Girls were the goal, and the teen-aged boy from Huntington Beach figured that muscles were the way to get them.
The problem was getting muscles. Lifting weights took time and had made little difference to his 150-pound, 5-foot, 9-inch frame. A buddy at school had suggested steroids.
Anabolic steroids, synthetic male hormones made in test tubes and popped as pills or injected with a needle, had become the lastest craze among the muscle set. A national survey published just this month by the Journal of the American Medical Assn. estimated that as many as half a million high-school seniors had used steroids, most of them obtained illegally through friends or dealers.
Scary Side Effects
At first, the Huntington Beach student was "totally against" the idea. After all, there can be scary side effects. Research has linked steroid use to the possibility of liver damage, acne, hostility and an increase in risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Steroids can also reduce sperm production, sex hormone output and sex drive.
He was not even much of an athlete. All he was after was a better-looking body. But it turned out that is precisely why a surprisingly large number of male adolescents use steroids. Of the estimated 6% of the nation's 12th-grade boys who have experimented with steroids, more than a quarter have done so simply to improve appearance, the medical association's study revealed.
When a trainer assured him it was OK, the Huntington Beach student decided to go ahead. Over the next few months, he became what is known as a Juicer or 'Roider, a regular user of anabolic steroids. Now that he has been "on the juice" for a year, he is "kind of proud." He has gained 35 pounds, amassed some fairly impressive biceps and is no longer worried that when he meets girls they will think him "a pencil-necked geek."
World of Contradictions
Yet, like many teen-agers, he is less than willing to talk openly about what he is doing. Fearing trouble with the law and recriminations from parents and even peers, steroid users move in a world of contradictions, one that is both exposed and full of braggarts and is dark and peopled with sneaks and cowards.
The youngsters who enter this world often seem torn between pride about their very visible, newly chiseled physiques and anger--perhaps tinged with shame--that they have to resort to artificial means to get those looks and that so much is being made of it.
In fact, what they are doing is against the law. Alarmed that steroid use is dangerous and on the rise, California officials along with those of a dozen other states have instituted new laws that make possession of the drug in any form without a prescription a misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail. As with other illicit substances, possession of steroids for sale to a minor is a felony, carrying penalties up to six years in prison and $20,000 fines.
Few teen-agers, however, have any fear that they could get caught or that anything bad will happen to them physically as a result of their use of artificial muscle builders.
"Most high school kids have a strong notion of their own immortality," explained Jonathan Brower, a sports sociologist in Westlake Village. "Intellectually the warnings may register, but emotionally it never hits home. They possess this incredible sense of invincibility."
At most city gyms and fitness centers, men and boys can easily obtain steroids from black market sources in the weight rooms.
Prices Vary Enormously
The prices vary enormously. A 10-cc bottle of injectable steroids, which has enough doses to last for a couple of months, can be purchased over the counter in Mexico for $8 to $20. The same bottle may sell for as much as $120 to $140 in gyms and on the street. A month's supply of pills typically runs $200 to $300.
Most people take one or the other form of steroids for only a few weeks at a time and then lay off for a while, which is thought by those who use them to cut down on side effects. Only a few who are particularly eager to achieve results take both pills and the injections at once, a practice known as stacking.
"Even that's probably OK," insisted a weight trainer in his early 30s in a fashionable Pasadena gym. "To hear all the publicity these days, you'd think we were killing ourselves. . . . Way too much is being made of it. It's been sensationalized and assaulted like you wouldn't believe.
"In a way, it's become the McCarthyism of the 1980s. If you admit to doing it, you're in trouble and it's sure an easy way to point a finger at someone you don't like. . . ."
Sure there are dangers, he added. "I've taken the stuff for the past four years both with pills and with injections, and I've gotten plenty of acne and some rectal bleeding. But it's just a question of what you value.
"The big thing is aggression. You probably get some increased aggression with this stuff. On the other hand, you have to be pretty aggressive to use steroids in the first place."