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Anabolic Steroid Abuse

Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone. The full name is androgenic (promoting masculine characteristics) anabolic (building) steroids (the class of drugs). These derivatives of testosterone promote the growth of skeletal muscle and increase lean body mass. Anabolic steroids were first abused nonmedically by elite athletes seeking to improve performance. Today, athletes and others use steroids to enhance performance and also to improve physical appearance.

Extent of Use

Monitoring the Future Study

Monitoring the Future assesses drug use among adolescents and young adults across the country. Because of growing professional and public concern over the misuse and abuse of steroids by adolescents and young adults, questions regarding anabolic steroid use were added to the Monitoring the Future survey in 1989 to afford a better understanding of the extent of the problem.

From 1989 to 1993 there was a slight, gradual decline in lifetime and annual prevalence of anabolic steroid use among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. In 1994 and 1995 the levels remained about the same.

  • Among the class of 1995, 2.3 percent of high school seniors had used anabolic steroids at least once in their lifetimes; 1.5 percent had used steroids in the past year.
  • In 1995, 2.0 percent of 8th-graders and 2.0 percent of 10th-graders had used anabolic steroids at least once in their lifetimes, and 1.0 percent of 8th-graders and 1.2 percent of 10th-graders had used anabolic steroids within the past year.

Anabolic Steroid Use By Students, 1995

8th Grade 10th Grade 12th Grade
Ever Used 2.0% 2.0% 2.3%
Used in Past Year 1.0 1.2 1.5
Used in Past Month 0.6 0.6 0.7

In addition to data regarding use, the 1994 survey reported students' attitudes toward steroid use.


  • 67.6 percent of 8th-graders, 72.5 percent of 10th-graders, and 66.1 percent of seniors perceive great risk in trying steroids.
  • 87.9 percent of 8th-graders, 90.8 percent of 10th-graders, and 91.9 percent of seniors say they disapprove of people who use steroids.
  • 23.1 percent of 8th-graders, 33.6 percent of 10th-graders, and 42.9 percent of seniors feel it would be fairly or very easy for them to get steroids.

Attitudes of Students Toward Anabolic Steroids, 1994

8th Grade 10th Grade 12th Grade
Perceive Risk in Trying Steroids 67.6% 72.5% 66.1%
Disapprove of Use 87.9 90.8 91.9
Easy To Get 23.1 33.6 42.9

Methods of Use

Steroids are taken orally or injected, and athletes and other abusers take them typically in cycles of weeks or months, rather than continuously, in patterns called cycling. Cycling involves taking multiple doses of steroids over a specific period of time, stopping for a period, and starting again. In addition, users frequently combine several different types of steroids to maximize their effectiveness while minimizing negative effects, a process known as stacking.

Health Hazards

Reports indicate that use of anabolic steroids produces increases in lean muscle mass, strength, and ability to train longer and harder; but long-term, high-dose effects of steroid use are largely unknown. Many health hazards of short-term effects are reversible, but not all; and there is concern over possible psychiatric effects. In addition, people who inject steroids run the added risk of contracting or transmitting hepatitis or the virus (HIV) that leads to AIDS.

The major side effects of anabolic steroid use include liver tumors, jaundice, fluid retention, and high blood pressure; others are severe acne and trembling. Additional side effects include the following:

  • For men - shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, development of breasts.
  • For women - growth of facial hair, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris, deepened voice.
  • For adolescents - growth halted prematurely through premature skeletal maturation and accelerated pubertal changes.

NIDA-supported research shows that aggression and other psychiatric side effects may result from anabolic steroid abuse. Many users report feeling good about themselves while on steroids, but researchers report that steroid abuse can cause wild mood swings including manic-like symptoms leading to violent, even homicidal, episodes. Depression often is seen when the drugs are stopped and may contribute to steroid dependence. Researchers reported also that users may suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.


The supply of anabolic steroids comes primarily from three sources: anabolic steroids are manufactured legally or illegally outside the United States and smuggled into this country (most often through the mail); they are manufactured legally and diverted to supply the black market; and they are manufactured in clandestine laboratories. The anabolic steroids seized by the U.S. Customs Service have come from several countries, including Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Great Britain, Portugal, France, and Peru. Many substances sold as anabolic steroids are actually counterfeits. There are dangers inherent in using steroids of unknown origin and purity.

Possession and distribution of anabolic steroids for nonmedical purposes are illegal under Federal law. In November 1990, steroids were added to Schedule III of the Federal Controlled Substances Act, which made the nonmedical possession of anabolic steroids a criminal act and greatly increased the penalties for steroid distribution. Possession of steroids is now punishable by up to 1 year in prison, and distribution can draw a sentence of up to 5 years and a fine of $250,000.

Part of the NIDA Capsule Series - (C-93-03)

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