What are anabolic steroids?
Anabolic steroids are drugs that help the growth and repair of muscle tissue. They are synthetic hormones that imitate male sex hormones, specifically testosterone. They can increase lean muscle mass, strength and endurance, but only if used in conjunction with certain exercise and diet regimes. They can also help people reduce fat and recover quicker from injury. Anabolic steroids are classed as performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs). These substances are taken by people with the intention of improving their physical appearance or enhancing their sporting performance.
Corticosteroids are a class of drug used to treat inflammatory arthritis and other inflammatory conditions such as asthma. They are commonly referred to as “steroids,” and people often believe them to be the same thing as anabolic steroids.
How are they used?
Anabolic steroids can be injected or taken as a tablet.
Roids, gear or juice
Who uses anabolic steroids and why?
• Competitive athletes – who are motived by their desire to succeed.
• People concerned about their body image – recreational weight trainers and body builders and people working in the fashion and entertainment industries.
• Body building professionals – people involved in body building as a competitive sport.
• People who need muscle strength to do their job – bodyguards, security personal, construction workers, police and members of the armed services.
• Young men – who want to increase their athletic performance or who are striving to reach the same physical appearance that is often portrayed in the media.
How do they work?
Anabolic steroids work by imitating the properties of naturally occurring hormones. They have a similar chemical composition to testosterone and are therefore able to activate testosterone receptors. Once the receptors are stimulated, a domino effect of metabolic reactions takes place as the drug instructs the body to increase muscle tissue production.
Anabolic steroids are typically taken over a six to 12 week period. This is followed by a break of the same length to prevent muscle cells shutting down in the long term. This is known as cycling. Different anabolic steroids are often combined in a process known as stacking. This is done to achieve effects such as increasing muscle mass, making it leaner and getting greater muscle definition (known as cutting).
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries risk. Generally speaking, people who use anabolic steroids experience an increase in muscle strength very quickly. This means that people are able to train more often and for longer periods of time, with improved recovery. This can lead to a rapid increases in lean muscle tissue but fluid retention is common and can lead to muscles looking soft or bloated. People may use anabolic steroids in what they believe to be a healthy lifestyle context.
They may not see themselves as injecting drug users. However, there are risks associated with using steroids without a prescription or medical supervision, even as part of a fitness training program. In the worst case, long-term heavy steroid use can lead to heart attack, stroke and death, especially among men aged in their early 30s who combine steroids with stimulant drugs, such as speed and ecstasy. Anabolic steroids can also take a toll on personal relationships as they can cause mood swings, a higher sex drive and, in extreme cases, violent behaviour, especially when combined with alcohol. They can ruin sporting careers, with positive tests potentially resulting in fines, suspensions and bans from competitive sports. On a more superficial level, steroids can lead to premature baldness in men.
Anabolic steroids affect everyone differently.
The following may be experienced:
• Water retention – leading to facial bloating
• Acne – leading to permanent scarring
• Irritability and mood swings
• More frequent colds
• Aggression and violence
• Increased sex drive
• Sleeping difficulties
Longer-term effects may include:
• Liver damage
• Kidney or prostate cancer
• High blood pressure
• Cardiovascular complications
• Tendon/ ligament damage
• Reduced sperm count and fertility
• Shrunken testicles
• Gynaecomastia (developing breasts)
• Involuntarily and long-lasting erection
• Facial hair growth
• Irregular periods
• Deepened voice
• Smaller breasts
• Enlarged clitoris
Pregnant women who use steroids risk passing on male traits to unborn daughters due to the increased male hormones in their bloodstream. The only way to avoid the risk of fetal damage is to stop using steroids at least 4 months before falling pregnant, as well as during pregnancy.
Young men are more likely than young women to use steroids to gain weight and muscle mass. The risks of the following side effects are higher if steroids are injected by young men in their late teens/ early 20s, before they have stopped growing:
• Stunted growth
• Premature balding
• Acne scarring
• Stretch marks on chest and arms
• Prematurely-aged, ‘leathery’ skin
• Injuries from excessively intense gym workouts
Injecting steroids can cause permanent nerve damage, which can lead to sciatica. Injecting in unhygienic environments or sharing equipment with others also increases the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, tetanus or Hepatitis C or B.