The Sociology of Alternative Medicine

Steroids represent a group of lipids with a particular pattern of 17 carbons arranged in a four ring system which functions as a nucleus. As a group, steroids can occur both naturally and artificially (medically created). Natural steroids are quite commonly found in the human body; examples include cholesterol and growth hormones. The steroids that are artificially created are of several different types and therefore have widely varies uses in the world today – both medicinal, and therefore legitimate, and as a training supplement, which is both highly controversial and sometimes illegal.

Corticosteroids represent a group of medicines used to reduce production of mucus and inflammation in the airway of the lungs. They are available in many forms such as inhaled steroids, nasal sprays, oral syrups or pills, intravenous solutions and injection shots. These are growing more and more common in the hospital setting due to their expected, anticipated results. There are very few cases of corticosteroids achieving at least some sort of favorable response. Side effects are generally limited and not capable of causing disease.

On the other hand is a group of steroids known as anabolic. These artificially created steroids are commonly used by athletes and other groups of people in society because they promote quick growth of skeletal muscles and enhance male sexual characteristics. However, unlike the above corticosteroids steroids, anabolic steroids are known to possess serious adverse effects with prolonged use. This may take the form of irreversible damage to vital organs in the body like the lungs and liver (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2004).

In addition to the adverse health effects caused by anabolic steroids, there is the issue of the abuse of these particular steroids. Incidents of abuse in the possession and use of anabolic steroids have grown tremendously. In particular, popular figures in sport who have achieved great personal feats and records in their sports offer role models for this abuse. Ever as their accomplishments have become ‘tainted’ by allegations of abuse, young and upcoming athletes can find themselves following their heroes in order to obtain the same results.

As a side effect, both the integrity of sports and athletes have been harmed, and another side effect – that of increased crime – has come into society. These results have been an unexpected fallout from anabolic steroids and can be classified and studied as sociological problems. This naturally leads to the main question of this proposed study. Do anabolic steroids affect users socially, and if so, in what capacity? This essay will explore these potential effects of steroids from a broad perspective which studies the problem as a sociological issue related to alternative medicine.

The proposal will also seek to identify the best study method that can be employed in an effort to acquire more information on this field. Background Naturally occurring steroids within the body serve various supportive purposes which supplement development and maintenance of the body. One example of this is the group of steroids that make up cholesterol and other lining materials along tissues and organs. These are necessary for the smooth flow of blood and other liquids within organs and the systems of the anatomy. There are very few side effects from this group.

The primary one that is familiar to most lay people is that of a situation called high blood pressure due to high cholesterol levels within blood vessels. However, this side effect is a reversible problem, and has no lasting negative effects when treated promptly. As a result, this group of steroids is non-problematic, non-addictive, and beneficial. Steroid which take the form of hormones include pregnenolone, progesterone, aldosterone, testosterone, estradiol and cortisol. These are all naturally occurring in the body, as well.

However not all of these are produced at the right developmental times or in the right developmental amounts. When this occurs, several different side effects which are not beneficial may result. General growth may not be properly related to the age of the individual, from under development to over development. Puberty may be delayed, or accelerated, depending upon the overall amounts of hormones distributed. Again, however, as with the above group of steroids, these effects are reversible too, though sometimes not to the same extent.

In this case, however, the hormones that are manufactured in the body can be replicated through the creation and application of synthetic steroids. These are produced as various types which are for treatment of different purposes. For instance, there are steroids used by the physician to correct conditions such as impotence and delayed puberty resulting from low production of testosterone hormones. Additionally, there are also steroid supplements available such as dehydroepiandrosterone and androstenedione.

These two, and others like them are prescribed, sold and purchased due to their anabolic or tissue enhancing effects. The more effective (powerful) versions of these supplements are primarily available only by prescription through a licensed physician. Due to the fact that many people who are attempting to use these drugs are doing so for non-medicinal purposes, such as strictly for bodybuilding, this prescription process thwarts their efforts to obtain the anabolic form of steroids.

Therefore, many people who abuse the drugs obtain them illicitly through smuggling from outside sources or illegally taking them from pharmacies. These actions contribute greatly to the overall problem of drug abuse. Studies indicate that anabolic steroids are not only abused by professional and collegiate athletes but also by middle and high school student athletes as well (National Institute on Drug Abuse , 2000). This finding is not altogether unexpected due to the hero figures that young athletes look up to and emulate.

There is no significant deterrent, either, as more and more public knowledge and awareness demonstrates just how widespread the use of anabolic steroids in sports is. Young fans know that many more athletes use than are caught, and even in the highest profile cases of innuendo and allegations, the athletes often continue to compete, and continue to set records that are listed in the books. There just doesn’t seem to be ample reason not to follow in these athletes’ footsteps. However, anabolic drug use and abuse is not purely a problem for athletes and their programs.

It is not even purely a medical problem either. It is quickly becoming a major problem in society itself. This is because the problem is not only found in and affect the athletes who have been using the drugs since 1950s. It is now a huge problem for much younger users and abusers. Although there are numerous, well documented medical and health problems that emanate from the abuse of anabolic steroids, there are more relevant social problems that result from the same. A perfect case in point is that of an athlete attempting to boost their physical appearance by taking the steroids.

The medical problems are bad enough, but far enough down the line for him to be all but ignored. However, in the short term, his use may have a social effect. It may actually cause isolation and humiliation for the athlete since it may affect people’s attitude towards him. Thus is becomes a sociological problem. Sociologists are interested with the interaction of such people in society. There is a significant need and opportunity for a detailed study of this aspect of steroid abuse. Such a study would seek to find out the impacts of steroids on abusers’ social interactions.

