Why roids aren’t all the rage

Eoin Harte

There’s no doubt that Ireland has been experiencing a fitness craze in the last number of years. More and more people are flocking to gyms, hoping to achieve the perfect bodies that are regularly displayed on social media sites, Instagram in particular.

The pressure that women have felt for decades to look a certain way is now beginning to enforce itself on men. It is now quite rare for high profile male actors, models or even contestants in reality TV shows to not have toned, bulging muscles.

This obsession to achieve the look that Arnold Schwarzenegger brought to the public eye in the 1970s is now widespread. The impossibility of achieving the look formerly seen as only attainable by professional bodybuilders is now being presented as a body that anyone can have through hard work and dedication.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia star Rob McElhenney, who got into unbelievable shape for comedic effect for the latest season of the show, rubbished the notion that anyone leading a normal life could achieve this goal.

In an Instagram post back in September, McElhenney put up a picture of himself from season seven where the actor purposefully gained over 20 kilos of fat (again, just for comedic purposes) next to his new ‘Hollywood’ physique.

The comedic actor wrote, “Look, it’s not that hard. All you need to do is lift weights six days a week, stop drinking alcohol, don’t eat anything after 7pm, don’t eat any carbs or sugar at all, in fact just don’t eat anything you like, get the personal trainer from Magic Mike, sleep nine hours a night, run three miles a day, and have a studio pay for the whole thing over a six to seven month span. I don’t know why everyone’s not doing this. It’s a super realistic lifestyle and an appropriate body image to compare oneself to.”

Still, this one Instagram post which takes a more realistic approach to the difficulties surrounding getting into such great shape is greatly outnumbered by countless fitness pages that would have you believe that people leading ordinary lives can achieve their dream body (as long as you buy the sponsored supplements).

What these Instagram models don’t tell you is the sheer amount of hours they need to put in that anybody in university or working in a full-time job simply don’t have. While they are in incredible shape, these models also have a few simple tricks up their sleeve.

Most of these fitness models will take time to find the perfect lighting for their pictures which will accentuate the definition on their bodies. They also take pictures directly after they exercise, at which time they have a ‘pump’. The ‘pump’ is when your muscles swell up during a workout from the excessive amount of blood being sent to the muscles. Not only do the muscles then appear larger but they also look leaner as the skin around them becomes tighter because of this.

While these fitness models on Instagram won’t deny using these ‘tricks’, there is one that they will almost always deny; their use of anabolic steroids. While not all of these Instagram models use steroids, there is a significant number who do. The usage of anabolic steroids has dramatically increased in Ireland in recent years, with the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) revealing in April that almost 450,000 dosage units of anabolic steroids were detained in 2017, compared to just over 38,000 in 2015.

Many people have flocked to using anabolic steroids to achieve their goals but are unaware of the side effects that come along with using these substances. While they can be used to build muscle and decrease body fat, they are certainly not healthy for the user, especially if the user is not well educated on how to use them.

Anabolic steroids can be taken in a number of ways, through injections, oral pills and also as creams that can be rubbed on the skin. Injecting anabolic steroids can be especially dangerous for unaware users. Users can unintentionally inject a small amount of air into their blood stream. This is known as ‘air embolism’ and can result in strokes and heart attacks, which obviously can lead to death.

Even if steroids are taken correctly there is no guarantee that they won’t cause users some serious problems. There is an extensive list of serious side effects that steroids can cause for both men and women. For men anabolic steroids misuse can result in serious issues infertility, shrunken testicles, erectile dysfunction, liver damage and an increase in the chance of prostate cancer.

Side effects that are less serious but are aesthetically unpleasing include baldness, severe acne and breast development in men. Considering many users are on steroids for aesthetic reasons, this may give potential users reason to think again. Female users don’t get off any easier, with anabolic steroids causing facial and body hair growth, loss of breasts, swelling of the clitoris, a deepened voice and problems with periods.

There are also psychological issues that arise when misusing anabolic steroids. The term ‘roid rage’ exists for a reason, as aggressive behaviour, mood swings and paranoia are all common complaints among steroid users. Adolescents who haven’t yet had a growth that misuse steroids can expect stunted growth as the drugs can cause premature aging of the bones.

Last but not least, anabolic steroids are addictive substances which can result in pretty serious withdrawal symptoms if users decide to suddenly come off the drugs.  These symptoms include depression, feelings of anxiety, decreased sex drive, fatigue, headaches as well as muscle and joint pain.

So, while these celebrities with perfect bodies may appear to be leading perfect lives, they could be encountering a range of serious issues thanks to steroid misuse. While these drugs certainly do encourage muscle growth, they often come with a host of other effects that should make most potential users think long and hard about how badly they want bigger muscles.

Eoin Harte

Image credit: Carrie McMullan