What are anabolic steroids?
Anabolic steroids are a man-made synthetic derivative of testosterone (the male sex hormone). Testosterone is responsible for normal growth and development of the male sex organs and for the maintenance of secondary sex characteristics, including growth and maturation of the prostate, seminal vesicles, penis and scrotum. These drugs can be legally prescribed to treat conditions resulting from steroid hormone deficiency, such as delayed puberty, but also body wasting in patients with AIDS and other diseases that result in loss of lean muscle mass.
Why are kids motivated to use anabolic steroids and other appearance and performance enhancing drugs?
Recent studies by university scientists show that the top 3 reasons cited by people for first time use of anabolic steroids are (in order of priority):
1. Improve physical appearance/body image
2. To feel better about myself
3. Improve athletic performance
That said, it’s not just athletes who are using anabolic steroids. We estimate that about half of the users are what we call “mirror athletes” – users who want to look like athletes, but have no interest in competing on an athletic field.
What do anabolic steroids look like, and how are they used?
Anabolic steroids come in the form of tablets, capsules, a solution for injection and a cream or gel to rub into the skin. Weight lifters, bodybuilders and athletes who use steroids often take doses that are up to 100 times greater than those used to treat medical conditions. Although regimented methods of taking steroids – like Cycling, Pyramiding and Stacking – are believed to enhance the effects of these drugs and lessen harm to the body, there’s no scientific evidence to support these claims.
Cycling: A period of taking and then not taking the drugs in the belief that the drug-free cycle allows the body to recover normal hormone levels.
Pyramiding: Taking doses in cycles of six to 12 weeks, starting with a low dose, slowly increasing it, and then decreasing the amount to zero. Thus supposedly allows the body time to adjust to the high doses.
Stacking: Taking two or more types of steroids – like oral and injectable forms – to theoretically have a greater impact.
Where do anabolic steroids come from? And how do young people get them?
Virtually all the anabolic steroids that are sold on the “street” are illegally imported from China. They are shipped in a powder form then mixed with baby oil, cooking oil, Wesson oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, and sometimes even horse urine, ArmorAll, or motor oil, before being put in a vial for sale to users. They are easy to obtain from sources at the local gym, school and online.
Are anabolic steroids illegal?
Yes, anabolic steroids are illegal to possess without a legitimate prescription from a medical doctor. Steroids are classified as controlled substances and carry with them felony charges for simple possession in many states. Whether you are charged with the intent to distribute or simple possession, you might as well be dealing or using crack cocaine in the eyes of the law. Authorities make arrests at traffic stops, border crossings and through mail interceptions (mail order is a major avenue used in black market distribution). Steroids are Schedule III substances under the Controlled Substances Act of the U.S. Federal Government, and they are Schedule IV controlled substances in Canada. Potential legal problems and the mark of a felony conviction are side effects of steroids that should not be overlooked.
What are the legal ramifications if I get caught with steroids?
Federal and most state laws dictate that the sale of anabolic steroids, possession of steroids, or possession of steroids with intent to sell, are all classified as felonies. Any individual who is convicted of the sale of steroids, or possesses steroids unlawfully with intent to sell, may be penalized by up to 5 years in prison under federal law. That same individual may face more than 5 years of punishment, depending on their states law. Almost every state has sanctioned various laws placing anabolic steroids in the Controlled Substance category.
What are the side effects of using anabolic steroids?
Some of the common side effects include: oily skin, acne, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, increased chance of injury, high blood pressure, weakening of the heart, low sperm count, cancer, increased aggression, psychosis, mood swings and depression.
Can anabolic steroids affect behavior?
Case reports and small studies indicate that anabolic steroids, particularly in high doses, increase irritability and aggression. Some steroid abusers report that they have committed aggressive acts, such as physical fighting, committing armed robbery, or using force to obtain something. Anabolic steroids have also been reported to cause euphoria, increased energy, sexual arousal, mood swings, distractibility, forgetfulness and confusion. Go to our Signs of Steroid Abuse page for more details.
Are steroids any more dangerous for teens than for adults?
