"Steroids" refers to the class of drugs used to treat a wide variety of
conditions/ailments - from supporting reproduction (e.g., estrogen) and
regulation of many aspects of metabolism and immune function, to increasing
muscle and bone mass and treating inflammation and asthma (e.g., cortisone).1
What Are Anabolic Steroids?
"Anabolic" steroids the class of steroids used to increase muscle and bone
mass. These drugs are manufactured in a laboratory to imitate the male
sex hormone, testosterone. Despite the fact that there are various types of
steroids, teens tend to abuse the "anabolic" muscle-building kind.
While anabolic steroids are available legally by
prescription, they are most often prescribed to treat conditions that occur
when males produce abnormally low amounts of testosterone, which can result
in delayed puberty, osteoporosis (weak bones), and impotence. They are also
prescribed to treat body wasting in patients with AIDS and other diseases
that result in loss of lean muscle mass.2
However, abuse of anabolic steroids can lead to serious health problems, some
irreversible. All anabolic steroids are schedule
C-III controlled substances in the United States
Why Are Steroids Dangerous to Teens?
As a parent, you have the challenge of explaining to your teen why
steroids are so serious. What is so bad about something that makes
people strong, muscular, and powerful?
First, it's important to understand that even when steroids are used to
treat medical conditions like cancer, there are still health risks.
Typically, in those situations, the benefits of steroid use under a
physician's supervision outweigh the risks, and they can improve the patient's
quality of life.
Second, both men's and women's bodies produce a certain level of
testosterone. When teens take steroids, they are adding more
testosterone to their growing bodies, which throws off their hormonal
balance. As a result, teens may experience the following health effects
from anabolic steroids3:
Third, since steroids are often taken by injection, there is also
increased risk of HIV and/or hepatitis infection from an unsterile
needle or syringe.
While there are many reasons teens take steroids, there are natural
opportunities to talk to your child about all the reasons they should stay
far away from steroids. Here are a few suggestions:
When your teen gets more
involved with competitive sports
If you find your teen is
growing more preoccupied with body image, such as wanting to gain more
muscle or appear leaner
If you notice your child's
friends are hitting their growth spurts and "filling out"
Make sure your teen understands that the cumulative effects of steroid
abuse may include: sterility; damage to the cardiovascular system and liver;
increased risk of injury, such as a spontaneous Achilles tendon rupture; and
disease, such as increased levels of cholesterol in a person's system, which
causes thickening of arterial walls and could ultimately be life threatening.4
In addition, anytime there is a rapid increase in muscle mass and strength,
which is common among steroid users, it is NOT accompanied by a proportionate
increase in tendon and ligament strength.
Signs & Symptoms
have reason to believe your teen is abusing steroids, look out for these
specific signs and symptoms:
Noticeable weight gain,
particularly more muscle
Hair loss and premature
Mood swings, from depression
specifically to tendons
Yellow tinge to the skin
(indicates abnormal liver function)
Needle marks in large muscle
Needles or syringes among
your teen's personal effects
notice any of the above, talk with your teen immediately and be very clear
that any drug use is not allowed - and discuss the serious health risks with
him. It's also important that you speak with a family physician.
Some health effects are reversible, like acne and mood swings, while others
(such as baldness and stunted growth) are not.
Where Do Teens Get Steroids?
anabolic steroids are available only by prescription, and because they are
regulated like narcotics, anabolic steroid abusers often obtain the drugs
illegally. Some of the ways abusers can get steroids include: purchasing
steroids manufactured within an illegal drug laboratory (not subject to FDA
standards and regulations), smuggling from other countries, purchasing
through Internet sales, or illegally diverting from U.S. pharmacies.5
Forms of anabolic steroid precursor supplements containing
androstenedione or "andro"
can be purchased legally without a prescription through many commercial
sources, including health food stores. As mentioned above, an anabolic
steroid is a steroid, such as testosterone, that induces muscle growth.
An anabolic steroid precursor is a steroid that does not itself cause muscle
growth, but can be converted by the body into such a muscle-building steroid.6
Because of the way precursors convert in the body into active hormones, there
is evidence that they may increase the risk of serious, long term health
How Are Steroids Used?
several ways for an anabolic steroid to enter the bloodstream. Anabolic
steroids can be taken in the following ways:
Injection directly into the
Orally, as tablets or
Ointments or patches (through
Preparations that are placed
between the cheek and gum of mouth
by abusers can be up to 100 times more than the doses used for treating
steroids do not produce a medically intoxicating effect, abuse of steroids by
a growing teen can lead to serious consequences:
Effects vary by individual,
but general short-term negative effects for both sexes include
hostility, aggression, and acne.8
Steroids can have a magnified
effect on teens since their bodies are still growing. Any unnatural
substances, such as anabolic steroids, that are designed to physically
alter a body before adulthood, can result in stunting height, and this
can be permanent. This means that adolescents risk remaining shorter
than they naturally would for the remainder of their lives if they take
anabolic steroids while they are still growing.9
Males may experience shrunken
testicles, difficulty, or pain in urinating, become infertile or
impotent, development of breasts, hair loss, and increased risk for
Girls can experience an
excessive growth of body and facial hair, male-pattern baldness,
decreased body fat and breast size, changes in or cessation of the
menstrual cycle, and a deepened voice.11
long-term effects for both males and females are similarly related to extreme
stresses to the body. Long-term effects include:
Jaundice (yellowish skin color, tissues and
While steroids are not taken as mood-altering drugs, they
do have potentially negative psychological effects when abused. Scientific
research has shown 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 hyperactivity or agitation, and
uncontrolled aggression (known as "roid rage"),
which can lead to violence.13
What Is Steroid Withdrawal?
Many steroid abusers feel strong and "happy" when they
are using. When they stop, they can experience feelings of depression,
which can result in dependence. Researchers also report that users may suffer
from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired
judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.14