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Steroids (Anabolic-Androgenic)

Anabolic-androgenic steroids are man-made substances related to male sex hormones. "Anabolic" refers to muscle-building, and "androgenic" refers to increased masculine characteristics. "Steroids" refers to the class of drugs. These drugs are available legally only by prescription, to treat conditions that occur when the body produces abnormally low amounts of testosterone, such as delayed puberty and some types of impotence, and also to treat body wasting in patients with AIDS and other diseases. Abuse of anabolic steroids can lead to serious health problems, some irreversible.

Today, athletes and others abuse anabolic steroids to enhance performance and also to improve physical appearance.

Anabolic steroids are taken orally or injected, typically in cycles of weeks or months, rather than continuously, in patterns called cycling. Cycling involves taking multiple doses of steroids over a specific period of time, stopping for a period, and starting again. In addition, users frequently combine several different types of steroids to maximize their effectiveness while minimizing negative effects, a process known as stacking.

Health Hazards

Reports indicate that use of anabolic steroids promotes lean muscle mass, strength, and ability to train longer and harder. There are several health hazards to steroid abuse, however, and some are irreversible. In addition, people who inject anabolic steroids run the added risk of contracting or transmitting hepatitis, which causes serious damage to the liver, or HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.

The major side effects of anabolic steroid abuse include liver tumors and cancer, jaundice (yellowish pig-mentation of skin, tissues, and body fluids), fluid retention, high blood pressure, increases in LDL (bad cholesterol), and decreases in HDL (good cholesterol); others side effects include kidney tumors, severe acne, and trembling. In addition, there are some gender-specific side effects:

  • For men - shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, development of breasts, increased risk for prostate cancer.
  • For women - growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris, deepened voice.
  • For adolescents - growth halted prematurely through premature skeletal maturation and accelerated puberty changes. This means that adolescents risk remaining short the remainder of their lives if they take anabolic steroids before the typical adolescent growth spurt.

Scientific research also shows that aggression and other psychiatric side effects may result from abuse of anabolic steroids. Many users report feeling good about themselves while on anabolic steroids, but researchers report that extreme mood swings also can occur, including manic-like symptoms leading to violence. Depression often is seen when the drugs are stopped and may contribute to dependence on anabolic steroids. Researchers report also that users may suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.

Extent of Use

Monitoring the Future Study (MTF)**

MTF assesses drug use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders nationwide, and has been conducted annually since 1975. Because of growing professional and public concern over the abuse of anabolic steroids by adolescents and young adults, questions regarding anabolic steroid use were added to the MTF in 1989 to afford a better understanding of the extent of the problem. Between 1989 and 1999, lifetime** prevalence of anabolic steroid use among 12th graders fluctuated between a 3 percent high in 1989 and a 1.9 percent low in 1996.

In 1991, MTF was expanded to include assessment of 8th and 10th graders nationwide, in addition to 12th graders.

According to the 1999 survey, 2.7 percent of 8th and 10th graders reported that they had taken anabolic steroids at least once in their lives. These numbers are statistically significant increases from the 1991 data.

Some statistically significant increases occurred from 1998 to 1999, as well:

  • Among 10th graders in 1999, 2.7 percent had used anabolic steroids at least once in their lifetimes, up from 2.0 percent in 1998. The rates also increased for past year use from 1.2 percent in 1998 to 1.7 percent in 1999, and increased for past month use from 0.6 percent in 1998 to 0.9 in 1999.

  • In 1999, 2.7 percent of 8th graders had used anabolic steroids at least once in their lifetimes. In addition, 1.7 percent of 8th-graders had used anabolic steroids in the past year, up from 1.2 percent in 1998. Use in the past month had also increased from 0.5 percent in 1998 to 0.7 percent in 1999.

In addition to data regarding use, the 1999 survey reported 12th graders' attitudes toward steroid use:

  • 62.1 percent of 12th graders perceived a great risk in taking steroids - the lowest percentage reported since questions about steroids were started in 1989. This is a decrease from 68.1 percent in 1998.

  • 88.9 percent said they disapprove of people who use steroids.

Also among 12th graders in 1999, 44.6 percent felt it would be fairly easy or very easy for them to get steroids. Among 10th graders, there was a statistically significant increase in the percentage of those saying it is "fairly easy" to get anabolic steroids, from 33.0 in 1998 to 35.9 in 1999.


Anabolic Steroid Use by Students, 1999:
Monitoring the Future Study

   8th-Graders  10th-Graders  12th-Graders
 Ever Used  2.7%  2.7%  2.9%
 Used in Past Year  1.7  1.7  1.8
 Used in Past Month  0.7  0.9  0.9

** The MTF survey is conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and is funded by National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health. The survey has tracked 12th graders' illicit drug use and related attitudes since 1975; in 1991, 8th and 10th graders were added to the study. For the 1999 study, 49,866 students were surveyed from a representative sample of 422 public and private schools nationwide.

** "Lifetime" or "ever used" refers to use at least once during a respondent's lifetime. "Past year" refers to an individual's drug use at least once during the year preceding their response to the survey. "Past month" refers to an individual's drug use at least once during the month preceding their response to the survey.


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last update: June 2005

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