With so many stories floating around the sports world about steroid use, it seems almost impossible that any aspect of the story is not being over-covered and over-blown.
We read about how steroids are ruining the records books. Steroids are tearing down our idols. Steroids are destroying the very fabric of baseball.
But here is what we have not been reading much about.
Steroids are addicting.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a undetermined percentage of steroid users become addicted, which is a physical and psychological syndrome consisting of tolerance, compulsive use despite negative consequences, and withdrawal upon cessation of use.
One of the symptoms of withdrawal includes depression that can linger for months or years after the discontinuation of the steroids.
Now of course addiction can’t explain why a baseball player would start using steroids. But it might explain why some of them seem to have a hard time stopping.
Why else would they risk suspensions, loss of income, decreased employability, public vilification, and, for some of the recent violators of the leagues steroid policy, perhaps a shot at being enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
I wonder how many current MLB players are using steroids and are desperate to stop but don’t know how. Some of them may not know they are addicted. Other may have figured it out but are afraid to seek the help they need to quit.
NIDA lists several treatment options, including supportive and behavioral therapy. Medications that restore normal levels of hormonal functioning disruption by steroid abuse and target specific withdrawal symptoms can also be part of a comprehensive treatment.
The use of medications to treat steroid addiction seems to have some rather compelling implications when looked at in light of MLB’s steroid policy.
Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for his use of HCG, and several other players have been implicated for using the drug. HCG, as we all know by now, is a hormone commonly used to treat female fertility issues.
Unlike steroids, it does not seem to boost performance. Instead, players use HCG to come off a cycle of steroid use. In fact, not using HCG can lead to some of the withdrawal symptoms that make it so difficult to quit.
So should we ignore a player’s use of HCG? I don’t think that is the answer, because it does seem to be part of the evidence trail in implanting someone for using steroids. But rather than hand out a suspension, why not offer treatment?
If a player tests positive for steroids, throw the book at them.
But if a player tests positive for HCG, why not recognize his efforts to end their addiction by offering increased monitoring of steroid use, counseling and behavioral treatment, and medication management. And why not do it a way to ensures a players confidentiality and preserves their dignity.
Addictions to alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs are among our countries most pressing public health issues. Addiction to steroids may also be the most pressing issue facing modern day sports.
MLB should lead to way be treating it as such and offering the current generation of player the tools they need to break the cycle of addition and usher in a new era of baseball.