Yes. In addition to the standard list of side effects, teens can face further side effects from steroids including the permanent stunting of growth. Using before the growth process is completed can actually condemn a young person to never even reaching his natural genetic potential as growth plates are permanently closed. Even the most ardent of steroid supporters will typically advise against steroid use before a person reaches their mid-20s and the natural growth process has been fully completed.
Is it OK for females to take anabolic steroids?
Steroids are used to make men manlier, and for this single reason, steroids are far more potentially harmful for females to use than males. Some negative side effects of taking steroids are permanent. Some of these can include, but aren’t limited to: deepening of the voice, increased body hair (including the growth of dark facial hair), loss of scalp hair, liver or kidney damage, oily skin, acne, clitoral enlargement, decreased breast size and increased levels of LDL cholesterol. Go to our Dangers of Anabolic Steroids page for more details.
Do steroids cause permanent damage?
Yes. Use of anabolic steroids can overall shorten life expectancy. They are very damaging to the body and cause lasting and/or life-threatening results. Go to our Dangers of Anabolic Steroids page for more details.
Can I get addicted to steroids?
Although they are not physically addictive, steroids are most definitely psychologically addictive. To find out if you are a steroid junkie, take the following quiz. Four or more YES answers mean you’ve got yourself a very serious problem.
• Have you been regularly using steroids and other appearance and performance enhancing drugs (APEDs) for at least two years or more?
• Have you been on two or more drug cycles in the past six months?
• Are you stacking your APEDs by taking three or more different drugs at the same time?
• Have you had problems like blood in the urine or semen, sharp back or abdominal pains, inability to get an erection, pains in your chest, light-headedness, uncontrollable rage, and still you continue to use steroids?
• Have you encouraged others to use steroids and perhaps even sold APEDs to them?
• Do you stay on “light” dosages between regular cycles because you’re convinced that complete cessation will make you lose all of your steroid gains?
• Do you continue to use APEDs even if your wife or girlfriend has begged you to quit?
• Have you tried to quit several times only to go back again?
- Are you spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year on steroids while your bills continue to mount?
Are the steroids sold on the street “real” steroids?
Not always. It’s estimated by many that most of the steroids on the black market are counterfeit. These drugs, often indistinguishable from the real thing to even the well-trained eye, present additional danger to users. Manufactured in underground labs, outside of safe pharmaceutical practices, these drugs can become contaminated creating additional health risks. And oftentimes, substances sold as steroids aren’t really steroids at all.
Is it safe to take the “natural” steroids or supplements sold at health food stores?
So-called “natural” steroids, which are sold as over-the-counter supplements at many health food stores, are NOT safe. Because natural steroids contain “natural” substances that aren’t chemically altered, they can be marketed as dietary supplements – which are subject to limited regulation by the Food and Drug Administration. Still, they can have the same harmful effects as synthetic steroids. Go to our Dietary Supplements page for more details.
What about Creatine?
Creatine is sold as a supplement and not regulated by the FDA or any other agency. Manufacturers have been known to dilute or contaminate it with other substances, including anabolic steroids, that may inadvertently lead to a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. Go to our Dietary Supplements page for more details.
What can parents do to combat steroid use?
Much of the steroid use among teens is happening secretly, and in many cases parents are not aware of the purchase and use of the steroids by their child. Therefore, it’s critical that parents are well informed about the issues around steroids and talk to their children openly about the use of APEDs. Go to our Talking To Our Kids page for more details.
Are there effective treatments for steroid abuse?
Few studies of treatments for anabolic steroid abuse have been conducted. However, physicians have found that supportive therapy is sufficient treatment in some cases. Patients are educated about what they may experience during withdrawal and are evaluated for suicidal thoughts. If symptoms are severe or prolonged, medications or hospitalization may be needed.
Withdrawal symptoms: Mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, headaches, anxiety and depression that can lead to suicide attempts. These feelings can persist for a year or more after the abuser stops taking drugs.
What happens when you stop using anabolic steroids?
