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Charlie Sheen admits to using steroids while filming 'Major League' -- what are the drug's short-term effects?

BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
health world

June 29, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Actor Charlie Sheen says he used steroids for a short time to improve his performance while filming "Major League"
Actor Charlie Sheen says he used steroids for a short time to improve his… (Van Redin )

Looks like Charlie Sheen isn't the only drug Charlie Sheen has been on. In the new issue of Sports Illustrated the actor admitted to using anabolic steroids during the shooting of the 1989 film "Major League," in which he portrayed a baseball player named Ricky Vaughn.

Sheen said he used the performance-enhancing illegal substance for about two months to improve his game, and claims his fastball went from about 79 to 85.

While we hear much about the long-term effects of anabolic steroids, are there risks for taking the drug short term? A 2008 study in the American Journal of Public Health used data on 6,823 people from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to find possible links between steroid use and self-reported violent behavior. Overall, 2.6% of males in the study had used anabolic-androgenic steroids at least once in their lifetime, and 2.3% had used them within the past year. For women the rates were much lower--0.9% and 0.4%, respectively.

Male teens who used steroids at least once during their lives had more violent behavior compared with those who had never taken steroids. The same was found for males who had taken steroids in the previous year--they too scored higher on a violence scale compared with non-steroid-taking males.

A 2004 study in the journal Sports Medicine reviewed other studies on steroid use among male athletes and found that while short-term anabolic steroid use can increase strength and body weight, there may be unwanted side effects such as acne, an increase in body hair, and more aggressive and hostile behavior. Possible cardiovascular risk factors include elevated blood pressure and depression of HDL "good" cholesterol levels.

In the long term, steroid use can cause even more problems. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that for men, some side effects can include shrinking testicles, male-pattern baldness and the development of breasts. Women can appear more masculine as their breasts diminish, their voices get deeper and their hair thins.

Repeated steroid use can cause further heart and liver damage, and injecting the drug can lead to infections as well as a higher risk of getting a viral infection from sharing needles.

Several athletes have admitted to steroid use. Last year baseball player Mark McGwire came clean on his use of the drug; in 2007 track star Marion Jones confessed to her steroid use.

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