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Anabolic Steroids

What Are Anabolic Steroids

anabolic steroids

Anabolic androgenic steroids (also known as AAS and steroids) are chemically modified versions or derivatives of the

naturally-occurring male sex hormone, testosterone, which is produced naturally in both men and women. In other words, steroids refer to drugs (excluding estrogens, progestins, and corticosteroids) or hormonal substance(s), which are chemically related to testosterone that promotes muscle growth.

Today, there are more than hundreds of varieties of these drugs, but only a few have been approved for human or veterinary use and a prescription is required to purchase these drugs for medicinal purposes.

Anabolic steroids are placed under the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990 into Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). These drugs, under the legislation, are classified as drugs or hormonal substances that are chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone (other than estrogens, progestins, and corticosteroids) and having the potential of promoting muscle growth.

What Is Testosterone

Testosterone is produced particularly by the male testicles and other organs and tissues in females. The circulating blood level of this hormone in females is 10 percent that of their male counterparts. The naturally-occurring male sex hormone circulates throughout the body and interacts with specific receptors on the cells to initiate balanced development of the male sexual characteristics like hair, genitalia, and male features. Testosterone is also responsible for the proper functioning of many other organs and tissues in the body. All anabolic steroids, because of their chemical similarity to testosterone, have the potential of interacting with cell receptors and produce effects in all organs and tissues, including muscles, bone, bone marrow, blood vessels, the brain, heart, liver, skin, skin, hair, the genitals, and the reproductive organs.

Types Of Anabolic Androgenic Steroids

There are two types of anabolic androgenic steroids:

Exogenous steroids: These are synthetic versions of the male primary sex hormone, Testosterone, and common examples include Nandrolone and Danazol. These are substances that are not capable of being produced by the body naturally.

Endogenous steroids: They refer to naturally occurring substances involved in the metabolic pathways of testosterone. These are substances capable of being produced by the body naturally.

Oral Steroids Injectable Steroids
Anadrol (Oxymetholone) Durabolin (Nandrolone phenpropionate)
Dianabol (methandrostenolone) Deca Durabolin (Nandrolone decanoate)
Winstrol (Stanozolol) Equipoise (Boldenone undecylenate)
Anavar - Oxandrin (Oxandrolone) Depo-testosterone (testosterone cypionate)

Examples of anabolic steroids:

  1. Testosterone
  2. Deca Durabolin
  3. Dianabol
  4. Nandrolone
  5. Androstenedione
  6. Stanozolol

History Of Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids have been used and abused for many decades by those into sports and fitness who are trying to augment their anabolic and androgenic potential.

Anabolic steroids were first made available in the 1930s, when a team of scientists created a synthetic form of testosterone for men who were unable to produce enough of the hormone for balanced and normal growth, development, and sexual functioning.

During the Second World War (1939-1945), it was shown that this artificial form of the primary male sex hormone may be used for helping malnourished soldiers gain weight and improve performance.

Why Are Steroids Used

  1. The use of anabolic steroids is common among bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness "buffs" who claim that these drugs give them a competitive advantage, promote the sense of well being and invincibility, and improve their physical performance.
  2. There may be peer pressure to use these drugs in some individual or team sports due to the "fear" or "assumption" that normal training will not be enough to succeed.
  3. Many others start using anabolic steroids with the perception that other athletes are using them and gaining an unfair advantage.
  4. Anabolic steroid use may also be prompted by muscle dysmorphia or abnormal perception of the body.

Medical Uses Of Anabolic Steroids

Steroids are used medically to treat health conditions like hypogonadism (defect of function of the testes or ovaries), severe cases of osteoporosis, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), some forms of anemia, Klinefelter’s syndrome (Sometimes known as XXY syndrome), Angioneurotic edema (swelling in the deep layers of the skin), delayed puberty, and Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) wasting syndrome.

These extremely potent drugs are medically used to treat anemia (low red blood cell count), control breast cancer in women, improve weight loss due to severe illness, and treat hereditary angioedema that leads to swelling of the face, arms, legs, throat, windpipe, bowels, or sexual organs. Steroids may also be recommended in the treatment of severe burns, short stature, and prolonged catabolic state secondary to the long-term use of corticosteroids.

Street Names

Anabolic steroids are known and sold under different names like Gym Candy, Pumpers, Stackers, A’s, Anabolics, Arnolds, Bolins, Arnies, Dep-testosterone, Methyltestosterone, GHB, Oxys, Anabols, Balls or Bulls, Delatestryl, Maxibolin, Weight Trainers, Roids, and Juice.

