What are steroids?
Generic and trade names: oxymotholone (Anadrol),
methan¬drostenolone (Dianobol), stanozolol (Winstrol), nandrolone
decanoate (Deca-Durabolin), testosterone cypionate (Depo-Testosterone),
boldenone undecylenate (Equipoise) and others
Street names: the juice, the white stuff, roids
Many kinds of steroids occur naturally in various hormones and
vitamins. Drugs known as “anabolic steroids” are made in laboratories
and have the same chemical structure as the steroids found in the male
sex hormone testosterone. The muscle-building (anabolic) and
masculinizing (androgenic) effects of these drugs make them appealing to
athletes and bodybuilders.
The primary use of anabolic steroids is to promote growth in farm
animals. In humans they are sometimes prescribed to treat delayed
puberty, some types of impotence and wasting of the body caused by AIDS
and other diseases.
Steroidal “supplements,” such as dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), are
converted into testosterone or a similar compound in the body. Although
little research has been done on steroidal supplements, if taken in
large quantities, they likely produce the same effects and the same
side-effects as anabolic steroids.
Where do steroids come from?
Anabolic steroids manufactured by pharmaceutical companies are
available legally only by prescription. Most steroids used by athletes
are smuggled, stolen or made in illegal labs. Veterinary drugs are often
What do steroids look like and how are they used?
Anabolic steroids come in the form of tablets, capsules, a solution
for injection and a cream or gel to rub into the skin. Weightlifters and
bodybuilders who use steroids often take doses that are up to 100 times
greater than those used to treat medical conditions.
Regimented methods of taking steroids are believed to enhance the
effects of these drugs and lessen harm to the body. However, there is no
scientific evidence to back up these claims. Such methods include the
- Cycling: a period of taking and then not taking the drugs in the
belief that the drug-free cycle allows the body to recover normal
- Pyramiding: taking doses in cycles of six to 12 weeks, starting with
a low dose, then slowly increasing it, and then decreasing the amount
to zero, believing this allows the body time to adjust to the high doses
- Stacking: taking two or more types of steroids, mixing oral and
injectable forms, believing the different drugs interact to have greater
Who uses steroids?
Most anabolic steroid use is non-medical. The
main users are athletes—to improve their performance—and bodybuilders
and young men—to develop a more muscular appearance. Steroid use has
also been found among people who have experienced abuse or assault who
wish to build muscles in order to protect themselves better.
Steroid use is banned by the International
Olympic Com mittee and many other amateur and professional sports
organizations. But because drug testing is costly, tests of professional
athletes are generally “random,” and are often preceded by a warning.
Regular mandatory testing is standard only at the international level of
A 2011 survey of Ontario students in grades 7
to 12 reported that 1.2 per cent had used anabolic steroids at least
once. A 2004 survey of Canadians (aged 15+) reported that 0.6 per cent
had used anabolic steroids at least once.
How do steroids make you feel?
Steroids can produce a variety of psychological effects ranging from
euphoria to hostility. Some people who take steroids say the drugs make
them feel powerful and energetic. However, steroids are also known to
increase irritability, anxiety and aggression and cause mood swings,
manic symptoms and paranoia, particularly when taken in high doses.
doses, especially when taken orally, cause nausea, vomiting and gastric
irritation. Other effects include fluid retention and trembling.
Are steroids dangerous?
Yes. Taking high doses of steroids increases risk of:
- enlargement and abnormalities of the heart, blood clots, high
blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Steroid-related heart failure
has occurred in athletes younger than 30.
- aggression and violence (“roid rage”)
- negative personality change, mania and depression;depression may persist for a year after drug use is stopped
- hepatitis, liver enlargement and liver cancer
- reduced fertility in both women and men
- tendon ruptures, cessation of growth in adolescents
- hepatitis or HIV if steroids are injected using shared needles, and infections if steroids are injected with dirty needles.
Are steroids addictive?
Yes, they can be. Addiction to steroids differs from many other drugs
in that tolerance to the effects does not develop. However, some people
who abuse steroids meet criteria for drug dependence in that they:
- continue to take steroids, even when they experience negative physical or emotional effects
- spend large amounts of time and money obtaining the drugs
- experience withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue,
restlessness, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive
and the desire to take more steroids.
What are the long-term effects of taking steroids?
Some of the effects of steroids disappear when drug use is stopped,
but others are permanent. The effects of long-term use include:
- acne, cysts, oily hair and skin, and thinning scalp hair in both sexes
- feminization in men, including permanent breast development
- testicle shrinking, difficulty or pain urinating and increased risk of prostate cancer in men
- masculinization in women, including breast size and body fat
reduction, coarsening of the skin, enlargement of the clitoris,
deepening of the voice, excessive growth of body hair, loss of scalp
hair and changes or cessation of the menstrual cycle; with long-term
use, some of these effects may be permanent
- in children or adolescents, the high levels of testosterone stop bone growth, preventing them from ever growing to full height
- aggression and violence; personality changes revert when drug use is stopped.
Copyright (c) 2003, 2012 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Where can I find help, treatment and support for taking steroids?
Treatment and support are available for people living with drug use problems and addiction:
Treatment from CAMH
Help for Families from CAMH
Ontario Drug and Alcohol Helpline (open 24/7) for treatment anywhere in Ontario
Where can I find more resources from CAMH related to steroids?
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