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Anabolic Steroids
By The National Institute on Drug Abuse
Published: 02/08/2010

Dumbbells steriods What Are Anabolic Steroids?

Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances related to the male sex hormones, called androgens. They have a number of physiological effects, most notably an anabolic effect that promotes the growth of skeletal muscle and androgenic effects that foster the development of male sexual characteristics. Although the proper term for these compounds is anabolic-androgenic steroids, they commonly are called anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are legally available only by prescription in the United States. Doctors use these drugs to treat delayed puberty, impotence, and body wasting in patients with AIDS and other diseases. Abused steroids most often are obtained from clandestine laboratories, smuggled, or illegally diverted.

What Is the Scope of Steroid Abuse?

Steroid abuse is higher among males than females but is growing most rapidly among young women. An estimated 2.5 percent of 8th - graders, 3.5 percent of 10th - graders and 4.0 percent of 12th - graders have taken anabolic steroids at least once in their lives, according to the 2002 Monitoring the Future study, a NIDA-funded survey of drug abuse among adolescents. These figures represent increases since 1991 of approximately 75 percent among 8th - graders and over 50 percent among 10th - graders and 12th - graders.

Why Do People Abuse Anabolic Steroids?

Abuse of anabolic steroids is motivated in most cases by a desire to build muscles, reduce body fat, and improve sports performance. Abuse is estimated to be very high among competitive bodybuilders and may also be widespread among other athletes. Some men who abuse steroids perceive their own bodies to be small and weak, even if they are large and muscular. Some women who abuse these drugs think they look obese or flabby, even though they are actually lean and muscular.

How Are Anabolic Steroids Used?

Anabolic steroids are taken orally as tablets or capsules, by injection into muscles, or as gels or creams that are rubbed into the skin. Doses taken by abusers can be up to 100 times greater than doses used for treating medical conditions.

Anabolic steroids often are taken in combination in a practice called "stacking," in which the abuser mixes oral and/or injectable types of anabolic steroids. Steroid abusers often also "pyramid" stacked compounds in cycles of 6 to 12 weeks, meaning that they gradually increase doses then slowly decrease them to zero. The belief that these practices produce bigger muscles and allow the body to adjust to and recuperate from high doses of steroids has not been substantiated scientifically.

What are the Potential Health Consequences of Steroid Abuse?

Health consequences associated with anabolic steroid abuse include:
  • Hormonal system disruptions. Reduced sperm production, shrinking of the testicles, impotence, and irreversible breast enlargement in boys and men. Decreased body fat and breast size, deepening of the voice, growth of excessive body hair, loss of scalp hair, and clitoral enlargement in girls and women.
  • Musculoskeletal system effects. Premature and permanent termination of growth among adolescents of both sexes.
  • Cardiovascular diseases. Heart attacks and strokes.
  • Liver diseases. Potentially fatal cysts and cancer.
  • Skin diseases. Acne and cysts.
  • Infections. In injecting steroid abusers, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and infective endocarditis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the inner lining of the heart.
  • Behavioral effects. Increased aggressive behavior, particularly when high doses are taken. Depression, mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, and reduced sex drive when steroid abuse is stopped.

Are Anabolic Steroids Addictive?

It is possible that some steroid abusers may become addicted to the drugs, as evidenced by their continuing to take steroids in spite of physical problems, negative effects on social relations, or nervousness and irritability. Also, they spend large amounts of time and money obtaining the drugs and experience withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, and the desire to take more steroids. The most dangerous of the withdrawal symptoms is depression, because it sometimes leads to suicide attempts. Untreated, some depressive symptoms associated with anabolic steroid withdrawal have been known to persist for a year or more after the abuser stops taking the drugs.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Steroid Abuse?

Early attempts to prevent steroid abuse concentrated on drug testing and on educating students about the drugs' adverse effects. A few school districts test for abuse of illicit drugs, including steroids, and studies are currently under way to determine whether such testing reduces drug abuse.

Research has shown that there is an effective program for preventing steroid abuse among players on high school sports teams. In the ATLAS program, developed for male football players, coaches and team leaders discuss the potential effects of anabolic steroids and other illicit drugs on immediate sports performance, and they teach how to refuse offers of drugs. They also discuss how strength training and proper nutrition can help adolescents build their bodies without the use of steroids. Later, special trainers teach the players proper weightlifting techniques. An ongoing series of studies has shown that this multi-component, team-centered approach reduces new steroid abuse by 50 percent. A program designed for adolescent girls on sports teams, patterned after the program designed for boys, is currently being tested.


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