A new study shows that about five percent of middle and high school students have used anabolic steroids to put on muscle, and that as many as one-third of boys and one-fifth of girls have used protein powder or shakes. Between five and 10 percent admitted to using non-steroid muscle-enhancing substances like creatine.
I was shocked to read these numbers. This is a brewing epidemic and parents need to become aware. We live in a complex world, and just like the war on drugs, we have make this a priority when it comes to our children.
Many kids see steroids as a tool to speed up the process of achieving their ideal body type and enhancing their athletic performance. And of course, this keeps them preoccupied with an image that they feel the need to achieve at any cost. And what’s even scarier, is that many people who abuse anabolic steroids often use more than one kind of drug at a time – a practice that’s called stacking.
The problem is that the potential effects of steroid use could be quite deadly. Steroids can damage vital organs in the body including the heart, kidneys and liver, and they can also interfere with the natural development of hormones. They can also alter kids’ behavior – even to the point of emotional instability. Especially in teens, steroids can cause bone growth to stop before it is complete – meaning a child may not reach his or her full adult height.
Unfortunately, many schools fail to teach about the dangers of steroids and athletic trainers in gyms around the country often fail to impress the scary facts upon their young clients. And of course, many professional athletes still are not helping enough because we continue to see them stripped of their medals and banned from their respective leagues for abusing steroids.
So what are we to do? Parents need to become aware. I would argue that a healthy interest in your child about exercising and athletics is good -- but you need to know what they are doing.
As a parent, you need to know the game plan. You need to know that your child understands that steroids are dangerous. And if they don’t understand it, you need to have that conversation.
Another thing you might want to consider is testing your child if you notice some of the tell-tale signs, like becoming aggressive, obsessing over body image or dramatic changes in their appetite. It’s as simple as testing for illegal drugs like cocaine, pot or methamphetamine. It can be done in the privacy of your own home and these tests are incredibly sensitive to dozens of different kinds of steroids. You typically have a 1-4 week window to test for traces of steroids in the urine. If a test does come back positive, at least you know what you are dealing with and you can prevent a bad outcome in the future.
We cannot bury our heads in the sand when it comes to this issue; we have to be aware to keep this problem under control.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.