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. They are also prescribed to treat body wasting
in patients with AIDS and other diseases that result in loss of lean
muscle mass. Abuse of anabolic steroids, however, 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 (referred to as “cycling”), rather than continuously. Cycling
involves taking multiple doses of steroids over a specific period of
time, stopping for a period, and starting again. In addition, users
often combine several different types of steroids to maximize their
effectiveness while minimizing negative effects (referred to as “stacking”).
In addition, people who inject anabolic steroids run
the added risk of contracting or transmitting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis,
which causes serious damage to the liver.
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.1
Research also indicates that some users might turn to
other drugs to alleviate some of the negative effects of anabolic steroids.
For example, a study of 227 men admitted in 1999 to a private treatment
center for dependence on heroin or other opioids found that 9.3 percent
had abused anabolic steroids before trying any other illicit drug. Of
these 9.3 percent, 86 percent first used opioids to counteract insomnia
and irritability resulting from the anabolic steroids.2
Extent of Use
Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF)*
MTF annually assesses drug use among the Nation’s 8th,
10th, and 12th grade students. Past year** use of anabolic steroids
remained stable at under 1.5 percent for students in 8th, 10th, and
12th grades in the early 1990s, then started to rise. Peak rates of
past year use occurred in 2002 for 12th-graders (2.5 percent), in 2000
and 2002 for 10th-graders (2.2 percent), and in 1999 and 2000 for 8th-graders
(1.7 percent). In 2003, steroid use by 10th-graders declined significantly
to 1.7 percent. The rate among 12th-graders, 2.1 percent, was also down
from 2002, but not significantly. Among 8th-graders, 1.4 percent reported
steroid use in the past year.
Most anabolic steroids users are male, and among male
students, past year use of these substances was reported by 1.8 percent
of 8th-graders, 2.3 percent of 10th-graders, and 3.2 percent of 12th-graders
1 Pope, H.G., and Katz, D. L. Affective and psychotic
symptoms associated with anabolic steroid use. American Journal of Psychiatry
2 The New England Journal of Medicine 320:1532, 2000.
* These data are from the 2003 Monitoring the Future
Survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes
of Health, DHHS, and conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute
for Social Research. The survey has tracked 12th-graders’ illicit drug
use and related attitudes since 1975; in 1991, 8th- and 10th-graders
were added to the survey. The latest data are online at http://www.drugabuse.gov.
** “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.
Please also visit NIDA's steroids-specific Web site
for further information on the effects of anabolic-androgenic steroids
and information on healthy alternatives - http://www.steroidabuse.org
Find this information and more at www.drugabuse.gov