Self disimprovement: the destructive nature of steroidsAs hospitalisations for steroid escalate, Garrett Ó Cinnéide asks why the drug is on the rise and what damage is being caused.[br]WE’RE all familiar with gym culture. Pictures of workout schedules and tensed poses in front of mirrors fill our Instagram feeds. Tales of obscure and ridiculous diets are whispered around campus and the constant but subtly quiet chant of ‘Gains, Gains, Gains’ can be heard reverberating out from the walls of the sports centre. The health revolution is impossible to escape no matter where you look.While this may seem like a wonderful advancement in human self-improvement, there are those who take it too far. In 2005, 185 people were hospitalised in Ireland due to anabolic steroid usage. Last year, this figure was 348, meaning the numbers have almost doubled.According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the US, anabolic steroids are synthetic variations of the male sex hormone testosterone. They serve legitimate purposes, such as treating hormonal issues and diseases that cause muscle loss, but are often misused by body builders and athletes. Some use them to increase muscle growth, to train harder and for longer and to shorten their recovery time. While this sounds like the perfect recipe for getting into shape quickly, the effects these drugs can have on the body range from worrying to incredibly dangerous. Steroids are usually consumed orally or injected into the muscles. These doses can be 10 to 100 times higher than those prescribed to treat medical conditions. Given the lack of regulation due to their illegality, it is near impossible to know what you are taking.
“The lack of an open dialogue is becoming fatal.”Of course, there are legitimate medical grounds for using anabolic steroids. They work miracles when serving their intended purpose. Any deviation from this and you’re treading on dangerous ground.In the short term, there may be ‘roid rage’ which causes extreme mood swings and irritability. In the long term; kidney problems, liver damage, high blood pressure are all on the cards. Plus, it drastically increases risk of strokes and heart attacks.On top of all this, men risk side effects such as shrinking testicles, decreased sperm count, baldness, development of breasts and increased risk of prostate cancer. For women, side effects include growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, changes in or stop in the menstrual cycle, enlarged clitoris and deepened voice.If these problems were not distressing enough, in June 2015, the Guardian reported the rate of HIV infection among steroid users was 1.5%, as high as that for users of drugs such as heroin. Indeed a bleak picture, but not one most would be surprised by. We may not fully understand the full extent of the damage steroids can do but most of us know that they are bad for us. This begs the question: why is usage on the rise?It is no coincidence that the surge in steroid usage coincides with the growth of social media. In a time of intense public scrutiny steroids may be seen as an easy fix for burgeoning insecurity. Steroids may seem like a way that people, men especially, can achieve the body image society demands.Society has always had odd notions of masculinity. It’s nothing new for these notions to be associated with a person’s size and strength. Men have historically been raised to be tough, to be strong, to provide. Indeed masculinity has changed slightly over the years, with men now being afforded more freedom to express themselves both emotionally and aesthetically. Still, the fact remains that many men feel the weight of demands to ‘man up’.While body confidence has been a staple in public discourse in recent years, we rarely discuss it in relation to men. Men are not put under the same pressures as women but they are put under pressure nonetheless. The lack of an open dialogue is becoming fatal. Three-quarters of suicides are among men and this coupled with the rise in people being hospitalised due to steroid usage shows a real and urgent need for change.There is also a distinct need for a change in gym culture itself. Gyms should be put under more pressure to address these problems and educate members over the dangers of steroids. There is clearly a gap in awareness here and if it goes unaddressed the problems will only snowball. However, going to the gym is not a bad thing to do. Self-improvement should always be encouraged and a healthy lifestyle promoted. The problems arise predominantly from a lack of discourse around these issues. We must encourage men to discuss these things openly and not feel pressure to conform.No matter what concept of masculinity you hold, suffering a plethora of side effects isn’t the best way of achieving it.