Sara Bellum
March 2 2010
Image Courtesy of DeusXFlorida

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?

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