Definition of Anabolic Steroid

Syringe perched on a flexed muscular arm.
Anabolic steroids promote muscle growth. Mike Kemp/Getty Images

Anabolic steroids are a group of natural and synthetic steroid hormones that promote muscle growth and strength. Testosterone is a natural anabolic steroid. The common use of the term refers to synthetic anabolic-androgenic steroids that mimic the actions of testosterone, the natural male sex hormone. They stimulate both muscle-building and male sexual characteristics.

Both synthetic and natural steroids have been used in sport, particularly bodybuilding, to enhance performance.

They are usually injected but oral forms are available. They are banned in most sports as performance-enhancing drugs.

Medical Uses of Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids may be prescribed to treat delayed puberty in boys. They may be used to prevent muscle loss in illness, such as AIDS. Men who have developed a low testosterone condition may be prescribed anabolic steroids. They are used in treating a low red blood cell count and breast cancer. Anabolic steroids may be prescribed for transgender female-to-male men or intersex.

Prescription anabolic steroids include nandrolone, stanozolol, oxymetholone, fluoxymesterone, and Trenbolone. They are Schedule III substances under the Controlled Substance Act. Possession without a prescription is a federal crime in the United States.

Abuse of Anabolic Steroids

The most commonly abused anabolic steroids are testosterone, nandrolone, stanozolol, methandienone, and boldenone, according to the DEA.

They are often injected intramuscularly, but can also be found as gels, creams, patches and in pill form. Abusers often take doses far larger than medically prescribed doses, which can lead to greater side effects. Abused steroids are commonly smuggled into the US from foreign sources, but may also be stolen from medical sources or inappropriately prescribed.

Street names (Drug Enforcement Administration): anabolic steroids are illegally sold under the names of Arnolds, Gear, Gym Candy, Juice, Pumpers, Roids, Stackers, Weight Gainers.

Side Effects of Anabolic Steroid Abuse

The desired effects of anabolic steroids are muscle growth and athletic performance enhancement. But along with those come a wide array of unpleasant and dangerous side effects, especially when used with the large doses often seen in steroid abuse.

  • Mood and Behavioral Effects: "Roid Rage" occurs in some users, with mood swings and increased aggression. Depression might be seen when ending steroid abuse.
  • Adolescent Boys: early sexual development, acne, stunted growth.
  • Girls and Women: Permanent male characteristics including beard and body hair, male pattern baldness, deep voice. Females may experience menstrual irregularities and an enlarged clitoris.
  • Men: shrunken testicles, low sperm count and sterility, enlarged breasts, and a higher risk of prostate cancer.
  • High cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and liver abnormalities.
  • Those who inject steroids face the risk of blood-borne illnesses including HIV, hepatitis B and C.

Bans of Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids were first banned by the International Olympic Committee in 1975. The World Anti-Doping Agency was established in 1999 to coordinate anti-doping efforts, joined by the US Anti-Doping Agency in 2000. All major sports bodies and college sports bodies ban anabolic steroids. They are tested for in anti-doping blood and urine screens.

Non-medical steroid sales were banned in the United States with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. They were placed in Schedule III under the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990. The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 added hundreds of more steroids and precursors to the Schedule III controlled substances list. They are controlled in many countries but are still legal without a prescription in a few countries.

Sources:

Drugs of Abuse, 2015 Edition, A DEA Resource Guide. Accessed 10/29/15

DrugFacts: Anabolic Steroids.National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Revised July, 2012. Accessed 10/29/15

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