Use With Other Drugs

Anabolic steroids may be used along with stimulants, depressants, pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs and other hormones to offset the side effects of steroids that can further increase the chances of adverse reactions.

Extent Of Use

In recent decades, there has been an increase in the use of drugs and other substances at almost every level of sport for the purpose and in the name of performance enhancement. The use of anabolic steroids is still very common among amateur and professional athletes despite the fact that global, state, and even smaller sports communities have well established anti-doping standards and initiatives applying to all levels of sport.

Statistics and Trends

2012 Monitoring the Future (MTF) study: for 8th-graders, 10th graders, and 12th graders (in percent)*

Time period 8th- Graders 10th- Graders 12th- Graders
Steroids Lifetime 1.2 1.3 1.8
Past Year 0.6 0.8 1.3
Past Month 0.3 0.4 0.9

* Data in brackets indicate statistically significant change from the previous year.

Source: Drugabuse.gov

Availability And Methods Of Use

Anabolic androgenic steroids are available for purchase and use in different forms depending on the form of administration, dose, and method of use. These drugs may be taken orally, via intramuscular or subcutaneous injections, or in the form of tablets, nasal sprays, skin patches, and creams.

Common Ways Of Taking Steroids

Cycling, pyramiding, and stacking are three popular ways by which steroids are taken.

Cycling refers to the intake of an anabolic steroid for a definite period of time and then stopping the use for the body to rest and then reinitiating the use. Stacking refers to the use of more than one type of steroid with an assumption that two or more steroids at a time increase the effectiveness of each, while pyramiding combines the cycling and stacking wherein one or more anabolic steroids are used in low doses initially and the dosages are increased gradually until halfway through the cycle where the dosages are maximized and then tapered to zero by the end of the cycle.

Sources Of Information About Anabolic Steroids

The most common sources of information about anabolic steroids are printed material (books and magazines), parents, coaches, friends, trainers, gym personnel, dealers, and siblings while many young people are introduced to anabolic steroids by acquaintances, friends, and gym partners. Anabolic steroid use may start because these people are overly concerned with their body image, feel peer pressure, don’t believe that steroids are dangerous to use, or believe their competitors use steroids.

Effects On Performance

The use of steroids leads to dramatic, smooth and nearly permanent increases in terms of muscle mass, size, and function. Steroids are also used to lose or gain weight and promote faster recovery after intense workouts or injuries. The use of these extremely potent drugs is also associated with improvements in the levels of body strength, endurance, ability to handle intense workouts, protein synthesis, nitrogen retention, oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, count of red blood cells, and on-field performance.

Anabolic androgenic steroids are purported to increase lean body mass, strength, and aggressiveness and also reduce recovery time between workouts and exercise sessions that makes it possible to train harder and thereby further enhance strength and endurance.

Warning Signs Of Steroid Use

The possible red flags of anabolic steroid use include:

  1. Increased acne and facial bloating
  2. Enlarged breasts in boys or smaller breasts in girls
  3. Persistent bad breath
  4. Skin eruptions and infections
  5. Increased aggression or irritability
  6. Hair loss in bed, shower, comb, or brush
  7. Small red or purplish acne
  8. Depression, hallucinations, extreme feelings of mistrust or fear
  9. Drastic appetite shifts
  10. Loss or gain of interest in friends and decline in grades
  11. Unexplained presence or recovery of needles, vials, alcohol swabs, rubber tops and stoppers, syringes, amp openers, sterile injectable oils, waters, or vitamins
  12. Phone conversations becoming more private
  13. Changes in body build, including development of the upper body, muscle growth, and rapid weight gain
  14. Behavioral, emotional, or psychological changes
  15. Needle marks in the buttocks or thighs

Effects On Mind

Many studies have suggested that testosterone and anabolic steroids affect the functioning of the central nervous system (CNS). It has also been revealed that many people who administer excessively high doses of anabolic steroids tend to experience mood, sexuality, and aggression changes during or after the use of these drugs, though these effects may be rapid or involve long-term modifications at the genomic level.

Steroids affect the serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitter systems of the brain and Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid, can alter the response of the dopamine system to stimulating drugs while some androgenic compounds can directly activate the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Extreme doses or abuse of steroids in the long-term can lead to programmed cell death in several cell types, including neurons, which may result in irreversible neurological changes. These drugs can even disrupt the normal development of aggression circuits in the brain and may even induce biological and behavioral changes, which may persist long after the use of anabolic steroids is stopped.

