Anabolic Steroids: Types, Benefits, Abuse, Side Effects,

Anabolic Steroids


What Are Anabolic Steroids? History of Anabolic Steroids


 "Anabolic steroids" is the familiar name for synthetic substances related to the male sex hormones (androgens). They promote the growth of skeletal muscle (anabolic effects) and the development of male sexual characteristics (androgenic effects), and also have some other effects.

The term "anabolic steroids" will be used throughout this website because of its familiarity, although the proper term for these compounds is "anabolic-androgenic" steroids.

Anabolic steroids were developed in the late 1930s primarily to treat hypogonadism, a condition in which the testes do not produce sufficient testosterone for normal growth, development, and sexual functioning. The primary medical uses of these compounds are to treat delayed puberty, some types of impotence, and wasting of the body caused by HIV infection or other diseases.

During the 1930s, scientists discovered that anabolic steroids could facilitate the growth of skeletal muscle in laboratory animals, which led to use of the compounds first by bodybuilders and weightlifters and then by athletes in other sports. Steroid abuse has become so widespread in athletics that it affects the outcome of sports contests.

More than 100 different anabolic steroids have been developed, but they require a prescription to be used legally in the United States. Most steroids that are used illegally are smuggled in from other countries, illegally diverted from U.S. pharmacies, or synthesized in clandestine laboratories.

Anabolic steroids can be legally prescribed to treat conditions resulting from steroid hormone deficiency, such as delayed puberty, as well as diseases that result in loss of lean muscle mass, such as cancer and AIDS. But some athletes, bodybuilders, and others abuse these drugs in an attempt to enhance performance and/or improve their physical appearance.

Types of Anabolic Steroids


Types of anabolic steroids depend on the way the drug is administered into human body. Three common means to apply anabolic steroids are oral, transdermal and by injection. While oral administration is in the form of pills, transdermal application is done by gently rubbing crèmes on skin or using transdermal patches. For these 2 types of anabolic steroids, expert medical help may not be necessary except for mandatory consultation with doctor prior to using them.

However, if one intends to use injecting type of anabolic steroids, consulting a qualified doctor is a must. These steroids are commonly injected intramuscularly - hence the term IM anabolic steroids - at places like buttocks, outer thighs and shoulders. People are known to have the steroid injected in triceps and biceps among other areas of body, but this can prove dangerous in the event of so doing.

Injecting type of anabolic steroids is administered with the help of 1-1.5" 18-25 gauge needles, and the person who is administering is expected to be cautious so as not to affect blood vessels.

There are several proven techniques, so to say, of using anabolic steroids. One, that is quite popular, is what is termed as 'cycling'. A typical example is where the drug is used in cycles of weeks or months rather than continuously. Cycling thus refers to cases when multiple doses of anabolic steroids are taken over a specific period of time, followed by an interlude for a while, and then commencing again.

Further, in order to derive maximum effectiveness from their usage even while minimizing negative effects, users often take recourse to combining several different types of anabolic steroids, referred to as 'stacking'.

Because of prevalence of usage of steroids among college-going youth, often to their detriment because of lack of sufficient knowledge, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) has banned many types of anabolic steroids, some of which are given below:

  • Boldenone
  • Androstenedione
  • Testosterone
  • Dromostanolone
  • Dihydrotestosterone
  • Methenolone

How Are Anabolic Steroids Abused?


Anabolic steroids are usually either taken orally or injected into the muscles, although some are applied to the skin as a cream or gel. Doses taken by abusers may be 10 to 100 times higher than doses prescribed to treat medical conditions.

Steroids are typically taken intermittently rather than continuously, both to avert unwanted side effects and to give the body’s hormonal system a periodic chance to recuperate. Continuous use of steroids can decrease the body’s responsiveness to the drugs (tolerance) as well as cause the body to stop producing its own testosterone; breaks in steroid use are believed to redress these issues. “Cycling” thus refers to a pattern of use in which steroids are taken for periods of weeks or months, after which use is stopped for a period of time and then restarted.

In addition, users often combine several different types of steroids and/or incorporate other steroidal or non-steroidal supplements in an attempt to maximize their effectiveness, a practice referred to as “stacking.”

How Do Anabolic Steroids Affect the Brain?


Anabolic steroids work very differently from other drugs of abuse, and they do not have the same acute effects on the brain. The most important difference is that steroids do not trigger rapid increases in the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for the rewarding “high” that drives the abuse of other substances.

However, long-term steroid use can affect some of the same brain pathways and chemicals—including dopamine, serotonin, and opioid systems—that are affected by other drugs, and thereby may have a significant impact on mood and behavior.

Abuse of anabolic steroids may lead to aggression and other psychiatric problems, for example. Although many users report feeling good about themselves while on steroids, extreme mood swings can also occur, including manic-like symptoms and anger (“roid rage”) that may lead to violence. Researchers have also observed that users may suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.

Are Steroids Addictive?


