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15 Jul 2006

I apologize for the rather crude title, but it was meant to get your attention, and if you have read this far, it served its purpose. This article is for those that either are taking anabolic steroids and are concerned about their increased usage, those who have taken these enhancers in the past and are thinking of returning, or those who have never used but are thinking of giving steroids a try. Quite frankly, I don’t feel much good will come for the chronic user with no intention of stopping or limiting his intake, as such an individual has already fooled himself into thinking stacking and cycling are not addictive, or is in such a state of denial that he refuses to admit he may need help.

Each time I sit in front of this article I feel compelled in some way to change its format or content dependent on some new, inspired idea, yet realize the true reason is my insecurity secondary to inexperience. This is the first article for general public reading I have attempted, and initially had little ambition or compulsion to do so other than having given my word to my long and dear friend Arley that I would write an article for Natural Champion. As it turned out, what originally was intended to be a treatise on steroid abuse, addiction and consequences, has expanded into what I consider a more profound and meaningful discussion on bodybuilding, integrity and ensuring the benefits of our sport for posterity. I feel I owe you and future generations informed choice rather than entertainment or enlightenment, for I’m not sure I could provide the latter, and the former is so much more important. If after reading you walk away with an uneasy feeling in your gut, something you may want to talk to your best buddy about, something that has ignited perhaps a spark of anger or illuminated a dark corner in your mind that something is amiss, I will consider this passage well worth the effort.

By now I would hope your interest and curiosity are aroused, but if I were a reader I would have to ask myself, “Who is this guy, and what does he have to offer me?” A fair enough question, and I’ll give you a short answer so as not to bore you with a full rendition. Suffice to know I had a great time as a kid, played all kinds of contact sports and this was when I was first introduced to weight training. I graduated West Point at 21 and did five years in the Army to include Ranger, Airborne and Special Forces HALO free-fall parachuting, but never saw combat. I then went through Emory University Medical School, graduating with my MD in 1984, thinking I was well on my way to established careers in the two professions I loved, medicine and the military, when the bottom fell out.

Behind all the pomp, circumstance and diplomas was a sickly fear of incompetence and inadequacy not only as a clinician, but as a feeling, caring person. I soon found all these unanswered questions, conflicting emotions and nagging fears could be quenched in alcohol. It quickly went from a release to a necessity to an addiction, and obliterated not only fear, but careers, possessions and most importantly, family ties and friendships. Apply this analogy to the gym, where such fears and trepidation lead perhaps not to the bottle but instead the release and security, the rush and mystique of pills or needle to administer deca durabolin, Sustanon 250, human growth hormone, IGF-1, insulin, clenbuterol or any of the other myriad of performance enhancing drugs.

The only reason I share this personal information is to lend credibility when discussing steroids as a destructive addiction. Little need, perhaps, when DSM IV, the current edition of the bible of psychiatry, describes addictive behavior as a repetitive and harmful practice that one continues even when knowing the results will have adverse consequences, whether physical, emotional or social. JAMA, as far back as 1989, proposed an addiction hypothesis for anabolic steroids as well as endocrine withdrawal syndromes similar to alcohol, cocaine and opiates complete with depression, anhedonia and suicidal ideation. Renown psychiatric journals along with the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine have reported on mood alteration and aggression in supra-physiologic doses (i.e., basically the equivalent of a normal “juicer’s” dose) of testosterone. And perhaps most devastating of all is the increase in usage of our youth, consequences ranging from stunted growth and personality disorders to liver cancer and kidney failure.

My intention here is not to prove what investigators and scientists have known and been publishing for years. Their efforts have had little effect on curtailing use if indeed their purpose was prevention or abstinence. Unfortunately, knowledge and fear never cured or even dampened an addiction. If the reader’s interests are in search of such proof, switch your browser to Medscape or WebMD and type in a question of concern. My emphasis is on the healthy promotion of natural weight training, and at this juncture perhaps another method is appropriate. I haven’t a clue whether this will meet with any greater success, but in my mind it is worth a try.

