What comes to mind when someone mentions the word steroids? Is it a group of big, burly men strutting around for a weight lifting show? Or is it the name of the latest famous athlete who has had their use brought to light? Most likely it isn’t the image of your local firefighter. In recent years though, that is the exact image of who is using steroids. The fire service is a physically demanding job. More firefighters die from medical emergencies, like a myocardial infarction, than from injuries sustained fighting a fire. To combat this, many fire personnel are actively trying to change their lifestyle habits. Healthier food choices, spending time exercising regularly, and stopping tobacco use are all positive moves in the right direction. But for some, exercise, healthy foods, and protein shakes aren’t enough. This is where some firefighters cross a line and begin using steroids.
Just to be clear, let’s discuss what steroids are and the effects they produce in the body. Anabolic steroids are sometimes used under a doctor’s prescription to treat various diseases. It is when someone begins taking these on their own accord to bulk up muscle or boost performance. They affect hormone levels.
Serious Side Effects of Steroids¹:
- Kidney damage
- Liver Disease
- Aggressive behavior
One of the more disturbing effects is the change that takes place in the emotional personality of the person. Steroid use causes severe mood swings, manic behavior, and violent rage².
For anyone, this behavior causes many problems. But for someone who has the title of firefighter, the results can be deadly. Firefighters, like all first responders, need to have the ability to make judgment calls in a matter of seconds. Any drug that impairs that ability could have devastating, life-long consequences.
Recent news stories from New Jersey and Georgia show this is not an isolated issue. So how do we fix the problem? The first step is recognition. As with any destructive behavior or practice, signs will be present.
What to Look For:
- Obsessive interest in weight-lifting/building muscles
- Mood swings
- Paranoid/Jealous behavior
- Bouts of rage
- Participating in dangerous behavior
If you notice these signs in a coworker, be cautious how you approach the situation. Don’t corner the individual or make them feel threatened. Try to casually inquire how they are and how things are going. If you don’t get satisfactory answers and are still concerned, bring in someone from the department you trust.
For the woman or man who finds themselves using steroids, sit back a minute and think about the changes you are experiencing in your life. Are they all positive? To exercise, your body will feel some pain and it will be hard work. When making healthier food choices, you will miss the greasy pizzas and still occasionally crave cupcakes. But with perseverance, those cravings will lessen, the exercise will become the thing you miss if you can’t make the gym that day. The effects of steroid use will only take you on a downward spiral. At first, the increased muscles and feeling of invincibility will be empowering. But then comes the extreme mood swings, the insane jealousy, paranoid thoughts towards loved ones, and the feeling you could fly off the handle at any minute. This isn’t a drug like cocaine or heroin where you feel instantaneous effects. But after time, your body will adapt to the drug and begin functioning differently. It will add stress to your cardiovascular system, your kidneys and liver will not be able to process normally, and the emotional change will affect your relationships with those closest to you.
If you are on the fence on steroid use, just look in the news at the results of those who have chosen to take that path. Athletes have ruined legacies, relationships have ended violently, and even fellow firefighters have lost careers because they chose to take steroids. Ask yourself if the risk to you, your family, your career is worth it.
²National Institute on Drug Abuse. Anabolic Steroids Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/anabolic-steroids on October 16, 2015