The biggest mistake a person can make when they decide to stop using steroids is to just stop taking them altogether. Steroids are powerful hormonal drugs in which the body has to be weaned off of properly. Talk to a medical professional about the discontinuation of steroids. Because of doctor patient confidentially, you should not be afraid to discuss steroids or how to stop using them.
How can I get help?
Call the Drug Help National Hotline at 800-378-4435 for guidance and confidential advice. Talk to an adult: parents, doctor, coaches or school nurse.
Is there such a thing as drinking too much water?
The term for drinking too much water is: “water intoxication”. This condition is rare, but can happen when a person drinks a huge amount of water in a short period of time (equivalent to drinking 5- 10 two liter bottles within a few hours). Having this much fluid can cause the sodium (salt) levels in the body to drop (a condition known as hyponatremia). When this happens, the cells in body begin to swell which can cause confusion, severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, bloating, seizures, comas, and even death.
Although it is important for athletes to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, athletes who are active for long periods of time have a higher risk for water intoxication if they don’t replace the sodium that is lost from sweating. This condition can easily be avoided by eating a small snack or drinking a sports drink during long periods of physical activity. Tell someone immediately if you get a headache, or feel nauseous or dizzy during exercise.
Should I eat extra protein?
Although some extra protein is needed to build muscle, most people eat plenty of protein and eating extra will not have any benefit. For most people, 5 ounces of protein foods (such as meat, poultry, fish, beans, tofu, or eggs) every day and 3-4 ounces of dairy protein (such as milk, yogurt, or cheese) will provide enough protein. Eating enough calories is actually more important for building muscle. Without enough calories, your body can’t build new muscle.
Should I carb-load before my games or competitions?
When you are training or competing, your muscles need energy to perform. Glycogen, which is glucose stored in our muscles and liver, is the energy used by muscles. Every time you work out, you use some of your glycogen. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, you’ll have fewer glycogen stores, and your muscles may not be able to perform their best.
Carbohydrate loading is a technique used to increase the amount of glycogen in muscles and in the liver. It involves eating extra carbohydrates during the week before a competition while at the same time cutting back on training. Carb-loading is intended for marathon runners and is not necessary for most athletes.
What should I eat before a game/practice?
Performance depends mostly on the foods you ate in the days and weeks leading up to an event. If you usually eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of carbohydrates, you will probably have enough energy (glycogen) stored in your body to perform well. The purpose of the “pre-competition” meal is to prevent hunger and to provide the water and energy you will need during the game/practice.
There is no magic pre-exercise diet, so use your own experience to figure out which foods work best for you. Some general tips for eating before games/practices are:
Eat a larger meal if you have 3-6 hours before you begin your exercise. Smaller “mini” meals are better if you only have an hour or two before your workout begins. Meals that are high in complex carbohydrates are powerful because they give your muscles the very best source of fuel. Whole grain pasta, bagels, baked potatoes, rice, and fresh fruit are all good sources of complex carbohydrates.
Limit the amount of fatty foods such as fast food, eggs, meat, and cheese that you eat for your pre-exercise meal. These foods take much longer to digest and may make you feel sluggish and tired.
Avoid high-bulk (high-fiber), gas forming foods such as broccoli, baked beans, or bran cereal. These foods may cause gas pains during exercise.
Avoid sugars and sweets, especially soft drinks and candy, less than 1 hour before training. High-sugar foods will give you quick energy, but it won’t last long.
Do not try new foods before a competition. You may have trouble digesting a food you have never eaten before. Choose foods that you eat regularly and are familiar to you.
What should I eat after a game/practice?
You need food after a game/practice to replace the carbohydrate burned and the electrolytes lost. Electrolytes are found in nearly all foods, so you don’t need a special drink to get those. Your body will replenish its energy stores (glycogen) the best if you eat a food with carbohydrates and some protein after working out like a half of a protein based sandwich or a yogurt.
Do I need to life heavy weights to build muscle?
No. You do not need to lift heavy weights to strengthen and tone muscles on your body. You can build muscles by doing toning exercises, lifting light weights, or playing sports. You can even strengthen certain muscle groups by doing activities such as cleaning your room and carrying your book bag.
