The steroids governed by schedules of controlled substances are anabolic steroids. Anabolic substances build up parts of living organisms, as opposed to catabolic substances, which decompose those parts. Anabolic steroids are abused mainly by persons desiring to increase muscle mass, such as competitive athletes and body builders. Steroids can improve muscle strength in females and in castrated males, but scientific evidence is weaker for intact males.
Still, steroids do seem to promote muscle mass, endurance, and overall athletic performance while dosage continues. Some scientists suspect that any performance enhancement experienced from anabolic steroids comes not from muscle power but from psychological effects, with the drugs increasing a user’s aggressiveness. Anabolic steroids can produce mania, anger, impulsiveness, euphoria, and feelings of invincibility—a combination that may lead some users into harmful social interactions. The combination can produce other types of unwise behavior as well, such as extravagant expenditures of money and taking reckless physical risks. Reports exist of paranoia and hallucinations developing while using steroids and disappearing when steroid usage is stopped.
Sports governing authorities banned the use of anabolic steroids by competitors. Some athletes ignore the ban in hopes of avoiding detection. Various other drugs are prohibited as well, but in 1988 most of the failed drug tests ordered by the International Olympic Committee revealed anabolic steroids, the most common one being nandrolone. Below that elite level, athletic use of steroids seems uncommon. In the 1990s a study involving 58,625 college students found only 175 steroid takers to study. That small group also had a much higher consumption of other drugs, legal and illegal, than the average student—suggesting that the steroid abusers were predisposed to use drugs for coping with all sorts of life situations, not just sports. Similar association of steroids with other illicit drug usage is found at the high school level.
High school steroid statistics are often based on the concept of “lifetime use.” Lifetime use means a person has taken a steroid at least once, which is not the same as regularly taking them. The number of regular users will be much smaller than the number of “lifetime” users.
Anabolic steroids are related to testosterone. Most, if not all, are androgens, substances promoting male characteristics. A female who uses those drugs may develop facial hair and a deeper voice, along with unwanted changes in sexual organs. In a young person who is still growing, androgens can prematurely halt further growth and thereby cause a smaller adult stature.
Among persons of either gender and any age, androgens may alter blood composition and increase the body’s retention of various minerals. That retention is not necessarily good. For example, sodium retention promotes bloating and can be inadvisable for persons with heart trouble. Liver damage and reduction of male fertility may occur due to anabolic steroids. Extended use of the substance may worsen cholesterol levels, thereby narrowing blood vessels, and such narrowing promotes heart attack and stroke years later. Steroid abusers tend to take far higher doses than are considered medically safe, thus further increasing the risks. Oral and slow-release under-the-skin implant formats of anabolic steroids can be processed in ways that will physically permit them to be injected. Such a practice is highly dangerous, as noninjectable formats of drugs have components that are not designed for direct introduction into the bloodstream.
Anabolic steroid dependence is reported with withdrawal symptoms that can include weariness and depression. Use by a pregnant woman can permanently masculinize a female fetus.
For information about specific anabolic steroids, see alphabetical listings for: boldenone, ethylestrenol, fluoxymesterone, methandriol, methandrostenolone, methyltestosterone, nandrolone, oxandrolone, oxymetholone, stanozolol, testolactone, testosterone, and trenbolone.