However, it is important to note that these changes generally became more prominent as the doses are increased, but they do not manifest uniformly among all users of anabolic steroids.

Effects On Body

Anabolic steroids can change the messages sent by the hypothalamus (a group of nerve cells at the base of the brain) to the body. The Hypothalamus helps in controlling appetite, blood pressure, moods, and reproductive ability. A change in its messages to the body can disrupt normal hormone function.

In males, steroids may interfere with the normal production of the primary sex hormone, testosterone, and may have a direct, negative effect on the testes and cause them to shrink that may further cause a lower sperm count and reproductive ability and even irreversible loss of scalp hair.

Females using anabolic steroids may experience irregularities in menstrual cycles as steroids may act on both the hypothalamus and reproductive organs that may further cause growth of body and facial hair, loss of scalp hair, and deepening of the voice.

Legal Status

The sale or possession of anabolic steroids without a valid medical prescription is illegal in most countries. Simple possession of illicitly-obtained steroids in the United States carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a minimum fine of $1,000, if this is the first drug offense of an individual. An individual dealing in trafficking of steroids under the US laws may be punished with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 if it is the first felony drug offense of the individual. In the case of second felony, the maximum period of imprisonment and the maximum fine both double.

The ergogenic uses (any external influence that can be determined to improve performance in high-intensity exercises) for anabolic steroids in sports are referred to as doping. The use of anabolic androgenic steroids by athletes is banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and many professional sports leagues (e.g. Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Football League (NFL), and National Hockey League). Most professional sports leagues use urine testing to detect the use of steroids, both in and out of competition.

Adverse Effects

Just like any other drug, anabolic androgenic steroids can circulate throughout the bloodstream and may exert different effects on different parts of the body.

Some of the most common negative effects of these drugs are cardiovascular disorders like high blood pressure, increased risk for heart attack, irregular heartbeat, blood clots, and heart muscle enlargement. The abuse of anabolic androgenic steroids may even lead to hepatobiliary disorders like liver failure or toxicity and cholestasis (backing up of bile in liver) or liver cancer in rare cases. Abuse of these drugs may also lead to skin disorders like alopecia, stretch marks, and acne or hormonal and reproductive disorders like infertility, early puberty, testicular atrophy, male pattern baldness, gynecomastia, excessive body hair growth, reduced breast size, masculinization of facial characteristics, amenorrhea, and enlarged prostate.

Side effects in Males Side effects in Females
Testicular atrophy Infertility
Breast and prostate enlargement Menstrual irregularities
Sterility Enlargement of the clitoris
Loss of sexual desire Growth of facial hair, deepened voice

Abuse of anabolic steroids could even result in musculoskeletal disorders like tendon ruptures and stunted growth or behavioral and personality disorders (mania, psychosis, withdrawal symptoms, depression and suicidal tendencies, increased aggression, psychological dependence, and Polypharmacy) and abuse of other drugs. It may also lead to complications like systemic and local infections, nerve injury and paralysis, local scarring, tissue damage, and HIV/Hepatitis B or C transmission.

How Can Steroid Abuse Be Avoided

The abuse of anabolic androgenic steroids can be prevented or at least minimized by following:

  1. Regular, positive, and honest communication with athletes
  2. Timely recognition of the signs and symptoms of anabolic steroid use
  3. Promotion of healthy alternatives and activities
  4. Honest, fair, and ethical role models
  5. Parental cooperation
  6. Abiding by rules
  7. Positive peer pressure
  8. Enforcement of training rules
  9. Use of steroids only for legal purposes and the purchase only with a medical prescription
  10. Use of these drugs only as per medical recommendations
  11. Public education programs and prevention programs
  12. Parents, coaches, and teachers talking to children and others about steroid use
  13. Treating sports as a platform to grow and not to prosper by cheating

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Written by
Albert Wolfgang is a professional medical writer with over 20 years of experience. He hold multiple personal training certifications, including the coveted NASM and AFAA certificates. He graduated with honors with a B.S. and M.S. in biochemistry with a minor in physical studies. Albert and his team have trained over 100 IFBB professional bodybuilders, including Hollywood stars and many up and coming fitness stars.

1 Comment

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    Good article Wolfgang, but I would like to add a bit. I believe the first thing in the article should be a DISCLAIMER: Most people don’t need to use steroids, as they can get good results naturally.

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