November 3, 2009

Don't Be Surprised At A Pro Golfer Using Steroids

Anabolic steroids. The very mention of that class of drugs instantly brings up images of comic-book hulks with bulging muscles who are full of rage. While that may be more than true in too many cases, it sometimes paints an inaccurate picture of a steroid abuser: they are not necessarily a caricature of Charles Atlas, and they are not always on a hair trigger. Like any drug abuser, in extreme cases, they may fit the stereotype perfectly, or sometimes, they may not fit it all: it might be the guy next door who looks and acts healthy, but is someone who shares a deep, dark secret he is loathe for the world to discover.

The Basics: What Steroids Are, And A Brief Description of Their Function

Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), are a class of steroid hormones related to the hormone testosterone, the so-called "male" hormone. Testosterone is one of a family of hormones called androgens. Best known for their "masculinizing" effects, androgens first kick into action during the embryonic stages of life and are produced naturally throughout our lifetimes. Even though testosterone is most commonly associated with masculinity, don't be fooled. Males and females produce exactly the same hormones but in differing amounts, something that leads to our secondary gender traits (plumbing being the first.) Men's bodies generate more than twenty times more testosterone than women, an average of seven milligrams per day, while women naturally produce much more estrogen, the so-called female hormone. We'll stick with testosterone for now, since it relates to AAS, but rest assured, everyone creates and uses testosterone in their bodies.

The long and short of how anabolic steroids work is that they increase protein production within cells, which in turn results in the buildup of cellular tissue - or anabolism - especially in the muscles.

That's very simplified, but basically that's how they work: anabolic steroids either supplement or create hormonal production, which in turn stimulates the body to create proteins and body mass.

The role of steroids were first discovered in the 193o's by European pharmaceutical companies and scientists, with natural steroids first being collected in 1931 and synthesized steroids being first created in 1934. In fact, Adolf Butenandt and Leopold Ruzicka, the two chemists who did this first work, were given the 1939 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Interestingly, it has been long conjectured that Nazi soldiers were given steroids, though specific proof has yet to satisfy the historical community.

Therapeutic Uses of Steroids

Many people tend to forget that anabolic steroids are legal for clinical use to this day, and there, under a doctor's supervision, they are a valuable tool that can be employed to battle a variety of conditions. Some of these are:
  • Osteoporosis
  • Endometriosis
  • Chronic Wasting Disease
  • Bone Marrow Stimulation, as part of cancer treatment
  • Pituitary disorders, including growth deficiencies
  • Testicular disorders, such as hormonal deficiencies resulting from cancer
  • Post-menopausal disorders in women
  • others
As with any powerful drug - natural or synthetic - the use of anabolic steroids requires the close care and attention of a physician, and as such, are currently listed as Schedule III controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act in the US. The first offense for simple possession of Schedule III substances without a prescription is a federal crime, and it is punishable by up to one year in prison. The unlawful distribution or possession with intent to distribute anabolic steroids punishable as a first offense by up to ten years in prison.

How Do Steroids Work, And Why Do People Abuse Them?

Those two questions may seem to be separate issues, but in fact, they are closely tied together.

As pointed out earlier, anabolic steroids are either a natural substance or a synthetic one that shares a similar composition to its natural counterpart. These chemicals work by stimulating muscle growth, which is obviously very beneficial for athletic purposes.


In addition to stimulating protein synthesis and muscle growth, steroids reduce recovery time, which is a natural part of muscle building and also in athletic competition.

When one lifts weights in order to increase mass, they are basically overloading a muscle, creating micro-tears, and those micro-tears repair themselves with new muscle cells. By enhancing protein production, the basic building materials for new cells are created, and as a result of the process, more muscle cells are created to replace those lost. In short, it is a case of one step backward and five steps forward as opposed to one step backward and two steps forward, which is metaphorically the norm for someone relying on the steroids that their body creates naturally. Steroids also decrease catabolism of muscle mass -- in other words, they prevent the body from digesting muscle mass for energy.(1)

Bigger muscles means stronger, faster, better. That is the goal of many athletes, because it gives them a competitive edge. It also aids them with stamina as well. Like any machine, when a body has more power, it doesn't need to work as hard to obtain a desired result.

