Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances similar to the male
hormone testosterone. Doctors prescribe them to treat problems such as delayed
puberty and other medical problems that cause the body
to make very low amounts of testosterone. Steroids make muscles bigger and
bones stronger. They also may cause puberty to start and can help some boys
who have a
genetic disorder to grow more normally.
Anabolic steroids may be taken as a pill, as a shot into a muscle, or as
a gel or cream rubbed on the skin.
Common anabolic steroid medicines include fluoxymesterone (such as Halotestin)
and nandrolone (such as Durabolin).
In the United States, you need a
prescription to get any anabolic steroid. Illegal anabolic steroids are those
that people get without a doctor's prescription.
Some people take
legal dietary supplements that have certain steroid hormones also made by the
human body. One such supplement is dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). The body can turn
DHEA into other steroid hormones, including testosterone,
cortisol. People use it to try to make their muscles
bigger. Whether such products actually work has not been proved. But if you
take them in large amounts, they can cause the same side effects as anabolic
Why do some people use anabolic steroids without a prescription?
Some adults and teens use illegal anabolic
steroids to lower body fat, get bigger muscles, and increase strength. They use
the drugs because they are seeking to improve how well they play sports or how
The dose of illegal anabolic steroids is 10 to 100
times higher than the dose a doctor prescribes for medical problems. People
often use more than one of these illegal drugs at the same time. This is called
stacking. Or they may take the drugs in a cycle from no drug to a high dose
over a period of weeks to months. This is called pyramiding.
What problems can using illegal anabolic steroids cause?
Anabolic steroids can
cause serious side effects. Some of these effects can be permanent.
In men, anabolic steroids can:
Reduce sperm count.
Shrink the testicles.
Cause you not to be able to father children.
Enlarge the breasts.
In women, anabolic steroids can:
Increase body hair.
Decrease breast size.
Enlarge the clitoris.
Deepen the voice.
In both men and women, anabolic steroids can
High blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke.
Higher levels of bad cholesterol
(LDL) and lower levels of good cholesterol
Liver disease and possibly liver
cancer. The chance of these problems is higher when steroids are taken as a
Oily skin, acne, and male-pattern hair loss.
Skin infections that can become severe if the drug was
tainted with bacteria.
Irritability, rage, aggression, violence, uncontrolled high
energy (mania), false beliefs (delusions), and addiction.
Teens who take illegal anabolic steroids are at risk for the same problems as adults who use them. Also, bone growth in teens may stop before it is complete. The teen
may not reach his or her full adult height.
People who use anabolic steroids on a routine basis can have
withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them.
Symptoms include having depression, being extremely tired, and having no desire to
How is anabolic steroid misuse identified?
Your doctor may ask
questions about your fitness activities and what kinds of dietary supplements
and other substances you use. The doctor may do a physical exam and order urine
and blood tests.
How is it treated?
Treatment for misuse of
anabolic steroids has not been studied much. Doctors
Treatment in a program that includes medicines
for withdrawal symptoms and other health problems.
Family and social support.
Individual or family
Other Places To Get Help
National Institute on Drug Abuse: Anabolic Steroid Abuse
6001 Executive Boulevard Bethesda, MD 20892-9561
This website provides links to information on anabolic
steroid abuse. Information includes health consequences of using steroids and
ideas for athletic training without steroids.
NIDA for Teens: Anabolic Steroids
6001 Executive Boulevard Bethesda, MD 20892-9561
This organization provides information for teens about
anabolic steroids. It includes facts, stories about people who have taken
steroids, a glossary, and places to get help.
Other Works Consulted
Hagen TJ (2007). Medical aspects of sports medicine. In PJ McMahon, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Sports Medicine, pp. 1–27. New York: McGraw-Hill.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2006).
Research Report Series—Anabolic Steroid Abuse. Available
Pope HG, Brower KJ (2008). Treatment of
anabolic-androgenic steroid-related disorders. In M Galanter, HD Kleber, eds.,
American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment, 4th ed., pp. 237–245. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric
Pope HG, Brower KJ (2009). Anabolic–androgenic steroid-related disorders. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1419–1431. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerJohn Hughes, MD - Psychiatry Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.