How do you know if your son is taking anabolic steroids?

The newspapers are confirming what most of us already know: more and more adolescent schoolboys are taking powerful anabolic steroids. And they’re not only taking them to enhance their sports performance but also “to look good.” So as a parent, how would you spot if your son is taking these dangerous drugs?

Steroid use can affect all aspects of your child’s health and well-being as well as affect the family as a whole. Here are some of the signs that you should be on the lookout for in the early stages of steroid use. We have not included some of the more serious side effects that may arise in long term use as we hope that adolescents have not yet reached this stage. It should also be borne in mind that some of these signs will be displayed as part of the normal maturing process of teenagers as the effect of testosterone and anabolic steroids are very similar.

Physical Signs:

· Puffiness/swelling of the neck region in particular, caused by increased water retention

· The emergence of acne in an adolescent who has not previously had acne or increased acne or acne found in new places, e.g. back and neck

· Increased appetite

· Increased muscle mass

· Development of breast tissue in males

· Complaints about heart palpitations

Medical Signs:

· Increased blood pressure

· Irritation of the stomach lining and other parts of the gastro-intestinal tract

· Indigestion

· Stomach ulcers

· Nausea



· Increased aggression and fighting with family and friends

· Mood changes

· Anxiety and irritability

· Sleeping difficulties

· Depression


· Change in friends

· Running out of pocket money/allowance and asking for more than would seem reasonable

· Withdrawal from family and normal activities

· Decline in school performance

· Taking supplements. Research has shown that adolescents who take supplements have an increased tendency to move onto more serious substances such as steroids and recreational drugs

What can you do?

· Increase your knowledge and education about anabolic steroids. How do they work? What are their dangers and side effects? The following organisations offer good literature in this regard, SharkSmart , South African Institute for Drug Free Sport.

· Understand that hard work, good nutrition, training and conditioning are far more effective physically and psychologically in enhancing sports performance than taking steroids.

· Listen to what you adolescent is talking about with his friends as this will give you a good clue as to his intentions and activities

· Talk to your child about steroids – their use and dangers

· Be vigilant and look out for the above signs and changes in your adolescent’s behaviours

· If you are concerned consult a medical professional urgently


Interesting Facts.

Study of South African schoolboy players returned 12 positive tests for anabolic steroids out of just 52 undertaken


Doping control tests have revealed that school boys in the recent Craven Week schools rugby tournament, tested positive for anabolic steroids and face two year bans from sport.

Doping control tests have revealed that school boys as young as 17 participating in the recent Craven Week schools rugby tournament, have tested positive for anabolic steroids and could face bans of up to two years from sport.


This is according to Khalid Galant, CEO of the Institute for Drug-Free Sport, which has obtained the results of their drug tests carried out on 47% of participants during the schools rugby tournament at the end of June 2011.

Galant says that four boys tested positive for the banned steroids. “Out of the four positives, two results also showed high levels of testosterone and these tests have been sent off for further analysis to Germany to verify whether the levels of testosterone are due to external sources, or naturally produced by the body. Only if the tests confirm that indeed the source of testosterone is from outside of the athlete’s body, will a doping case be opened.”

He says that one positive result is a lot, therefore four positives translates into an 8.5% positive result, which is a serious cause for concern. He also stresses that even though the other the majority of athletes ‘competed clean’ this does not mean that they are not doping as some of them may have stopped taking steroids weeks before the competition, in order to pass the drug tests during the tournament. “Also, only a sample of athletes were tested so these figures would undoubtedly be higher if a bigger sample had been done,” he adds.

He cites one example of one boy’s test that revealed a low concentration of nandrolone, but the levels were too low to open a case according to the doping rules and regulations.

Zero tolerance for doping in teen sports

The Institute for Drug-Free Sport has been very aggressive with its education campaigns in the months leading up to Craven Week Rugby to not only warn athletes of the dangers of doping but to remind them that tests will be carried at school level.

The boys, who cannot be named because they are minors, will face an independent tribunal in two months time. Each anti-doping tribunal hearing is unique irrespective of the substances involved, as there are circumstances that the tribunal may hear in mitigation, which will influence the decision on the ruling of a sanction.

“The standard sentence is a minimum ban of two years and not less than a year where there are mitigating circumstances,” says Galant. “It will be up to the tribunal to rule on the appropriate sanction.”

He says that if these children receive bans, they can kiss their school rugby careers goodbye. “The Craven Week school tournament is known to be the hunting ground for talent scouts looking to find best new players for their provinces.”

He says that the issue of steroid abuse in schools is known to be widespread and the Institute for Drug-Free Sport is increasing its efforts with regard to education, regulation and cracking down on drug trafficking of steroids in light of the shocking statistics that reflect a 100% increase in doping offences in South African sport.

With regard to education, apart from using testing as a deterrent, the Institute recently launched its ‘I Play Fair – Say NO! to Doping’ initiative, aimed at tackling doping in sport; spreading the message of ethics, fair-play and anti-doping in sport.   Schools and young athletes are a key target group for this campaign.

Teens warned about using sports supplements

Galant says that if he has one message to parents, it is to treat sports supplements with extreme caution because many of them contain banned substances.

“Doping is a short-cut that will not only see athletes getting caught but is also dangerous to the athlete’s health,” he explains. “Just because you can easily buy a sports supplement at any grocery store or pharmacy does not mean that the supplement does not contain any banned steroids.   Parents have to be more circumspect about the ingredients of these supplements and especially when words such as “testosterone booster” or “growth-hormone accelerator” are used on the packaging of products.”

(Press release, August 2011)


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