It’s pretty much a fact of life at this point: If you’ve ever worked out at a gym or been on a sports team, you’ve heard about anabolic steroids.
Ever since baseball’s bigger-is-better days brought performance-enhancing drugs to the fore, steroids have firmly remained a part of the athletics conversation. It’s not going away: The Russian Olympic team has been banned from the 2018 Pyeongchang, South Korea Games, after its brazen ploy to cheat doping tests at the 2014 Sochi Games. The third-place finisher in the 2017 CrossFit Games was stripped of his bronze medal after being busted for performance-enhancing drugs.
Now, it seems that steroid use is having a trickle-down effect: More and more young men are turning to anabolic steroids, in the U.K. and America. In July 2017, steroid use in Britain quadrupled from 0.1% to 0.4% of the population—19,000 young adults, most of them men 16 to 24, The Telegraph reports. In the U.S., steroid use is declining among high-schoolers—but usage rates are still at 1.3% among kids in eighth, 10th, and 12th grades, according to the gold-standard Monitoring the Future study. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that young people and adults alike are at risk for testosterone abuse and dependence.
Those rates beg the question: Do young men who use nonprescription steroids understand what they’re getting into? The likely answer: not necessarily.
In a new story, BBC reporters spoke with 29-year-old Gareth Jenkins of Wales, who’s been using anabolic steroids for almost five years. As part of the story, Jenkins agreed to undergo some testing to see how, and if, the steroids had affected his health—specifically his heart. Tests revealed the walls of his heart had thickened due to the steroids; medical experts said it was “at the very edge of normal”.
“Everything that we do in life now carries the risk of heart attack, cancer whatever it is—so I’m going to get those risks anyway,” the 29-year-old told the BBC. “It’s still probably stupid from a medical point of view. But that’s the way I choose to live my life.” Jenkins also noted how he felt his steroid use was validated, in a sense, because he doesn’t drink or smoke, and that he’d continue to use them for another year or two.
The BBC also spoke with an anonymous steroid dealer, who said he was starting to hear from more steroid users who were just in it for the “quick fix”.
“These are the guys who are less aware. So you do have to tell them about the risks,” he told the BBC. Yes, you read that right: More and more young dudes are looking to buy steroids, but they’re so uninformed that their dealers are the ones explaining the health risks.
About those anabolic steroid risks: For guys with normal testosterone levels who abuse anabolic steroids just to juice up their musculature, steroids can have some dangerous side effects. Steroid abuse can lower sperm count, shrink your testicles, cause infertility, lead to baldness, and even cause erectile dysfunction, according to Britain’s National Health Service. Anabolic steroid abuse can also cause heart attack and strokes, wreaking havoc on the body’s organs. Users who inject steroids are also at a heightened risk of HIV. It’s estimated one in 10 men who inject themselves with anabolic steroids have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C, according to research.
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