Even though anabolic steroids do not cause the same high as other drugs, steroids are reinforcing and can lead to addiction. Studies have shown that animals will self-administer steroids when given the opportunity, just as they do with other addictive drugs. People may persist in abusing steroids despite physical problems and nega-tive effects on social relationships, re-flecting these drugs’ addictive poten-tial. Also, steroid abusers typically spend large amounts of time and money obtaining the drug—another indication of addiction.

Are Anabolic Steroids Prohibited in Sports?


Some athletes may abuse anabolic steroids to build muscle, prolong endurance and enhance performance. Anabolic agents are prohibited at all times, both in- and out-of-competition in collegiate and professional sports and appear on both the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) Prohibited Lists. Anabolic steroid use is also prohibited by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).1,2

Anabolic steroids include all synthetic derivatives of testosterone, both oral and injectable. Examples of anabolic steroids include testosterone, methyltestosterone, danazol, and oxandrolone. Anabolic steroids are performance-enhancing agents and act by increasing lean muscle protein synthesis and body weight, without increasing fat mass.

How Are Anabolic Steroids Used as Drugs?


Anabolic steroids have been attractive to athletes and bodybuilders because they increase the size and strength of muscles. They also increase aggressiveness and competitiveness, which can be desirable traits in sports. Anabolic steroids may be prescribed to promote appetite, stimulate bone growth, induce male puberty, to lessen the effects of muscle wasting from chronic diseases, such as cancer or AIDS, and may show promise as a male contraceptive. The drugs are available as oral pills, injectable steroids, and skin patches.

Individuals who abuse steroids can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them—including mood swings, fatigue, rest-lessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, and steroid crav-ings, all of which may contribute to continued abuse. One of the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms is depression—when persistent, it can sometimes lead to suicide attempts. Research has found that some steroid abusers turn to other drugs such as opioids to counteract the negative ef-fects of steroids.

How Do Anabolic Steroids Work?


Anabolic steroids change muscle mass and strength by two processes. First, the steroids lead to an increased production of proteins, which are the building blocks of muscle. The steroids also block the effect of the hormone cortisol on muscle tissue, so that existing muscle is broken down at a slower rate. Additionally, anabolic steroids lead to cells differentiating into muscle more readily than fat.

What are the Most Common Side Effects That May Occur with Anabolic Steroid Use?


There is a wide array of serious side effects associated with abuse of anabolic steroids. Steroid use can alter the normal hormonal production in the body. Most side effects can be reversed if the drugs are stopped, but some, such as a deepened voice in women may persist. Data on long-term side effects primarily come from case reports and not from well-controlled, long-term epidemiological studies, which might be reliable. Common side effects with anabolic steroids may include:

  • Severe acne, oily skin and hair
  • Hair loss
  • Liver disease, such as liver tumors and cysts
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease, such as heart attack and stroke
  • Altered mood, irritability, increased aggression, depression or suicidal tendencies
  • Alterations in cholesterol and other blood lipids
  • High blood pressure
  • Gynecomastia (abnormal development of mammary glands in men causing breast enlargement)
  • Shrinking of testicals
  • Azoospermia (absence of sperm in semen)
  • Menstrual irregularities in women
  • Infertility
  • Excess facial or body hair, deeper voice in women
  • Stunted growth and height in teens
Risk of viral or bacterial infections due to unsterile injections

What Are the Other Health Effects of Anabolic Steroids?


Steroid abuse may lead to serious, even irreversible, health problems. Some of the most dangerous consequences that have been linked to steroid abuse include kidney impairment or failure; damage to the liver; and cardiovascular problems including enlargement of the heart, high blood pressure, and changes in blood cholesterol leading to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack (even in young people).

Steroid use commonly causes severe acne and fluid retention, as well as several effects that are gender- and age-specific:

  • For men—shrinkage of the testicles (testicular atrophy), reduced sperm count or infertility, baldness, development of breasts (gynecomastia), 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—stunted growth due to premature skeletal maturation and accelerated puberty changes, and risk of not reaching expected height if steroid use precedes the typical adolescent growth spurt

What Are the Risks of Using Anabolic Steroids?


In addition to increasing muscle strength and mass, the effects of taking anabolic steroids include harmful changes in cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, acne, liver damage, and changes to the structure of the left ventricle of the heart. Anabolic steroids have an androgenic or virilizing effect, meaning they affect male characteristics. Anabolic steroids affect the onset of puberty, growth of the clitoris in females and the penis in male children (does not affect the size of the penis in adults), increased size of the vocal chords and deepening of the voice, increased body hair, and premature baldness in people predisposed to it. Another side effect is decreased fertility and testicular atrophy.

Why Are Anabolic Steroids Dangerous for Teens?


Many of the side effects of taking performance enhancing drugs can be countered by combining them with other drugs and exercise and are somewhat reversible in adults. However, anabolic steroid use can have permanent negative consequences if used by adolescents. One side effect can be early onset of puberty. More significantly, the drugs can stunt growth by prematurely stopping the lengthening of the bones.