a high school junior in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. I received the third place NIDA Addiction Science Fair award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2012 for my project on how media images influence our perception of our bodies. Because of my friend, I started noticing how often other girls and I talk about our bodies negatively. Mimi Nichter, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the University of Arizona, labeled this activity “Fat Talk,” a kind of social ritual among friends, where girls complain about their bodies as a call for support from their peers.
It’s Not Just Girls
Jessica Alba before and after Photoshop
Last year, I learned that the media affects girls in more ways than they realize. From my research, I found that the more girls talk “fat,” the more they perceive Photoshopped media images as attainable and real, lowering their body satisfaction.
This year, I learned that guys have this issue as well. They see Photoshopped images in the media that send the message that you need to be more muscular, more buff. I have found that some boys engage in something similar to “Fat Talk,” but instead of wanting to be skinnier, they aim to be bigger, buffer. I call this, “Buff Talk.”
When talking to some guys, I found that they feel a need to be more muscular, especially in sports, and this is leading to pressure to take steroids. The girls I talked to felt similar pressure, to purge (throw up after eating) and to take diet pills. I then began to wonder if Buff and Fat Talk, combined with seeing Photoshopped images, were related to teens’ risk assessments of steroids, purging, and diet pills. My research showed that it was related.
Specifically, I found that when the reasons for the Buff and Fat Talk are internal (“I am too fat” for girls; “I am too scrawny” for guys), teens are more likely to believe that occasional use of steroids or diet pills, or occasional purging, is low risk. The more they felt that the photographic images I showed them in my experimental design were attainable, real, and desirable, the more pressure they felt to look like these images, and the lower their self-esteem. In reality, these unrealistic and unattainable images can have damaging and dangerous effects.
I am happy to share my results and research with you and to reach more young people with this information. Hopefully getting more knowledge out there will help this problem. As young people, we need to realize that we are far more than how we look.
Nate Marquardt before Photoshop
Nate Marquardt after Photoshop
You only need to stand in a supermarket checkout line to realize our society is obsessed with how people look. Magazine headlines scream, “Guess Who!” next to a picture of a flabby stomach. Or they praise “So-and-So’s Awesome Post-Baby Body!”
Both girls and guys tell themselves that they need to be thinner or bulk up. The dangers and repercussions of steroid use are well known thanks to baseball and cycling scandals. Possibly less well known are the dangers of taking diet pills to lose weight.
Many diet pills are sold as “dietary supplements.” That means that these pills don’t have to meet the same strict standards—required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—as medications do.
So you might not know exactly how the ingredients in diet pills will affect your body. Some common diet pills contain combinations of different drugs, like both stimulants and depressants, and can really mess with your metabolism and even your heart. In addition, some of them carry mental health side effects, like depression or even thoughts of suicide.
In our supersized Nation, many people do need to drop a few pounds—safely, by cutting out excess fat and sugar and replacing them with fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean protein. If you think you need to lose weight and aren’t sure how to start, talk to a nurse or doctor.
Tell us: Do pictures of thin or muscular celebrities affect your body image? What’s your favorite healthy way to stay fit?
Regardless of whether or not teens should care about body image or physical appearances, the truth is that we do care, a lot. And working out is a healthy way to look and feel better. The trouble comes when people sacrifice their health to look buff—like by taking steroids.
While not that many teens try steroids even once, according to NIDA surveys (about 3 in 100), those who do use steroids are getting a lot more than just larger muscles. Steroids can cause acne and make your hair fall out. They can also damage your heart and change your hormone levels so that girls might grow facial hair, and boys could develop breasts. Seriously. NIDA scientist Dr. Baler reveals more about what steroids can do in the video to the right.
Let me introduce you to Taylor-a 17-year old, high school athlete from Plano, Texas. You might be a student-athlete yourself or have friends who are student athletes, so Taylor’s story might speak especially to you.
Taylor took his own life on July 15, 2003, as a result of abusing steroids. With Taylor’s death came the Taylor Hooton Foundation formed by his parents, family, and friends to honor his memory, after they became aware of the growing problem among high school athletes across the country. Not too long before Taylor’s death, NIDA noticed a sharp increase in the use of steroids among male teens in the late 1990s (Monitoring the Future Survey, 2008).
