Many young people train daily in the fitness centre with only one goal: to build muscles. But often the muscles do not grow fast enough with strength training. That’s why they use anabolic steroids, as Robert Klingl, a specialist in internal medicine and sports expert at the St. Gallen Medical Center, confirms. The abuse of this substance has increased in recent years. “I’m treating more and more young people who suffer from side effects due to their excessive use of anabolic steroids.”
Side effects of anabolic steroids
When consuming anabolic steroids, the natural hormonal balance is disturbed and partially switched off. Women may experience masculinisation with a deep voice, increased body hair, regression of the breasts and disturbance of the monthly rule. Men may experience femininisation with breast growth, shrinkage of the testicles and disturbance of sperm production.
Taking anabolic steroids over a longer period of time can lead to liver inflammation and liver cancer. Elevated blood pressure puts strain on the cardiovascular system, and elevated blood lipid levels increase the risk of heart attacks. In adolescents, growth can come to a standstill. Other side effects include acne and hair loss.
Psychological consequences such as increased aggressiveness are also possible. Cognitive processes such as memory and concentration can be negatively affected.
It is unclear whether the consumption of anabolic steroids can cause addiction. There are athletes who suffer from depression after stopping anabolic steroids.
Typically the very bad skin, covered with acne and pimples, attracts attention, says Klingl. But that’s not always the case. The side effects are manifold and all dangerous (see box). In the worst case, the person dies of heart failure and secondary death. “The pressure to represent something – even if it is only muscle mass – has increased to such an extent that I often receive direct requests for anabolic steroids.”
“They buy their syringes from us.”
In recent years there has also been a massive increase in the number of illegal medicines seized at customs, particularly muscle-building preparations. Customs intercepted 482 such consignments last year, compared with only 300 in 2013. After potency drugs, anabolic steroids are currently the second most frequently illegally imported substances into Switzerland.
Roman Schmid, managing director of the Bellevue pharmacy in Zurich, regularly deals with young people who take anabolic steroids. “They buy their syringes from us,” he says. He gives them out because at least he knows for sure that the young people are using clean utensils. “You can see from a distance what they need the syringes for. They usually have spots on their faces and look unnaturally muscular,” says Schmid. But if you point them out the risks, the young men are absolutely resistant to advice.
They want to achieve their physical ideal
How many young Swiss people take anabolic steroids is unclear. Domenic Schnoz, head of the Zurich Centre for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Züfam), says that there is a lack of data on this in Switzerland.
An online survey conducted by Züfam on the subject has revealed that there is a lack of data: Around 80 percent of anabolic drug users are recreational rather than professional athletes, more than half are between 18 and 29 years old and 98 percent are men. More than 90 percent of the survey participants use anabolic steroids to achieve their physical ideal, and more than 40 percent want to improve their self-esteem.
Schnoz: “The topic is of concern to us and we are in the process of developing measures to specifically inform young people and young adults about the risks”.