Athletes and steroid use only seem to be closely associated, but most athletes do not use performance enhancing or mood altering substances. However, some do and in many cases they are caught by anti-doping laws that are in place in sports of all levels but rarely enforced unless at national or international levels. Because of this, the news is often full of stories about professional athletes and steroid use. And while fans are often disappointed when players they respect are exposed for using these drugs, few people understand the more personal side to this drama. It's not only the fans and the integrity of sports that suffer – the families of those who become addicted to steroids suffer too.

Steroids are a group of drugs that are synthesized from the male hormone testosterone. Testosterone is responsible for different aspects of human growth and is associated with male aggression and physical performance abilities. Also called Anabolic Androgenic Steroids, this class of drugs has medical applications that include anti-inflammatory uses and treatment of specific types of cancer. Additionally, these hormones can be used in sexual reassignment or transgender applications. But despite these legitimate uses, steroids are primarily used illicitly by people who wish to quickly bolster their performance abilities or physical composition. These drugs are used to increase speed and response time, build both endurance and strength and give incredible short bursts of energy.

However, steroids work differently on the human body than other illicit substances. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that; ". . . the acute effects of AAS in the brain are substantially different from those of other drugs of abuse. The most important difference is that AAS are not euphorigenic, meaning they do not trigger rapid increases in the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for the “high” that often drives substance abuse behaviors. However, long-term use of AAS can eventually have an impact on some of the same brain pathways and chemicals—such as dopamine, serotonin, and opioid systems—that are affected by other drugs of abuse." As a result, many people will not recognize steroid use for what it is because they will be expecting to see signs of abuse that are similar to common street drugs like cocaine or meth.

The most interesting but disturbing thing about addiction to steroids is that eventually the benefits that these drugs provide begin to reverse. For men, this means an increase in vocal pitch, enlargement of breasts and a reduction in the size of male genitalia. For women, the voice may deepen, excess body hair – including facial hair - may develop and overall the limbs and muscles will appear more masculine. For athletes who are concerned about their performance and their appearance these are serious threats.

In addition to extremely undesirable body changes as a result of steroid use, these drugs can also severely impact the mind and emotional state. This is referred to by many as "roid rage" and described a condition where aggression and violence – without provocation – become commonplace, coupled with emotional outbursts and other bizarre behaviors. These psychological and emotional changes may continue long after the person stops using.

Despite heavy regulation and worldwide anti-doping laws and regulations, athletes are still regularly caught using steroids. This is due in large part to the fact that some manufacturers of these drugs simply change the chemical composition of these substances every so often in order to avoid the reach of the law. But until more education is made available about the dangers of addiction to steroids, it's likely that our children will continue to look up to athletes that may – or may not – be on drugs.

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Author's Bio: 

Rachel has led a diverse writing career including journalism, marketing and internet-related writing and editing positions. A specialist in the fields of addiciton and alcoholism, Rachel is also an extremely adept financial writer.