Unfortunately, I never met Taylor—wish I had gotten the opportunity—but I have met his dad, Don Hooton. Don is the type of guy that many of us aspire to be. I’ve had the opportunity to work with him and the Taylor Hooton Foundation on behalf of NIDA. The picture to the right is us at a Nationals game in DC. I’m sitting with pitcher Garrett Mock (L) and center fielder Willie Harris (R) (Who said work can’t be fun?) We’ve been working together with the goal of sharing Taylor’s story and helping teens help one another.
In memory of Taylor, please share his story with a friend. With your help, we can prevent another tragedy.
Learn more about the science behind steroid use and how it can affect your body.
Bio: Brian Marquis is a Public Liaison Officer at NIDA who connects with organizations across the country to prevent drug abuse among youth with the help of NIDA publications and Web sites. In his spare time he enjoys playing sports, working out, going to the beach, and playing baseball with his son.
The news story said Mark McGwire's voice "cracked with emotion" when he finally admitted to the world he had used steroids for 10 years, including the season he broke the home run record, hitting 70 slammers in 1998. He is probably not just embarrassed by this, but also concerned about his health, since steroids can cause problems even after you go off them.
There are sometimes medical uses for steroids, such as to help people with cancer or AIDS build up lost muscle mass. But many people-especially those who want to improve their athletic performance-abuse anabolic steroids to "bulk up," typically taking higher doses than people who take them for medical reasons. Steroid abuse among athletes, especially baseball players, has become such a problem that a few years ago the U.S. Congress held a special investigation. Now, major league baseball executives are working to "clean it up," which Mr. McGwire now says is a good thing.
"I wish I had never touched steroids…It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era." —Mark McGwire
Taking steroids is not a good bargain. Because even though they might make you stronger in the short-run, the price you pay can be much too high. So what can happen? Here's just a short list of the possible side effects:
- Stunt your growth and cause bad acne.
- Cause vicious mood swings (ever heard of "'roid rage"?)
- For guys, abusing steroids can lead to shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, development of breasts.
- For girls, abusing steroids lead to growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, and a permanently deepened voice.
The good news is that steroid use is not a huge problem among teens—as many teens have a healthy game plan. Still, somewhere between 1-2% of high schoolers, many being athletes, have tried them, mostly to enhance sports performance. Did you know that NIDA has a Web section on steroids with information just for teens? Check out Drug Facts - Anabolic Steroids. Also take a look at this YouTube video starring one of our scientists here at NIDA. Mark McGwire has done a lot of good things with his life since leaving baseball. He has a foundation that helps abused children, and he works with the National Kidney Foundation. We will have to wait and see how things turn out for him, as people debate how to handle the many awards he has won over the years and his possible selection into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But scientists at NIDA will be looking at something more important: what are the long-lasting health effects of so much steroid use, and what is the best way to prevent people from abusing steroids in the first place? What do you think?
“You can do it!” and a sprained ankle were what Olympic gymnast, Kerri Strug, took with her to the mat as she landed the vault to help win Team USA’s first women’s gymnastics gold medal at the 1996 Olympics. Nothing could keep this athlete from performing to her fullest ability.
Why should you want to know more about Kerri? This courageous athlete was just 14 and the youngest Olympian at the 1992 summer Olympic Games, who went on to win a Gold medal at the 1996 summer Olympics. Since she was 6 years old, Kerri dreamed of being an Olympian and trained for 12 years to achieve this goal. During those years, she made sacrifices and even moved away from her family and friends to train with her famous coach, Bela Karolyi. Most importantly, each of those 12 years was spent working hard—drug free.
We had the privilege of interviewing Kerri (pictured right) about her journey to Olympic gold and what advice she’d give teens, athletes or not.
Sara Bellum Blog (SBB): Fill in the blank: Participating in sports makes me feel ____.
Kerri Strug: Alive. Being athletic is important because it is good for your long-term health and helps you learn life skills such as dedication, perseverance, and mental toughness.
SBB: What motivated you when you were training?
Kerri: I was motivated by the self-satisfaction I got when I set a goal and attained it.
