Karl Henry: Even teenagers are gripped by Ireland’s steroid boom, with potentially harmful side effects
There's a bit of a fitness boom going on in Ireland at the moment and as more and more people seek to hone and improve their bodies, some of them may be turning to performance-enhancing drugs, particularly steroids.
What was previously a problem among elite athletes has trickled into the mainstream and even teenagers have started using steroids in an attempt to 'bulk up'.
Last week I worked on a report for Claire Byrne Live on steroid use and abuse in Ireland, and when researching the subject I was totally blown away by what I was reading.
It wasn't just the statistics about how many people are using them, but also how people who take these illegal substances ignore and block out the negative effects.
I was shocked by the problems they cause too, so in today's column I thought I would take a closer look at steroids in sport, so that should you know any young people taking them or are thinking about taking them, you can make up your own mind.
Firstly, let's look at the statistics in Ireland. While it's impossible to say exactly how many people are using steroids, we can look at the numbers that customs have seized over the past few years and use that to gauge the increase in consumption. In 2014, customs seized 16,000 units. In 2015, that number had increased to 40,000 units. Yet most worrying of all was that in 2016, that number shot up to 109,000 units. In 2015, 348 people were reported to be hospitalised due to steroid use. Those figures scared me.
So why do people take steroids? There are three main benefits to taking these substances: they claim to increase your strength, improve your recovery and allow you to get faster results from your training over a short time. There are also psychological effects when you are on a high, namely improved ego and self esteem.
Even young teenagers can pick up these illegal drugs with relative ease, either online and through dealers that are omnipresent in some gyms around Ireland. The main issue is that in an unregulated market, no one actually knows what is in the product they are taking. There is no guarantee that the product contains what it's meant to.
Then we come to the scariest part: the side effects. There are many calls amongst the steroid-using community to regulate the industry, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not find any governing body or government body who would endorse the use of steroids.
Just some of the side effects of steroid abuse, according to the Health Products Regulatory Authority in Ireland, are: acne, body or facial hair growth, aggression, depression, anxiety, blood clotting, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, narrowing of the arteries, baldness, cardiovascular disease, changes in the male and female reproductive systems and an increased risk of blood-borne infections. And the list goes on from there.
That is some list, and one that is everywhere if you research steroids online. It is promoted across all medical and government websites. Yet it seems to have no effect on the surge in steroid users in Ireland. The more people who use them, the greater the risk of these health issues. With mental health problems so prevalent in Ireland, one has to wonder is there a link between the rise in those issues and the rise in steroid abuse?
There is no actual legal website which can tell you how to take these illegal drugs. People take them to get bigger, stronger and leaner, to look like the people they emulate on social media and in the gyms. They want the fastest route possible to get that physique. They will buy some version of the drug, take it based on word of mouth, as advised by the supplier or else through instructions from a forum page.
Young people are taking advice from an anonymous source - there is nothing personal about the recommendation, just information passed from one user to the next.
The most worrying time is when the user is coming off the steroids.This should be done with medical supervision according to some websites, but what are the chances of that?