How can I lose weight just in my stomach?
There are no exercises or nutrition plans that can target weight loss to a specific area of your body, like your stomach. You can strengthen your core stomach muscles, and this will help your abs to be stronger.
How can I strengthen my abs?
Firming your abnormal area takes a regular exercise routine and time. Simple abdominal crunches or sit-ups are easy and effective. You do not need to buy fancy ab equipment. Combining cardio (exercises that make you sweat) with ab training will build muscle and burn stored adipose (fat) tissue. Strong abs also help prevent back injuries.
Why do boys seem to get more muscular than girls? (I go to the gym with my guy friends and they are seeing results faster than I am.)
It’s true; males build muscle faster than females do. This is because guys have more testosterone, a male hormone, which helps form muscle. Since women naturally have less testosterone, they build muscle at a slower pace. Girls can build strong muscles by exercising regularly and eating nutritious foods.
Do I need to stretch when I exercise?
Yes. Proper stretching before and after exercise is important for preventing injuries in all your muscle groups (upper, mid, and lower body). It also decreases your risk of back injury. You will see improvements in flexibility over time. Everyone has the potential to become more flexible.
My friend told me that the pain I feel in the front of my lower legs is really shin splints. What are shin splits and how do I avoid getting them?
“Shin splits” is a term used to describe any pain in the shins, the area in the front of the lower leg below the knee. You usually feel shin splits 2 to 24 hours after aerobic exercise. You can avoid getting shin splints by making sure to stretch before and after any aerobic exercise and wearing sneakers with good support. Listen to your body when you are exercising. I the exercise causes pain, stop immediately.
What are the best exercises for weight loss?
There is no magic workout for weight loss, but cross training is a healthy plan. Cross training means balancing a variety of cardiovascular, muscle conditioning, and flexibility activities. This prevents boredom, so you will stick with your fitness routine.
Cardiovascular activities are exercises that use your heart muscle, burn energy, and build muscle. These include: sports, cheerleading, power walking, running, dancing, or other exercises that make you sweat.
Muscle conditioning exercises include weight lifting and toning exercises like push ups, sit-ups, or leg lifts. Playing sports can build muscles too. Building muscle raises your metabolism (how your body burns food for energy), and may help prevent osteoporosis (thinning of the bones).
Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles. Injury prevention is an important benefit of stretching.
I am thinking of taking a kickboxing class. Can anyone try this?
Kickboxing is a great exercise for everyone, no matter what your fitness level is. During class, you will learn fun cardio moves that tone the legs, abs, and upper-body. It’s a great way to release stress and learn self-defense moves at the same time.
Is yoga good for you?
Yoga is a excellent for health. It combines stretching, muscle toning, and breathing. Popular poses include the downward dog and the triangle. Yoga relaxes the body and helps you feel less stressed. You can try a yoga video or take a class.
Are yoga or exercise balls good to use for toning your body?
Yoga balls, also know as stability or exercise balls, are a great way to add variety to your muscle conditioning routine. A yoga ball can be used to support your back when you are doing abdominal exercises. You can also sit on the ball, using it like a chair, when you are doing upper body (arms and back) exercises with weights. When doing muscle exercises for the upper body, the yoga ball keeps your core muscles (middle body) working hard. You can even use the yoga ball for different stretches for your back and abs. Make sure you receive proper instruction on your form from a fitness instructor or coach before trying the yoga ball. Yoga balls are fun and effective.
What should I do if I feel too tired to exercise?
Try to exercise even if you feel tired. Listening to music can help motivate you! When you exercise, you usually sleep better at night and will have more energy later. It’s true – exercise actually give you more energy in the long run.
Should I eat before I exercise?
If you have not eaten for several hours, you should have a snack and water before you start working out. Try something with carbohydrate fuel like a low fat granola bar, cereal bar, fruit, peanut butter and crackers, or yogurt. Drink about 1 cup (8oz.) of fluid. This is quick and easy fuel for exercising.
How often do I need to exercise?
Teens should aim to include at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.