The story of Taylor Hooton is spreading awareness of the health threat presented by steroids.

Performance-enhancing drugs represent a real threat to our children’s health. Knowing the signs can help address a problem before it starts.

Steroids give you a better body even if you don’t play sports. Its more like a muscle-building supplement. We all use it. If you want to play varsity, you need to get bigger.

That final quote was told to my son Taylor by a baseball coach during his junior season at Plano West Senior High in 2003. Those words made quite an impression on Taylor. He had plans to be the top pitcher on the varsity squad. He didn’t have time to wait. The pressure to succeed for high school athletes in Plano, Texas, can be huge, as evidenced by the number of players on Taylor’s team who were already using anabolic steroids to give themselves an edge. With so much peer pressure around him, Taylor decided that steroids were also his path to athletic stardom, and he began injecting himself as many as three times a week.

The results were immediate. Taylor was lifting more weight in the gym than he ever had, and he put on 30 pounds of muscle in about 90 days. Vanity about his looks started playing a part in his steroid use. But along with those gains came some telltale signs of steroid abuse: a puffy face, severe acne on his back, bad breath and explosive mood swings that produced fits of anger and yelling, commonly known as roid rage. My wife, Gwen, and I had no knowledge of steroids, but his change in behavior made us suspicious. We had Taylor tested for drug use by our family doctor, but since steroids are not part of a standard drug test panel, we remained in the dark.

We eventually took Taylor to a psychiatrist, who got him to admit that he was abusing steroids and to agree to tell us the truth. He was also instructed to quit cold turkey. A side effect of someone ending steroid use is plummeting testosterone, which can lead to depression, so Taylor was also prescribed an antidepressant. Gwen and I monitored him closely as he tried to clean up, but the residual effects of the steroids dug too deep a hole to climb out of for Taylor. Barely a month after his 17th birthday, he took his own life.

The reality of steroids

Taylors tragedy raised a number of questions that we needed answers to, and as we began digging into the facts behind steroid abuse, we realized how few adults knew about the extent of the problem. That understanding led us to form the Taylor Hooton Foundation in 2004, with the mission of raising awareness about the near epidemic use of anabolic steroids and other appearance- and performance-enhancing drugs (APEDs). Lets examine some of the facts:

  • According to a 2012 study from the University of Minnesota, 5.9 percent of school-age boys and 4.6 percent of girls admit to using anabolic steroids. This translates to around 1.5 million kids, or about four dozen in an average high school. Parents should realize that this problem is much closer to them than they might think.
  • A 2013 national survey conducted by the University of Massachusetts and Gallup showed that about 81 percent of adults are virtually unaware of this problem among youth. This leads to kids making their own choices after talking to other steroid users in the gym about improving strength and performance or just looking better.
  • While speaking to literally hundreds of thousands of kids, we have rarely received an affirmative response to the question of whether anyone has ever spoken with them about the dangers of APEDs.

What do we know about APEDs? They come in the form of both anabolic steroids and unregulated dietary supplements. Steroids are synthetic testosterone drugs developed for legitimate medical reasons that are misused by some to get bigger, faster and stronger. Typical application methods are by pill, cream, gel, patch or, the most common, injection. Legitimate steroids are created by pharmaceutical companies and delivered through hospitals and pharmacies via prescription, while almost all street steroids come into the U.S. from Asia. Those typically arrive in a powder form and are mixed with various oils before being put into vials for sale. For these illegal steroids, no quality control is applied, contamination is common and they may not be what the purchaser thinks they are either the type of steroids or the dosage. Easy to purchase, they’re sold illicitly in gyms or online; try an Internet search for buy steroids and you will find millions of links peddling steroids. Taylor met his dealer at our local gym.

Dangers of anabolic steroid use

Even pharmaceutical steroids can do serious damage to the body and the mind when not used properly under a doctors guidance. The possible effects of continual unregulated abuse include:

  • Enlarged heart/increased risk of heart attack
  • Water and salt retention leading to high blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Liver cysts/liver cancer
  • Increased chance of injury to tendons, ligaments and muscles
  • Jaundice, trembling and aching joints
  • Harm to the musculoskeletal system bones stop growing
  • Hypertension
  • Severe depression
  • Aggressive behavior

Signs of steroid use

There are a number of signs that can help us spot a steroid user. The following list highlights the common symptoms of anabolic steroid use.

Physical

  • Fast weight gain/rapid increase in muscle mass
  • Acne, especially on the back
  • Oily skin
  • Puffiness in the wrists, neck and ankles
  • Male pattern hair loss
  • Changes in breast size larger for males (gynecomastia), smaller for females
  • Deeper voice in females
  • Facial hair growth in females
  • Injection sites (blood spots on underwear)
  • Persistent bad breath

Behavioral

  • Sudden desire to work out at the gym,
  • sometimes up to 2-3 times per day
  • Becoming secretive and lying
  • Stealing or losing belongings/money
  • Paranoia displaying feelings of
  • mistrust or fear
  • Mood swings
  • Uncontrolled aggression and sudden acts of violence, aka roid rage
  • Depression that is sometimes severe and may include thoughts of suicide
  • Reckless behavior
  • Giving away valuable possessions
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

What can you do?
There are some key steps you can take to identify a potential problem and prevent your kids from using APEDs.

Educate: Talk to them regularly and discuss the health, ethical and legal risks so they understand whats at stake. Be clear about your expectations as a parent.

Advocate: Talk about healthy fitness alternatives through a balanced diet and proper training. Inspire them to be their best and always be encouraging.

Communicate: Reassure your teen through love and support, no matter how they’re performing. Insist that your children’s coaches talk to them regularly about APEDs. Ask them when was the last time an adult at school talked to them about steroids don’t rely on assurances from teachers that the subject is being covered.

If you suspect your child is using, intervene with them, expose the truth and get a physician involved. Don’t ever stop communicating openly with them and letting them know the risks they’re taking.

The Taylor Hooton Foundation is widely acknowledged as the national leader in education on the topic of APED use by youth in the U.S., Canada and Latin America. With the help of our partnerships with professional sports organizations, Little League Baseball and other key associations, the facts around APEDs have been getting out to school administrators and coaches, federal and state legislatures, national media and, most importantly, kids at risk. Educating young people about the dangers of these drugs is a mission we all need to promote through every available avenue.

For more information on becoming involved with programs, supporting APED awareness and helping us educate young people, visit the Taylor Hooton Foundation website at taylorhooton.org.

Donald M. Hooton serves as President of the Taylor Hooton Foundation. Recognized as the leading national spokesman on the issues of APEDs our nations youth face, he has spoken to hundreds of thousands and has appeared as an expert witness before Congress on three occasions. For his work in the field, Don was named one of the Top 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute for International Sports. He was also recently selected to receive the Distinguished Service Award by the United States Sports Academy.