It is also notable and worth pointing out to say that as a person ages, their testosterone production decreases after its peak in their late teens or early twenties. This too is part of the equation where muscle mass maintenance and growth are concerned. In our thirties, when the first signs of aging become readily apparent, we slowly begin to lose the speed, the strength and the stamina we had not many years earlier. That's because our bodies are slowing their hormonal production, and with a decreased amounts, performance inevitably suffers. Anabolic steroids offset that.

The bottom line is that steroids are part and parcel of human biology, and our bodies create them and use them throughout our lifetimes in ever decreasing amounts past peak production when we are young. The abuser is simply enhancing and overloading a natural process through pharmaceuticals, and as such, are creating a synthetic competitive advantage for themselves.

The simple word for that is cheating.

Wait A Minute, Golfers Are Not Football Players, Why Would They Abuse Steroids?

Don;t be so sure that a golfer would not abuse steroids. Golf at its highest levels is increasingly a power game, one that is not unlike baseball's home run hitters. To be competitive, one needs to be able to keep up off of the tee, and there, speed and power with the driver make all of the difference. These days, swing speed is the thing - the faster the swing, the farther the ball goes. To do that requires strong and finely tuned muscles, and for those who can't develop them naturally through working out in a gym and other exercises regimens, they can be tempted to get some "help" through the use of steroids.

Rocco Mediate described the situation on the PGA Tour of today succinctly when he said, "it's a distance war on tour, and for me to stay in it I need to understand exactly what I'm doing with my swing, my equipment and my body. Basically, I have to absolutely max out." (Please note very clearly that I am not in any way suggesting that Mediate is doing anything untoward. I am simply using his quote to illustrate the state of golf on the Tour.)

It's not just distance off of the tee, either. A faster, stronger swing helps in the rough, helps in the fairway and helps everywhere but with the putter. That said, to play golf at the top levels of the sport, one has to be fit and they have to be strong if they want to succeed and win. For some, they are genetically gifted -- meaning they naturally fit in the profile of the successful player of today. Others, not so much. Still others are simply aging out and their bodies are not what they used to be. Those latter two groups may well be tempted by artificial means.

Those that give in to temptation are risking more than they may know. They are not only risking their reputations, they are risking the quality of their life, and it is very possible that they are risking life itself.

What Will Steroids Do Over Time To Abusers?

Dennis Hopper put it best in a Nike commercial aired in the Super Bowl a number of years ago: "Bad things, man, BAD things."

A steroid abuser is clearly upsetting their natural balance, and the body will react to it adversely sooner or later.

Mentally, depending on the length and severity of their abuse, an illicit steroid user increases the likelihood that they will experience (according to the Congress of Neurological Surgeons) "significant psychiatric symptoms including aggression and violence, mania, and less frequently psychosis and suicid[al tendencies.]"(5)

Physically, they can experience heart diseases, heart attacks (remember, the heart is a muscle too, and a very vital one at that) (2) (3), physiological changes to the brain and also to the pituitary and testes, hardening of the arteries, kidney problems and other potentially fatal or life-shortening physical problems. For starters.

For men, a condition where the body reacts to an overload of testosterone by turning it into the female hormone estrogen is relatively common in cases of high level abusers. This has sexual side effects such as impotence and shrinkage of the genitalia. (4)

Like Dennis Hopper said: "Bad things, man, bad things."

In summary, steroids are a good thing when used judiciously and wisely under the expert care of a physician. They are a horrible thing when abused, and while there may seem to be initial positive effects for the abuser, they are exacting a horrible toll on themselves and they will eventually pay with their health if not their life itself.

