“When you take a hormone from the outside, now you are getting a fixed amount, and therefore you don’t get this circadian rhythm,” he says. “Because it’s being given in a fixed fashion rather than a cyclical fashion, you tend to get more into the body, because you’re giving a constant amount every hour, so there are no dips.”
Giving the body constant exposure to large amounts of hormones takes a toll. The end result is somebody much more prone to react to anything.
“I remember the day, following a little old couple up the highway right in town and they were going two miles an hour slower than I wanted to go and I passed them and honked and flipped them off and when I get to the stoplight they’re right beside me, you know, eyes wide open,” says Drew. “It was like I was running to a fire and I was only going to the gym.
“And there was something about clerks: I remember a sweet young teenager at McDonalds was a little bit slower than I wanted and I was ready to jump across the counter… and she knew it. I just could explode over these little tiny things. What they say about it is really true for me. You cross me the wrong way and I wanted to go for you.”
Few doubt tempers are likely to flare when steroids are involved—users admit it, doctors explain it, bystanders witness it. Some users downplay its significance: “I’m a very passive person; there are some times where I can get heated but that’s from everything being built up,” says Xavier. “I don’t really know if [taking steroids] really played a part.” Some emphasize it: “I’ve never hit anybody, I’ve never wanted to, but boy I wanted to on the steroids,” says Drew. Some take it case by case: “I think it’s more of a 50/50. I’ve seen people not change or anything and I’ve seen people that are completely different,” says Rhys. “So I guess it depends on how they are before they take it. You know, if they’re a high-strung person, they’re probably gonna be more high-strung.”
The radically different approaches to roid rage are evidence of a greater divide, a fissure at the core of the issue: Are steroids OK?
Pump It Up
“It’s a witch hunt,” says Box*, a former powerlifter and steroids user who tips the scales at 300 pounds, of the public perception of steroids. “Nothing harmful comes about the use of anabolic steroids. You just have to be smart about it.”
Box spent four years using steroids in eight-to-13-week cycles before a near-divorce with his wife last August forced him to quit. During his time on them, he gained 35 pounds of muscle and outside of some spotty acne and occasional lethargy saw no adverse effects. Recent blood tests came back in the clear and he says, rather than roid rage, he felt happier when he was using.
More than anything, he takes offense to what he perceives as hypocrisy and accusations that steroids use constitutes cheating.
“It’s like a beauty pageant queen trying to obtain the crown, what does she do? She gets fake boobs and gets her teeth done,” he says. “So what’s the difference?
“People say to me all the time, ‘You’re a cheater.’ And I say ‘Why am I a cheater? Because I use them?’ I don’t see anything wrong with using them. That’s my personal outlook. That’s like the powerlifting coach from Westside Barbell, he said, ‘When you go to battle, you don’t go to lose. You go to win.’ And I have to be at my premier shape, I have to be at the top of my class, if I want to compete.”
He’s not alone: Despite the week-long nosebleed, Drew admits if he knew somebody who was knowledgeable on the ins and outs of steroids, he would go back on them.
There are very clear sides chosen in the for/against steroids argument, and they shouldn’t be surprising: Users, current and past, are “for,” while doctors are “against.” The “for” side uses anecdotes and experience to explain why anabolic steroids are safe, and the “against” side uses education and knowledge to explain why anabolic steroids are dangerous.
“I think that using them is wrong, and that if your body is not deficient [in hormones], that by creating an excess, you are putting your body under excessive stresses and demands that will cause consequences in the long run,” Dr. Bernstein says.
Xavier points to a defining moment in his eventual run-in with steroids: In his final year playing high school football in Nassau County, he and his teammates planned to start using them because “somebody heard a couple other teams, those kids were doing it. So it was kind of like to compete, I guess feeling that we had to.”
The idea—even the idea—an opponent, on a sports team or a different is becoming more and more a reason to turn to steroids. Hofstra Professor O’Brien says he has heard track and field athletes say, point blank, they “can’t compete” unless they too are using steroids.
But steroids aren’t some magical cure-all that grants super-human abilities with a single injection. Like any other regimen, they take dedication. Yes, it’s dedication to fueling your body with insane amounts of hormones, but still dedication. Rhys says the people who resort to steroids are often the ones who have no drive in the first place, and a full syringe won’t change that.
“Everyone has a different look on why they want to be bigger or why they want to be stronger,” he says. “I’ve seen guys who are 130 pounds who are like, ‘I hate being small. I eat as much as I can and I can’t gain weight.’ And then they see these guys in the gym who are huge and they wanna look like that, so they resort to asking people. Or, everyone wants to look decent in their T-shirt you know, nobody wants to be fat, so for them it’s just like, ‘This is the best way for me to do it and do it fast.’ People get that mindset that, ‘The only way I’m going to look better is doing this.’
“And you get a lot of guys who aren’t completely motivated so they’ll work out for a month and not see a drastic change, and that’s when they’ll go to it, because they need that push, and they don’t think they can do it themselves. A lot of people who aren’t big into working out, but then have friends who are big into working but aren’t into doing it, it’s like persuasion. ‘Dude, I’m telling you, if you do it you’re gonna get huge,’ and from somebody who’s not knowledgeable about it or doesn’t know what the side-effects are, will jump right into it like it’s nothing.”
These are the people, Box says, that misuse steroids, who overdose and wind up in the emergency room or in a violent spat. It’s these “few stupid people” he points to that create the stigma surrounding steroids today. His advice? If it’s not for you, look the other way:
“When you weigh 265 pounds and three years later you weigh 300 pounds, and you don’t have a neck anymore and your arms are 22 inches, what the hell do people think they’re doing? It’s common sense. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. People just need to stop being afraid.”
Every doctor interviewed for this story disagrees, but their lab coats and Ph.D.s won’t stop users like Box from chasing more weight, more size and more power. Likewise, all the success stories Drew and Box and many, many other steroids users can tell won’t make anyone with a medical degree endorse even an injection here or an injection there.
So, who wants to get pumped?