Despite the well documented side effects both of medicinal steroids such as corticosteroids and more drastic ones related to anabolic steroids, the fact remains that they are used as an alternative form of medicine – both for good and bad purposes (assuming the abuse of anabolic steroids for unfair athletic advantage is a ‘bad’ purpose). Much research has been done on the purely medical benefits and detriments of such steroids. Most studies appear to complement, not contradict each other and this makes for an area of research that does not fall under urgent opportunity.

However, there is limited demonstration of studies relating to the sociological effects of steroid use and abuse. More specifically, studies are necessary to examine the impacts that steroids have upon the typical social interactions between young people in their teens. This would be relevant and interesting because the social implications of interactions in professional athletes are a fairly moot point: the abuse almost seems to be expected, and the only challenges to social interaction come from one athlete ‘outing’ another through rumor or direct indictment.

Conversely, the use of such drugs by younger people can be a social stigma and is kept well hidden from view. This makes the younger group, especially teens, the population most likely to be affected by the problem of social interaction challenges That being said, the social challenges and detriments related to steroid use are not all related to those of the illegal anabolic types of steroids. It is important to note that all forms of steroids, both natural and artificial, legal and illegal can have serious implications for a young person’s social life. These must not be overlooked.

To limit the study to one of only the abuse of anabolic steroids by athletes would be to ignore a vital slice of the overall view of the sociological connection steroid really possess. One example comes from the relatively benign circumstance of growth failures. Hormones that are typically and naturally produced within the endocrine glands prepare the body for early growth, and signal the right times for physical growth to start, stop, and start again. When these steroids are not present due to a non- or under- functioning endocrine system, the child fails to grow properly.

This may be slight, or it may be drastic, but it is always noticeable. Due to the great amount of time that young people are in classes together with similar aged children, there is simply no escaping the attention that odd sized kids receive. These children are quickly ostracized and made fun of for their differences. As a result, pediatric endocrinologists have come to treat these patients with anabolic steroids to encourage and promote growth to catch up with the body’s nominal timeline. The treatment plan is for the child to be more similar to his/her peers more than for any purely medical reasons.

This still falls under the overall scope of using the steroids as an alternative medicine. From this perspective, steroids have been used in alternative medicine to solve not only a medical problem, but more importantly the ever increasing social problems related to poor growth among children. It is unfortunately true and a sad tale of life that a child’s (and later an adult’s) growth and development is considered to be the function of a peculiar, lacking, social makeup of a person. If these processes are interfered with by diseases, disorders or other factors, the social growth of individuals is often likewise derailed.

With the treatment of steroids, the growth, both physical and social, can begin. Soon the patient will be a cohort once again with his peers. This clearly identifies the importance of steroids in the study of the sociology of alternative medicine. Likewise, the diseases of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and cancers are often exclusively perceived as being health related medical problems despite the vast sociological impacts the conditions have upon their sufferers in society.

Truly, these diseases have a great deal with to do with the social perspective and valuation of humans when analyzed from the dimensions of sociological study. Patients with chronic wasting conditions such as AIDS and most cancerous conditions ultimately are treated with prescription anabolic steroids. These are used as alternative medicines because of their use as hormone supplements for these conditions. The basic example is that the steroids (anabolic and cortico) have a side effect of stimulating and increasing the patient’s appetite.

This then creates a desire for those with chronic wasting conditions to put enough food in their bodies to meet with the needs that they have for self-preservation. Further still, steroids have the ability to preserve and increase masses of body parts such as the muscles. This can take place relatively quickly. The very same property that makes anabolic steroids valuable to be abused by athletes seeking competitive edges can ironically also be utilized in alternative medicine to solve a number of health complications such as muscle wasting.

It is obvious that the steroid in the above example for treating body wasting and similar afflictions can have a marked implication for sociological effect. Unlike many other examples, though, this one has a positive effect. It can actually restore the ease of social interaction for these patients of alternative medicine by making them a more attractive and comfortable to interact with person among potential friends and peers. This is a great instance of the sociological implications of alternative medicine. There is yet another fine example of the use of steroids as alternative medicine and a simultaneous sociological tool.

Testosterone Enanthate is one steroid that has been used frequently by the male as a contraceptive (Nieschlag, 2006). This is, in fact, the most common use of the drug. The most favorable aspect of this, and why it is prescribed often, is that this particular steroid has the capacity to prevent pregnancy without causing any noticeable or negative side effects. Family planning and birth control are sociological problems that have finally found remedies in alternative medicine. This is especially true for the younger populations.

Having children out of wedlock – and especially at a very young age – can cause social distress for both the parents and their parents. Even as younger age pregnancies become more common, there is still a strong social stigma to the event. The results may range from excessive interest in the couple, to gossiping and rumor mongering, to complete ostracizing of the new parents from their social circles. In other words, the problem is highly socially related beyond the pure medical symptoms. The answer then is in prevention through alternative medicine. Thus the Testosterone Enanthate, or artificial steroidal testosterone.

Few have yet realized the effectiveness of this steroid but it has been proven beyond doubt that it can be used as an effective form of male contraceptive. Additionally, it has been found to be reliable, safe and reversible (Nieschlag, 2006). Many ‘traditional’ medicines have being manufactured to act as male contraceptives. However, it is clear that they have adverse side effects that have in the long run led to sociological conflicts such as unwanted pregnancies. The Testosterone Enanthate can be used as an alternative to this traditional medicine, and as an important sociological treatment as well.