The famous football player Lyle Alzado did exactly that by abusing steroids: he died of what he believed to be steroid-caused brain tumor at 43. Alzado, a great and much beloved football player, had abused steroids (by his own admission) from 1969 until his retirement from football more than twenty years later. Before he died, Alzado wrote a gut-wrenching account in Sports Illustrated titled "I'm Sick and I'm Scared." Read his story if you would like an inside glimpse of where AAS abuse can lead. It's not pretty. Young athletes even considering momentarily using steroids certainly should read Alzado's story and learn from it. With one foot practically in his own casket, Alzado tells them why they should never, ever abuse these powerful drugs.

Even more sadly, many others have followed in Alzado's footsteps to the graveyard, and unfortunately too many others will continue down that path in the future.

The PGA Tour is entirely correct in suspending Doug Barron for using a performance enhancing drug, especially if it is an anabolic steroid. Even if he wasn't, and was using one of the incredibly long list of substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances, the Tour was correct in suspending him to provide a deterrent to anyone else who may be using or thinking about using. It sounds harsh, but if the Tour is unwavering in its stance of not accepting PEDs - AAS, or otherwise - it is protecting the sanctity of it competitions, but may well be protecting the lives of some of its members.

Still, one has to wonder - is only one year enough to provide a chilling deterrent for another player who is abusing steroids, or is contemplating it?

Perhaps not, given the risks.



Partial footnotes for sources for this article:

(1) Crash dieters know about catabolism. When you don't eat, the first thing your body goes for is the muscle proteins. This gives one apparent weight loss - but with the same amount of body fat. That's why crash diets are bad for you.
(2) Grace F, Sculthorpe N, Baker J, Davies B (2003). "Blood pressure and rate pressure product response in males using high-dose anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS)". J Sci Med Sport 6 (3): 307–12
Barrett-Connor E (1995). "Testosterone and risk factors for cardiovascular disease in men". Diabete Metab 21 (3): 156–61.
Alén M, Reinilä M, Vihko R (1985). "Response of serum hormones to androgen administration in power athletes". Medicine and science in sports and exercise 17 (3): 354–9. Et. al

Trenton AJ, Currier GW (2005). "Behavioural manifestations of anabolic steroid use". CNS Drugs 19 (7): 571–95.


  1. You're making an assumption that Barron took steroids. The fact is that steroids make up only a small part of the world doping list.

    This is a very educational piece on steroids - but we don't know what Barron tested positive for.

  2. Court, as it usually is, you are correct. The entry was accidentally published early before I finishes spellchecking and editing, and I was already redacting my assumption about Barron. We don't know for sure what PED he tested positive for and I changed my article to reflect it.

    Anyway, there are other PEDs for folders - eg Bera Blockers - which may have been the culprit. I plan to cover them later.

  3. Ps I hate the iPhone autospell feature it changes my words as I type them. Folders are golfers. Finishes is finished. My bad there.

  4. lol - well - there have been tournaments this year where "folders" was more appropriate than golfers.

    the thing about non-medically prescribe anabolic steroid use has always been the affect it has on touch...and we all know that golf is a game that requires as much in the touch area as power, if not more. anabolics just don't fit the profile of a golfer. but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other possibilities out there.

    sounds like that iPhone needs a little help with English grammar and usage if it is respelling verb tenses. does it let you add words to the "dictionary" ? hard to imagine a word like golfer not being in there already.

  5. :o) Court's right about the folder golfers. Perhaps the iPhone's artificial intelligence is more astute than we give it credit for.

    I would guess ADD drugs like Aderall would be banned as well. They would arguably provide an equally significant advantage though not directly related to strength and distance.

  6. Now you can get fast and easy way to buy quality anabolic steroids from many laboratories online.

  7. Charles Atlas never used Steriods and also didn't promote the use of steriods. Check out the company website at


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