“Steroids” refers to the class of drugs used to treat a wide variety of conditions, from supporting reproduction (e.g., estrogen) and regulation of metabolism and immune function, to increasing muscle and bone mass and treating inflammation and asthma (e.g., cortisone).
What Are Anabolic Steroids?
“Anabolic” steroids are 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. However, abuse of anabolic steroids can lead to serious health problems, some irreversible.
Street or Slang Terms for Steroids
Arnolds, gym candy, juice, pumpers, stackers, and weight trainers are all commonly used terms to refer to steroids.
Why Steroids Are Dangerous to Teens
As a parent, you have the challenge of explaining to your teen why use of steroids is a serious issue.
1. While they are sometimes prescribed to treat medical conditions like cancer, there are significant health risks in using them outside a health professional’s care. 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.
2. 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.
3. Since steroids are often taken by injection, there is also increased risk of HIV and/or hepatitis infection from an unsterile needle or syringe.
There are many reasons teens think they should take steroids. Here are a few natural opportunities to talk to your child about all the reasons they should stay far away from steroids:
- 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 effects of steroid abuse may include: sterility; damage to the cardiovascular system and liver; increased risk of injury; and disease, such as increased levels of cholesterol, causing a thickening of arterial walls that could ultimately be life threatening.
Signs and Symptoms
If you 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 balding
- Severe acne
- Mood swings, from depression to aggressiveness
- Increased injuries, specifically to tendons
- Yellow tinge to the skin (indicates abnormal liver function)
- Needle marks in large muscle groups
- Needles or syringes in your teen’s belongings
If you notice any of this, it’s important to talk with your teen right away 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. A doctor should also supervise and help your teen stop taking steroids safely.
Where Do Teens Get Steroids?
Since 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 in an illegal drug laboratory, smuggling from other countries, purchasing through Internet sales, or stealing from pharmacies.
Forms of anabolic steroids containing androstenedione or “andro” can be purchased legally without a prescription through many commercial sources, including health food stores. An anabolic steroid precursor is a steroid that the body converts into an anabolic steroid. There is evidence that they may increase the risk of serious, long-term health problems.
How Are Steroids Used?
Anabolic steroids can be taken in the following ways:
- Injection directly into the bloodstream
- Swallowed as tablets or capsules
- Ointments or patches (through the skin)
- Preparations that are placed between the cheek and gum of mouth
Doses taken by abusers can be up to 100 times more than the doses used for treating medical conditions.
Although 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.
- 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.
- Males may experience shrunken testicles, difficulty or pain in urinating, become infertile or impotent, development of breasts, hair loss, and increased risk for prostate cancer.
- 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.
The long-term effects for both males and females are similarly related to extreme stresses to the body. Long-term effects include:
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of blood clotting
- Increases in LDL (bad cholesterol)
- Decreases in HDL (good cholesterol)
- Jaundice (yellowish skin color, tissues, and body fluids)
- Liver cysts and cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Fluid retention
- Severe acne
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.
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.