The ultimate cliché may well be the simple answer; the best method of prevention is to never start. It’s a lot easier to “just say no” if you’ve never said yes. What is so difficult is to teach our kids to never ask, and what better way than explain what to expect if they do. And who better to hear this from than a mentor, a role model that adolescent respects and worships, you! And what better time and place to hear it than at the gym or over a protein shake after a workout? The personal choice is of course your own. First and foremost to train natural, to gut through all the troughs and plateaus and emerge uncompromised by not having taken the easier, softer way. The second is to give of your time, that most precious yet necessary commodity, that crucial gift of yourself to help and guide a young, impressionable personality to respect himself and the sport. That, friend is a rush you can’t get through the finest chemistry.

I can sense Arley’s dismay and he is probably now questioning himself whatever possessed him to ask me to write this, but it’s too late now. I’m fired up and if just one other of you out there feels the same way, welcome aboard. It’s called giving back a little toward a better, richer and more fulfilled life, and a sport with credibility and integrity. Care to join? Maybe not yet, you’re not entirely convinced. Well, just look where steroids have taken a star like Barry Bonds

Watch a replay his record smashing 714 to see how many of his teammates were at home plate to offer congratulations. With predictions to surpass Aaron’s all-time feat, at the highlight of his career, Bonds rides to the next game on an alternate bus, alone and defensive. I wonder how he enjoys such fame and riches in a big house with so few to share in his glory. Reputed to be arrogant, moody, selfish and calculating, some of his own teammates supposedly avoid him while many fans, relishing the past and pure sport of baseball, intensely dislike him, always placing the mental vision and specter of steroids where stars should be.

Many of you have combed the literature and muscle journals in search of something new, hoping for that panacea of insight into building rock hard, bulging arms with chiseled ultra thick thighs but countless times are met instead with endless sighs of disappointment, another plateau to overcome, another routine to conquer. It matters little whether you agonize for months on compromising your morals or just opt for the faster, easier way that same day. The bottom line is that you have let down not only yourself but those that respect and admire your heretofore Spartan discipline, intense desire and just downright guts. What happened?

Where or when do folks like Bonds, or even the average athlete or weekend warrior, lose control? Have you lost control, the will to say no? Can you go a day, a week, a month without the boost? You must answer that question to your own satisfaction, not anyone else. In the end it all comes down to who you are and can live with. In this quest for body perfect have your buddies somewhat distanced you, patience wearing a little thin, gains and growth can’t come fast enough, critical of well-meant suggestions and judgmental of those making them? Can you still feel smug and in control when your behavior has become markedly aggressive. Temper flares, intolerant of others and dissatisfied with self. What goes on in your head? Outwardly you may appear the master of your destiny when inside you just want to rip somebody’s throat out. Appearances, rationalizations, delusions and denial; not a pretty world to face each day.

I’ll be honest on a few things that maybe some have picked up on already. While never injecting steroids or using anything more growth enhancing than creatine, my devils are of another equally powerful, destructive and horrendous variety, alcohol. Whatever might be the demon is immaterial, the feeling in my gut for how this disease of addiction can affect you, those around you, and influence generations behind you is the critical issue. The only question is whether you have the strength never to start, or if you have already and find you can’t stop on your own, the courage and humility to ask for help. That is exactly the purpose behind this forum, and my sincere hope is that a few will take advantage, yell, scream, call me dirty names, but at least get those demons of fear, disgust, remorse and shame out of your head and into the light where they can be put, finally, to rest.

Early in my own recovery and depressed that I had lost my last friend, Jim Beam, I promised myself to try and do at least one positive thing each day. While I have failed miserably many times, tonight I plan to finish a book written by a psychiatrist who spent six of what should have been his prime and most productive years in a Nazi concentration camp. He is the father of modern existentialism, and believes that each and every man has a purpose in this life. In Auschwitz the Germans took his wife, family, and health, but were never able to strip his self-respect or integrity. The only reason, he believed, was during this nightmare he managed to keep control of the only thing the Nazi’s couldn’t, his attitude! By staying positive he managed to see humor in the most horrific of circumstances and be grateful for the most meager of scraps.

So tonight get off your duff, quit feeling sorry for yourself, be grateful for what God gave you, and if per chance you’re heading to the gym, grab one of those young, impressionable recruits that has bothered you in the past on this technique or that lift and set him straight. Get out of your own head and problems and share them with this kid. Let him know, in non-lecture format, the pros and cons of steroids as you see it, how use has affected you, those closest to you, and your feelings and attitude toward this sport, this obsession we call bodybuilding. Getting out of your own head, helping shape someone else’s dream. You’ll be amazed how much better you feel in the bargain.

Dr. Charles Letcher