Drug Facts – Steroids


Anabolic steroids were developed in the late 1930s primarily to treat hypogonadism, a condition in which the testes do not produce sufficient testosterone for normal growth, development, and sexual functioning. The primary medical uses of these compounds are to treat delayed puberty, some types of impotence, and wasting of the body caused by HIV infection or other diseases.

During the 1930s, scientists discovered that anabolic steroids could facilitate the growth of skeletal muscle in laboratory animals. This led to abuse of these compounds by bodybuilders and weightlifters and then by athletes in other sports.

Anabolic steroids can be taken orally, injected intramuscularly, or rubbed on the skin when in the form of gels or creams. These drugs are often used in patterns called cycling, which involves taking multiple doses of steroids over a specific period of time, stopping for a period, and starting again. Users also frequently combine several different types of steroids in a process known as stacking. By doing this, users believe that the different steroids will interact to produce an effect on muscle size that is greater than the effects of using each drug individually.

Another mode of steroid use is “pyramiding.” This is a process in which users slowly escalate steroid use (increasing the number of drugs used at one time and/or the dose and frequency of one or more steroids) reaching a peak amount at mid-cycle and gradually tapering the dose toward the end of the cycle.

Extent of Use

Results from the 2008 Monitoring the Future Study, which surveys students in eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades, show that 1.4% of eighth graders, 1.4% of tenth graders, and 2.2% of twelfth graders reported using steroids at least once in their lifetimes.

Regarding the ease by which one can obtain steroids, 16.8% of eighth graders, 24.5% of tenth graders, and 35.2% of twelfth graders surveyed in 2008 reported that steroids were “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain. Furthermore, 60.8% of twelfth graders surveyed reported that using steroids was a “great risk.”

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also conducts a survey of high school students throughout the United States, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Nearly 4% of all high school students surveyed by CDC in 2007 reported lifetime use of steroid pills/shots without a doctor’s prescription.

Approximately 0.6% of college students and 1.7% of young adults (ages 19–28) surveyed in 2007 reported lifetime use of steroids.

Health Effects

Anabolic steroid abuse has been associated with a wide range of adverse side effects ranging from some that are physically unattractive, such as acne and breast development in men, to others that are life threatening. Most of the effects are reversible if the abuser stops taking the drug, but some can be permanent. In addition to the physical effects, anabolic steroids can also cause increased irritability and aggression.

Some of the health consequences that can occur in both males and females include liver cancer, heart attacks, and elevated cholesterol levels. In addition to this, steroid use among adolescents may prematurely stop the lengthening of bones resulting in stunted growth.

People who inject steroids also run the risk of contracting or transmitting hepatitis or HIV.13 Some steroid abusers experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug. These withdrawal symptoms include mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, and depression. This depression can lead to suicide attempts, and if left untreated, can persist for a year or more after the abuser stops taking the drugs.

Production & Trafficking

Illicit anabolic steroids are often sold at gyms, competitions, and through mail operations after being smuggled into this country.15 The most common sources for obtaining steroids for illegal use are Internet purchases and smuggling them into the U.S. from other countries such as Mexico and European countries. These countries do not require a prescription for the purchase of steroids, making it easier to smuggle them.16 In addition to this, steroids are also illegally diverted from U.S. pharmacies or synthesized in clandestine laboratories.


Concerns over a growing illicit market and prevalence of abuse combined with the possibility of harmful long-term effects of steroid use led Congress to place anabolic steroids into Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1991.18 It is therefore illegal to possess or sell anabolic steroids without a valid prescription. Some States have also implemented additional fines and penalties for illegal use of anabolic steroids.

The International Olympic Committee, National Collegiate Athletic Association and many professional sports leagues (including the Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Football League, and National Hockey League), have banned the use of steroids by athletes due to their potentially dangerous side effects and because they give the user an unfair advantage.