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“Should I Take Steroids?” Not ‘til you’ve read this

Back when I was personally asking the question “should I take steroids”, there was plenty of dissuading info being published that would ultimately lead me to answer “no.” One such influence was a letter-to-the-editor of one of the major bodybuilding magazines. It was a long letter. It spoke of the writer’s own wrestling with the “should I take steroids” question; a personal inquiry that ultimately resulted in significant use of those drugs. The letter was written and published in the early 90s, making it of little surprise that the content of its story went down in the relatively heedless mid-80s. That heedlessness ultimately led to the letter writer’s contraction of HIV from a shared steroid needle, a tragic turn-of-event that sounds rather foreign in a contemporary context.

Anabolic steroidsWhat seemed to really punctuate the story for me, however, was the letter author’s parting words:

“The steroids weren’t worth it.”

Did the letter-writer say this out of bitterness for the bigger consequence to which his steroid use led? Or did he have a more all-encompassing, cryptic message for anyone asking the question “should I take steroids”; a message conveying that the physique gains from drugs are transitory against unforeseen pitfalls that are permanent?

“Should I Take Steroids”… or are they ‘psychologically addictive?’

When I was personally confronted with the “should I take steroids” question, I’d been speaking with a military buddy about it. This was roughly 25 years ago. Even so, I clearly recall him advising me that although these drugs aren’t physically addictive, it’s plausible that they’re psychologically so. This hardly sounded threatening to me at that tender age. After all, whether something psychologically “addicts me” should be completely within my control. I scoffed at the notion. If I ever “experimented” with them, I could surely turn away from them whenever I saw fit.

However, thinking back at some of the interviews of (and articles about) steroid users I’ve perused, one of the more salient features is the obnoxious tone of the psychological dependence on steroids that can so blatantly rear its head. That’s what stood out in such an interview of a steroid addict I saw years ago in one of the major offline bodybuilding magazines. It’s also what comes through in this article recently posted in Business Insider.

The Business Insider’ article begins by mentioning the rampant culture of steroid use by both males and females in South Florida. It goes on to introduce a New Jersey guy, opting for anonymity through the pseudo-name ‘Joey O’, who started the drugs when he’d youthfully left the Marine Corp and cycled them regularly ‘til the age of 42. Now facing depressed testosterone levels from years of heavy steroid use, ‘Joey O’ takes his weekly prescription of testosterone enanthate so that he can experience “normal” testosterone levels.  

That is the kind of predicament that’s rarely foreseen by young guys asking the question ‘should I take steroids.’ Whom among us, in our shortsighted youth, stop to think just twenty years ahead and become sufficiently repulsed by the idea of having to depend on an exogenous source of manly hormone to sidestep being “superman” in the moment? And by the time someone’s become as dependent on a substance for being macho as has ‘Joey O’, what’s the big deal in getting a shot of replacement testosterone every one or two weeks? After all, it’s a practice used by aging guys with low T-levels who’ve never even used steroids.

Personally, I’d rather have my ‘endogenous mojo’ intact. Sure, maybe the full benefit of that wouldn’t be realized unless Armageddon goes down and every guy on ‘exogenous T’ finds his pharmacist out of the office and wonders where the rest of us get the drive to simply get up in the morning. Still… there’s just something better about knowing you’ve got enough male hormone made by your own body to produce muscle and anything else. That’s something to at least contemplate if you’re asking the ‘should I take steroids’ question.

Back to the question: Are steroids psychologically addictive?

Maybe for some people they are and others they aren’t. But just read about juicer ‘Joey O’ and then try to convince yourself they can’t be.

‘Should I Take Steroids’… or does Every Shortcut Have a Price?

