Steroids, sometimes referred to as roids, juice, hype, weight trainers, gym candy, arnolds, stackers, or pumpers, are the same as, or similar to, certain hormones in the body. The body produces steroids naturally to support such functions as fighting stress and promoting growth and development. But some people use steroid pills, gels, creams, or injections because they think steroids can improve their sports performance or the way they look.
Anabolic steroids are artificially produced hormones that are the same as, or similar to, androgens, the male-type sex hormones in the body. There are more than 100 variations of anabolic steroids. The most powerful androgen is testosterone (pronounced: tess-toss-tuh-rone). Although testosterone is mainly a mature male hormone, girls’ bodies produce smaller amounts. Testosterone promotes the masculine traits that guys develop during puberty, such as deepening of the voice and growth of body hair. Testosterone levels can also affect how aggressive a person is.
Athletes sometimes take anabolic steroids because of their testosterone-like effects.
Another group of steroids, sometimes called steroidal supplements, contains dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and/or androstenedione (also known as andro). For the most part, steroidal supplements, which used to be found at health food stores or gyms, are now illegal and require a prescription. DHEA is one of the few exceptions and can still be bought over the counter.
Steroid supplements are weaker forms of androgen. Their effects aren’t well known, but it’s thought that, when taken in large doses, they cause effects similar to other androgens like testosterone. Here’s what is known about steroidal supplements: Companies that manufacture them often use false claims and very little is known about the long-term effects some of these substances have on the body. That’s one reason why the government took action to protect citizens by passing laws controlling steroid distribution.
How Do Anabolic Steroids Work?
Anabolic steroids stimulate muscle tissue to grow and “bulk up” in response to training by mimicking the effect of naturally produced testosterone on the body. Anabolic steroids can remain in the body anywhere from a couple of days to about a year. Steroids have become popular because they may improve endurance, strength, and muscle mass. However, research has not shown that steroids improve skill, agility, or athletic performance.
Dangers of Steroids
Anabolic steroids cause many different types of problems. Some of the more serious or long-lasting side effects are:
- premature balding or hair loss
- mood swings, including anger, aggression, and depression
- believing things that aren’t true (delusion)
- extreme feelings of mistrust or fear (paranoia)
- problems sleeping
- nausea and vomiting
- high blood pressure that can damage the heart or blood vessels over time
- aching joints
- greater chance of injuring muscles and tendons
- jaundice or yellowing of the skin; liver damage
- urinary problems
- shortening of final adult height
- increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer
Risks for Girls
Specific risks for girls associated with anabolic steroids include:
- increased facial hair growth
- development of masculine traits, such as deepening of the voice, and loss of feminine body characteristics, such as shrinking of the breasts
- enlargement of the clitoris
- menstrual cycle changes
Risks for Guys
Specific risks for guys include:
- testicular shrinkage
- pain when urinating
- breast development
- impotence (inability to get an erection)
- sterility (inability to have children)
Steroids can also have serious psychological side effects. Some users become aggressive or combative, developing “roid rage” — extreme, uncontrolled bouts of anger caused by long-term steroid use.
Steroid users who inject the drugs with a needle are at risk for infection with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS, if they share needles with other users. People who use dirty needles are also at greater risk for contracting hepatitis, a disease of the liver, or bacterial endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart.