NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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Drug Facts

Anabolic Steroids

What Are Anabolic Steroids?

 A male body builder

Also known as: Anabolic-androgenic steroids, “roids,” or “juice”

Common brand names: Androsterone, Oxandrin, Dianabol, Winstrol, Deca-durabolin, and Equipoise

Anabolic steroids are manmade substances related to testosterone (male sex hormone). Doctors use anabolic steroids to treat hormone problems in men, delayed puberty, and muscle loss from some diseases.

Bodybuilders and athletes may use anabolic steroids to build muscles and improve athletic performance, often taking doses much higher than would be prescribed for a medical condition. Using them this way is not legal—or safe.

Anabolic steroids are only one type of steroid. Other types of steroids include cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone. These are different chemicals and do not have the same effects.

How Are Anabolic Steroids Abused?

When people take steroids without a doctor’s prescription or in ways other than as prescribed, they are abusing steroids.

Some people who abuse steroids take pills; others use needles to inject steroids into their muscles.

How Do Anabolic Steroids Affect the Brain?

Anabolic steroids affect a part of the brain called the limbic system, which controls mood. Long-term steroid abuse can lead to aggressive behavior and extreme mood swings. This is sometimes referred to as “roid rage.”

Steroids can also lead to feeling paranoid (like someone or something is out to get you), jealousy, delusions (belief in something that is not true), and feeling invincible (like nothing can hurt you).

Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs.

What Are the Other Effects of Anabolic Steroids?

Abuse of anabolic steroids has been linked with serious health problems. They include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in blood cholesterol (increases in “bad” cholesterol or LDL, decreases in “good” cholesterol or HDL)
  • Enlarged heart
  • Heart attack or stroke (even in young people)
  • Liver disease, including cancer
  • Kidney problems or failure
  • Severe acne

Males

  • Breast growth and shrinking of testicles
  • Low sperm count/infertility (unable to have children)
  • Increased risk for prostate cancer

Females

  • Voice deepening
  • Growth of facial hair
  • Male-pattern baldness
  • Changes in or end of menstrual cycle/getting your period
  • Enlargement of clitoris

In addition, if teens abuse anabolic steroids, they may never achieve their full height because anabolic steroids can stop growth in the middle of puberty.

Can You Get Addicted to Anabolic Steroids?

Yes. Addiction to steroids is different compared to other drugs of abuse, because users don’t become high when using. People who do become addicted keep using steroids despite bad effects on their bodies and lives. Also, people who abuse steroids typically spend large amount of time and money obtaining the drugs, which is another sign they may be addicted.

When they stop using steroids, people can experience withdrawal symptoms such as feeling depressed, mood swings, feeling tired or restless, loss of appetite, being unable to sleep (insomnia), and the desire to take more steroids. Depression can be very dangerous, because it sometimes leads people to think of or attempt suicide (killing themselves). If not treated, some symptoms of depression that are linked with anabolic steroid withdrawal have lasted for a year or more after the person stops taking the drugs.

NIDA has two education programs for players on high school sports teams. In the ATLAS (for guys) and ATHENA (for girls) programs, coaches and sports team leaders talk about how steroids and other illegal drugs can affect sports performance, and they teach how to say no to offers of drugs. They also discuss how strength training and eating healthy foods can help teens build their bodies without the use of steroids. Later, special trainers teach the players proper weightlifting skills.

If you see or hear about someone abusing steroids, talk to a coach, teacher, or other trusted adult. Hear a neuroscientist talk about the teen brain and drug use.

Can You Die If You Abuse Anabolic Steroids?

Yes. Although it is rare, there are a few ways steroid abuse can cause death.

  • Heart attacks and strokes. Steroid use can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis, in which fat builds up inside arteries and makes it hard for blood to flow. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, a heart attack can occur. If blood flow to the brain is blocked, a stroke can occur.
  • HIV. People who inject anabolic steroids using needles may share dirty drug injection equipment that can spread serious viral infections such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis (a liver disease).

How Many Teens Abuse Anabolic Steroids?

See the most recent statistics on teen drug use from NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study below:

Swipe left or right to scroll.

Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Steroids for 8th Graders, 10th Graders, and 12th Graders; 2014 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period 8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Steroids Lifetime 1.00 1.40 1.90
Past Year 0.60 0.80 1.50
Past Month 0.20 0.40 0.90

For more statistics on teen drug use, see NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study.

What Should I Do If Someone I Know Needs Help?

If you or a friend are in crisis and need to speak with someone now, please call:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don't just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by).

If you need information on treatment and where you can find it, you can call:

For more information on how to help a friend or loved one, visit our Have a Drug Problem, Need Help? page.

For More Information on Anabolic Steroids

Drug Facts

NIDA:

Statistics and Trends

NIDA:  

Monitoring the Future (University of Michigan):

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: