Due to the physical and cognitive demands of military service, 60% of Armed Forces members regularly consume dietary supplements to promote general good health. These products range from multivitamins and herbal supplements to purported steroid analogs. While many supplements are innocuous, others can cause serious side effects, including anabolic steroids.
According to the Department of Defense’s 2018 Health Related Behaviors Survey, 0.2% of active service members reported using nonprescription anabolic steroids in the past 12 months. This means reported steroid use is lower than other drugs banned in the military, including marijuana (0.9%).
Steroid Use Falls Under Article 112a
Using steroids in the military is illegal unless prescribed by a physician. It is a violation of Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which covers drug use, abuse, possession, distribution, and other offenses. Steroid use is punishable by the following actions:
- Reduction in rank
- Reduction in security clearance
- Forfeiture of pay and allowances
- Confinement without pay
- Dishonorable discharge from the Armed Forces
Steroid analysis is not included in random drug testing, which tests for THC, synthetic cannabinoids, cocaine, amphetamines, designer amphetamines, opiates, and benzodiazepines. The reason is that steroid analysis is too expensive and time-consuming.
For instance, a marijuana analysis costs as low as $8, but running a steroid urinalysis costs about $240 to $365. Then, the turnaround time for a negative marijuana result is one to two business days, while steroid testing takes six to eight weeks.
Because of this, officials typically only test for steroids if they have probable cause. One example of this is if a urine sample contains evidence of illegal drugs. The service member’s commander must verify they have sufficient probable cause and submit a memorandum and DD Form 2624 along with the specimen in question for further drug testing. Positive results must be processed by a Medical Review Officer before any action may be taken.
Unsafe Supplements & False Positives
Undeclared steroids can be found in some sports supplements, which face very little regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It takes years of clinical research to determine whether a drug has long-term health risks. But under the current law, dietary supplements are regulated more like food than drugs, meaning they don’t need premarket approval from the FDA. Plus, not every entity selling dietary supplements is FDA-registered, and even those that are don’t undergo routine inspections. For this reason, military service members should be highly selective about the supplements they take and where they buy them.
Even if a service member isn’t taking steroids, steroid-like ingredients can cause false positives on military drug tests. The products most likely to test positive include prohormones, testosterone “boosters,” “designer steroids,” and anything else compared with or purported to behave like anabolic steroids.
The Effects of Taking Steroids & Steroid-Like Ingredients
Steroid consumption increases a person’s baseline strength by 5 to 20%. For this reason, athletes who require sudden bursts of strength and power—such as football players, bodybuilders, and weight lifters—are the most likely demographic to knowingly take steroids.
While the intent is to boost performance, steroids have various adverse physical, behavioral, and physiological side effects, including:
- Liver damage
- Raised LDL (bad) cholesterol levels
- Elevated blood pressure
- Higher risk of stroke or heart attack
- Lowered immune system
- Irritability and mood swings
- Decreased testicle size and sperm production in men
- Over-productive breast tissue in men (gynecomastia)
- Increased facial hair, baldness, and deeper voice in women
Steroid-like ingredients can be equally dangerous. Consider these examples of incidents involving performance-enhancing supplements.
In 2011, a 22-year-old Army private collapsed during a routine exercise and died of a heart attack later that day. The soldier had a stimulant in his system called 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA), an active ingredient in some bodybuilding supplements.
In response, the DOD banned all DMAA-containing products on military bases in 2011. The FDA made DMAA illegal the following year, but to this day, some retailers continue to stock old or reformulated products containing the ingredient.
In 2014, the DOD banned supplements containing an ingredient similar to DMAA called 1,3-dimethylbutylamine (DMBA) from stores on military bases, citing concerns regarding the ingredient’s safety and unknown health effects.
Selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) are synthetic drugs designed to mimic testosterone. SARMs are illegally used in some unapproved new drugs or new dietary supplements. The DOD has identified dozens of SARM-containing supplements marketed for bodybuilding and other physical enhancements.
The FDA considers caffeine in coffee, some soft drinks, and other products safe up to 400 milligrams per day, the equivalent of four to five cups of coffee. However, dietary supplements may contain much more than this without indicating so on the label. Indeed, toxic concentrations of caffeine can only be found in tablet or powder form. An example of this occurred in 2014 when two young men died after ingesting powdered caffeine containing 25 coffee cups’ worth of caffeine per teaspoon.
Legal Alternatives to Steroid Use
Because of the legal and health ramifications, military service members who want to enhance performance, build muscle, lose weight, or increase strength should look to sources besides steroids. One possible alternative is creatine. This organic compound is available as a supplement, found in meat and fish, and produced naturally by the liver. Creatine increases energy stores in the muscles and promotes the ability to work out harder and longer, leading to greater muscle gains.
Be aware that creatine doesn’t work for everyone. Those with kidney disease should be especially cautious. Avoid taking any supplements without a doctor’s approval.
To increase strength without steroids or supplements of any kind, consider increasing protein intake and heading to the gym more often. Carbohydrates are also important for refueling the body after a strenuous workout.
Defend Yourself Against Steroid Charges in the Military
Are you the victim of a false positive? Did you take supplements you thought were legal only to later discover they contained steroids? Do you have a prescription from your doctor to use steroids? If so, you may have a strong case for fighting steroid charges in the military.
Your best chance of defending yourself is to partner with Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law. Our military defense lawyer can help you build a case against any drug offense under Article 112a, including steroid use. We encourage you to read our reviews to see what former clients have to say about working with us. You can also look at our case results, which indicate a proven track record of success. To begin building your defense against drug charges in the military, please call us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411.