Patterns of Anabolic Steroid Use & Abuse

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Athletes and bodybuilders have used and abused anabolic steroids for years, and fans are no longer surprised when their favorite athlete gets busted for doping. This lesson will cover the short and long-term effects of anabolic steroid use.

What Are Anabolic Steroids?

If you're a fan of professional sports, you're probably familiar with the terms 'doping', 'juicing', and 'roids'. If you don't follow sports, you may be less familiar with these terms. What does 'doping' mean? This lesson will explain legal and illegal use of anabolic steroids, a type of performance enhancing drug.

Simply put, an anabolic steroid is any drug or hormone that increases testosterone in the body. Testosterone is a hormone that stimulates muscle growth and sexual maturity in men. There are legitimate medical conditions that may warrant the use of testosterone, but an illegal market has emerged due to the competitive edge it can provide users.

Scientists initially synthesized anabolic steroids to treat men suffering from abnormal growth, development, or sexual functioning. However, during World War II, it was discovered that malnourished soldiers who received anabolic steroids gained weight and recovered faster. Following this realization came a boom in the illegal production of anabolic steroids, leading to an official ban by the International Olympic Committee in 1975.

Anabolic steroids work by stimulating the production of proteins in the body. Among other things, proteins help to build muscle, so using these steroids increases muscle mass. Doses are usually administered through an injection with a needle, either directly into the bloodstream or into the muscle itself; however, there are also oral options or topical forms that can be applied to the skin and absorbed.

A black market of illegal anabolic steroids developed once the physical side effects were realized.

Legal Medical Uses

Anabolic steroids were initially produced to treat legitimate medical conditions. They may be used as a supplement in men who naturally have low testosterone production or to treat someone recovering from a serious illness or injury. Other medical conditions anabolic steroids may be used to treat include anemia, breast cancer, HIV wasting syndrome, osteoporosis, hypogonadism, and abnormal growth or development of adolescents. When administered properly by a health professional for a legitimate condition, anabolic steroids can be very beneficial. The problem arises when people begin abusing them.

Physical Effects of Anabolic Steroid Use

Both men and women abuse anabolic steroids to change their body - in a world obsessed with a quick-fix, it's not surprising that people want to experiment with ways to gain muscle and lose body fat. However, anabolic steroids are serious drugs that have two general types of physical effects on the body.

Not all bodybuilders use anabolic steroids, but abuse is prevalent in the industry due to the increase in muscle mass.

First, they cause hormonal effects. Increased testosterone causes a person to become more 'masculinized'. This means their voice deepens, they grow more facial and body hair, and initially they may experience enlargement of the sex organs. The second group of effects are anabolic. These include increased muscle mass, enlarged internal organs, and an increase of calcium in the bones.

Let's take a closer look at the short and long-term effects of anabolic steroid use. In the short-term, men may experience reduced sperm count, heart damage, impotence, and difficult or painful urination. Over the long-term, they can develop liver disease or liver cancer, enlarged breasts, testicle shrinkage, baldness, and infertility. It's important to note that some side effects only occur while actively using the steroids, while others are permanent and irreversible.

In the short-term, women may experience breast size reduction and increased growth of body hair. With long-term use, they will experience a deepening of the voice, enlarged sex organs, abnormal menstruation cycles, and baldness.

Those sound bad enough. But wait, there are more side effects that are experienced by BOTH men and women. In the short term, these include acne, swelling (especially in the ankles and feet), weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insomnia, headaches, decreased sex drive, increased muscle mass, increased appetite, and a higher chance of developing tendinitis.

With long-term use, symptoms include abnormal blood clotting, heart attack, stroke, internal organ damage, stunted growth (in adolescents), faster recovery after strenuous activity, and an increased risk of infection due to injections. As you can see, anabolic steroid use isn't something to be taken lightly - it can cause serious health problems, many of which can be fatal.

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