Sunday, February 15, 2009

Film - Bigger, Stronger, Faster: Steroids in America

I watched Bigger, Stronger, Faster last night, an excellent (if ambivalent) look at steroids in sports, in America, and the ways in which the American culture simultaneously encourages and condemns steroid use. The film looks specifically at one family of brothers, two of who are users and one who has tried them but chosen not to go that route.

I've blogged about this film before.

Here is some of what I wrote last year:
I've written before on drugs in sports -- essentially I'm a libertarian in this realm, favoring a complete decriminalization of steroid use and doctor-supervised sanctioning of use by athletes.

A new movie - Bigger, Stronger, Faster - takes a somewhat ambivalent look at the use of steroids by athletes, which is completely understandable given the climate of condemnation in this country. The movie has a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes after 29 reviews.

* * *

There is a real disconnect here between doping for sports (physiological enhancement) and the rest of our culture. My guess is that people who wouldn't think twice about getting a little "work done," referring to plastic surgery, would be totally opposed to athletes using growth hormone to speed healing of injuries or general recovery, or to athletes using testosterone to build a little more muscle to make themselves more competitive,

I'd bet these same people would have no issue with taking Prozac for depression or giving their kids Ritalin for ADD. I'll bet some of them have tattoos, or pierced ears, or permanent eye-liner. At what point is body (and brain) modification alright, and at what point is it a crime?

There's absolutely no reason for anabolic steroids to be illegal, other than politics. The drugs were legal until the early 1980s. You can still go into pharmacies in many countries and buy steroids over the counter.

With proper supervision, the health risks are minimal. Clearly, those who do not have fully developed hormonal systems shouldn't be using these drugs (that means kids). But proper control, regulations, and availability would take the drugs off the black market and make them much safer (thus also removing a whole line of work for criminals).

The reality of steroid use in America is much different than you might think:
Studies in the United States have shown anabolic steroid users tend to be mostly middle-class heterosexual men with a median age of about 25 who are noncompetitive bodybuilders and non-athletes and use the drugs for cosmetic purposes.[68] Another study found that non-medical use of AAS among college students was at or less than 1%.[69] According to a recent survey, 78.4% of steroid users were noncompetitive bodybuilders and non-athletes while about 13% reported unsafe injection practices such as reusing needles, sharing needles, and sharing multidose vials,[70] though a 2007 study found that sharing of needles was extremely uncommon among individuals using anabolic steroids for non-medical purposes, less than 1%.[71] Anabolic steroid users often are stereotyped as uneducated "muscle heads" by popular media and culture; however, a 1998 study on steroid users showed them to be the most educated drug users out of all users of controlled substances.[72] Another 2007 study found that 74% of non-medical anabolic steroid users had secondary college degrees and more had completed college and less had failed to complete high school than is expected from the general populace.[71] The same study found that individuals using Anabolic steroids for non-medical purposes had a higher employment rate and a higher household income than the general population.[71] Anabolic steroid users also tend to research the drugs they are taking more than any other group of users of controlled substances.
The real problem here is that the drugs are illegal and stigmatized, so even though the users do a great deal of research, they don't tell their primary care physicians about their use:
Moreover, anabolic steroid users tend to be disillusioned by the portrayal of anabolic steroids as deadly in the media and in politics.[73] According to one study, AAS users also distrust their physicians and in the sample 56% had not disclosed their AAS use to their physicians.[74] Another 2007 study had similar findings, showing that while 66% of individuals using anabolic steroids for non-medical purposes were willing to seek medical supervision for their steroid use, 58% lacked trust in their physicians, 92% felt that the medical communities knowledge of non-medical anabolic steroid use was lacking and 99% felt that the public has an exaggerated view of the side effects of anabolic steroid use.[71]
So what is to be done?

Legalize the drugs for prescription use. Allow athletes to use the drugs under a doctor's supervision. Crack down on internet sales that target minors -- in this case under the age of 21.

The only other solution is to completely change our culture so that success, winning, strength and speed, and physical attractiveness are not so highly valued that people are willing to go to illegal means to achieve those things. Good luck with that.
I highly recommend this film - if no other reason than it tells the truth about steroids: that they can be used safely and effectively to build muscle and strength, that they should be legalized, that some people ruin their lives through abuse of these drugs while chasing dreams of stardom in various arenas (like pro wrestling).

For now, the whole film is available through Google videos:

You can also watch it at the Google site.

Steroid use and abuse is generally a male issue, and the film looks at the issues that contribute to that - from Rocky & Rambo, to Arnold, to the covers of male fitness magazines. The ideal is presented as the reality, and young minds cannot discern the difference.


Casey said...


I watched this film a few weeks ago and came to similar conclusions.

Our culture(any culture?) perpetrates a strange ritual of establishing a barrier between "like-us" and "not-like-us" and defends it relentlessly, at the expense of individuals, rational argument, and truth.

I am quite sure there is a developmental explanation for all of it, and I find myself less and less interested in tolerating lapse of integrity, personally, individually or socially.

Thanks for championing an unpopular position.


Anonymous said...