Steroids are powerful drugs. As with most drugs, I’m sure they can be dangerously abused or utilized in a relatively safe and wise manner. That’s why I’ve conjoined this section of the ‘should I take steroids’ question with the counter question ‘does every shortcut have a price’ rather than “are steroids dangerous.” I’m sure they can be life-threateningly dangerous. They can also likely be administered in a way that makes steroid side-effects no more than a mild nuisance. Potential negative side effects

But most (if not all) drug use comes with the price-tag of side effects. These usually vary in number and severity, depending on the specific drug taken, dosage it’s taken in, and duration of time that it’s used. Obviously, side effects can also be divided into two types: ‘acute’ and ‘chronic.’ And just because a particular drug doesn’t produce an acute (short term) negative side effect in an individual doesn’t mean it won’t cause chronic (long term) negative effects. Conversely, acute negative side-effects don’t automatically equate to the chronic type. 

With these points in mind, it’s interesting that the steroid article cites ‘renal failure’ and ‘liver failure’ in the same sentence, possibly as a mix-up in definition. ‘Joey O’ acknowledges that using the drug ‘Anadrol’ can be like a “bullet right to the liver.” It’s then mentioned by the article’s author:

“The liver is hit so hard by Anadrol that renal failure is more likely than not.”

‘Renal failure’ is failure of the kidneys. It’s possible the author was referring to reduced liver function eventually leading to kidney failure. Or he might have simply been confusing renal failure as a word connoting liver failure. I’m not sure. But it’s probably worth mentioning that there have been cases of kidney failure believed caused by the long-term use of steroids. The liver, however, is more directly stressed by these drugs as it is the filter through which the body’s toxins must be removed. It’s also more resilient than the kidneys in its ability to heal from damage over time. But the kidneys can be indirectly stressed by steroids as these drugs frequently cause high blood pressure which can cause long-term damage to this extremely vital organ. Overall, the chance you’re willing to take with the health of these two vital organs is something to consider when asking “should I take steroids.” 

Something else to contemplate when asking the ‘should I take steroids’ question are the inevitable withdrawal symptoms you’d likely face when coming off the drugs. These are listed in the ‘Business Insider’ article as follows: mood swings, insomnia, restlessness, reduced libido, decreased appetite, and depression. Not a pretty list. ‘Joey O’ is mentioned as finally getting past this phase by being prescribed “raw testosterone” (testosterone enanthate). But this seems a pretty sad state of affairs: Going back on a testosterone drug that will only assure the further dormancy of one’s own testosterone production. The problems are caused in the first place by a shutdown of endogenous testosterone. Seems the ‘testosterone dealers’ win in the end with a sort of locked in dependency group.

Yet another possible price to pay for even just the possession of anabolic steroids is the legal one. In the article about ‘Joey O’, it’s mentioned that what finally got him off the drugs was the legal ramifications: Simple possession of the drugs in Florida is a felony with a five-year prison penalty attached. This makes sense given that in the United States, each state has its own laws on the books regarding steroids. In addition, there are laws at the federal level under the Controlled Substances Act of 1990 and reinforced under the Controlled Substances Act of 2004. These U.S. federal laws make steroids a ‘Schedule III Controlled Substance’, meaning anabolic/androgenic steroids are legal to possess and use only with a prescription.

‘Should I Take Steroids’… or would it just make me a desperate Drug Dependent?

Do you want the often fleeting condition of simply being a “person with big muscles?” Or do you want to be a knowledgeable, healthy, lifetime bodybuilder who has the fortitude and know-how to add natural strength and size to your body or that of anyone you train? Wouldn’t you rather have the kind of strength and muscle size that lasts and can be built upon for a lifetime?

These might be the transcendent questions to ask in accompaniment with “should I take steroids.” When I reflect on my ultimate decision to steer clear of those drugs and be a lifetime natural bodybuilder, I’m reminded of the many drug using guys I’ve seen in the gym who’ve just fallen by the wayside. Either this or their inevitable withdrawal of the drugs has produced a rebound effect resulting in muscular development that doesn’t match mine in our middle-aged years.

In reading the article in Business Insider, it’s clear that ‘Joey O’ doesn’t even have the fortitude to get to the gym without resorting to further drug intake. That’s where many long-term steroid users find themselves. It’s not only due to depressed endogenous hormone production from the drugs – it’s because they don’t have a clue how to build muscle without drugs.

The subconscious realization of this might be what’s implicitly surfacing when someone occasionally confesses in hindsight:

“The steroids weren’t worth it.”

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