SBB: What words of motivation can you offer teens?
Kerri: I think teens need to find a passion; set goals, and then go after them.
SBB: What did achieving your goal by winning a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics mean to you?
Kerri: After 12 long years of training and numerous sacrifices…I got what I wanted so badly. There is no better feeling than working hard for something and thinking it is not really possible; and then it becomes a reality.
SBB: Your gold medal was the product of your years of training, hard work, perseverance and passion for the sport—all drug-free. What do you think about professional athletes who have used performance-enhancing drugs?
Kerri: I think a world class athlete is not one that holds a world record; but rather one that shows courage when faced with adversity, leads by example, and puts their team in front of themselves. I do not understand where the athletes that take performance enhancing drugs are coming from. It would never occur to me to cheat or to hurt my body in order to get ahead.
SBB: What advice do you have for teens involved with sports who may feel pressure to use performance-enhancing drugs?
Kerri: Focus on yourself and your capabilities. Not everyone is going to be in the NBA or the Olympics, but being true to yourself is what will matter most for the rest of your life.
SBB: So, where do you go from winning an Olympic Gold Medal at age 18? What are you up to now? Kerri: I am still constantly setting new goals for myself—running marathons, learning to dance, giving back, and hope to one day become a terrific mother and lots of other things.
Today Kerri lives and works in Washington, D.C. In her free time, Kerri enjoys working with charities, traveling the world for special events, and cheering on young athletes as they go after their own dreams.
Many of us have strong opinions about athletes using steroids to short cut their way to being stronger or faster. But it’s not just us—it’s also the 30-plus thousands of coaches and schools who use the ATLAS and ATHENA models in their sports programs.
Exactly what are ATLAS and ATHENA?
- ATLAS works with young male athletes and stands for Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids.
- ATHENA works with young female athletes and stands for Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives.
Together, ATLAS and ATHENA have fast become the most recognized and effective programs for steering young athletes away from steroids and other harmful behaviors. Not surprisingly, NIDA supports and helps fund it. “ATLAS is the only program proven to work against steroid and substance abuse in young male athletes, while ATHENA is the only program proven to work in reducing eating disorders and other health-harming behaviors in young female athletes,” said Doctor Linn Goldberg, the head scientist of ATLAS.
These programs are so effective, that in 2007 the Washington Redskins joined forces with NIDA to help bring them into schools like yours! To spread the word about these programs, the Washington Redskins and NIDA invited students, coaches, and student athletic trainers to FedEx Field on May 3, 2010, for a day of hands-on training on steroid use prevention.
What did we learn about steroids, football, and healthy behaviors? Here are some questions teens from the Washington, DC, metropolitan area asked Mike Sellers and Edwin Williams of the Washington Redskins:
Teens at the event: What do you think about steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs?
Edwin Williams: They don’t make you a better player; they just change your look.
Teens at the event: Now that we know steroids don’t make an athlete, what do you think it really takes to be a professional athlete?
Mike Sellers: There is no secret ingredient, just determination. And being in great shape lets you heal faster when you are playing sports, which keeps you in the game.
Teens at the event: What do you eat?
Mike Sellers: What you eat makes you what you are; I try to eat lots of chicken, fish and vegetables.
Edwin Williams: I used to eat soul food like fried chicken, but now I’m eating healthier and using portion control.
Teens at the event: What motivates you to be healthy and a better athlete?
Mike Sellers: The love for the game!
Teens at the event: Playing high school football requires motivation for both sports and academics. How did you maintain good grades in school?
Mike Sellers: Dedication, you have to be able to absorb lots of information and then take it back to the field.
Edwin Williams: I graduated with a 3.4 GPA, and it was not easy. It’s about time management and working hard. You have to be on top of the game, have determination, self-confidence, be able to multitask and work as hard as you can. Always have a goal.
Want more? See what else the Washington Redskins are doing to help families in D.C lead healthier, more active lives.
Want to help? Ask your teacher, coach, or principal about bringing ATLAS and ATHENA to your school, and how you can help.
- For guys—shrinking of the testicles, development of breasts, and baldness, among others.
- For girls—growth of facial hair, baldness, and a permanently deepened voice