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Anabolic Steroid Abuse in Teens

In the 2000s, anabolic steroid abuse crept past the world of professional athletes and into that of teens. Today’s teenagers tend to use these substances to achieve their desired body shape, unaware that steroids can lead to addiction. If your child is abusing steroids, seek help before the problem worsens.

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11 min read

What Are Anabolic Steroids?

Steroids were originally created for use in medicine. These synthetic chemicals are mostly designed to mimic the actions of testosterone (i.e. the male sex hormone) or other naturally-occurring hormones. Upon being injected into certain muscles, anabolic steroids promote the growth of cells — they’re utilized to reverse muscle loss caused by some diseases, and treat issues stemming from hormone problems or delayed puberty. But today, they’re perhaps most well-known for being a shortcut to physical strength and stamina, used illegally by athletes. Several superstar athletes from Barry Bonds to Lance Armstrong, have been caught “doping” on steroids or similar drugs — synthetic human growth hormones — to maximize their performance.

Steroid abuse has seeped into schools across the country. Kids have taken to abusing steroids by the thousands — and as early as middle school. Reports of rampant steroid use among students have caused schools across the U.S. to reconsider their drug testing policies, particularly among student athletes. Your teen may consider experimenting with these drugs to get ahead in school sports or to look more “buff” in general. And as of 2014, 1 in 5 teens say they know somebody who uses steroids, and 25% of 12th graders claim they could easily obtain these drugs.

Popular Street Names

For secrecy, kids often use nicknames for drugs. The most common slang term for anabolic steroids is “roids.” This shortening is also used in describing the side effect that causes some users to become violent and short-tempered (“roid rage”). Steroids and synthetic growth hormones are legal when prescribed by doctors, but teens seeking out these substances on their own usually have to go through drug dealers. Over the last several decades, the underground steroid scene has boomed as at-home chemists have learned to create steroids on their own. They then work with dealers to sell it on the streets — as well as in school locker rooms.

Other than testosterone, commonly abused anabolic steroids are:

  • Trenbolone
  • Methandrostenolone
  • Nandrolone
  • Boldenone
  • Stanozolol
  • Androstenedione
  • Mestanolone
  • Decanoate
  • Methyltestosterone
  • Oxandrolone
  • Oxymetholone

Teens who “juice” (another term for using these drugs) may use a number of street names for steroids. These might include:

  • Arnolds
  • Gym Candy
  • Pumpers
  • Stackers
  • Weight trainers
  • Gear
  • Test (testosterone)
  • Winnie (Winstrol or stanozolol)
  • A-bombs (Anadrol-50 or oxymetholone)

Facts About Steroid Abuse

Young teenage man weightlifting

Some of the statistics related to steroid abuse are alarming. In the span of one year (2012–2013), the number of U.S. high schoolers who claimed to have used steroids at some point jumped from 5% to 7%, and the number who said they’ve used synthetic growth hormones (also called synthetic HGH) more than doubled — from 5% to 11%.

To meet this new demand, several companies began marketing “fitness-enhancing” over-the-counter products that specifically mention HGH or some variation of the term. These performance-enhancing substances became especially popular online, and are marketed mostly to young people looking to get big in a hurry. Many of these products deliver false promises, but some have been found to contain traces of anabolic steroids, and thus are being illegally sold over the counter. In 2013, 22% of teens said they were aware of steroids and synthetic HGH being sold online.

“It’s what you get when you combine aggressive promotion from for-profit companies with a vulnerable target — kids who want a quick fix and don’t care about health risk. It’s a very easy sell, unfortunately.”

Travis TygartCEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency

It’s estimated that 1.5 million kids in the U.S. have tried steroids, with thousands more abusing synthetic HGH without prescriptions. This doesn’t account for the millions of young people buying performance-enhancing supplements that cause unnatural changes to their body — sometimes with undesirable side effects. Depending on the preparation of the drug, steroids are either taken by injection, swallowed in a capsule or tablet, or applied as a gel or cream. Users (or “juicers”) typically take doses 10–100 times higher than the doses used to treat medical conditions, and in many cases, they take more than one steroid at a time — a dangerous process called “stacking.”

Commonly Mixed Drugs

Alcohol is the most common substance that’s combined with steroids. Approximately 70% of people who currently use steroids for nonmedical reasons met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder within the past year, and users are 6 times more likely to have operated a vehicle after binge drinking in the past 30 days. Abuse of cigarettes and other illicit drugs is also significantly associated with lifetime steroids use. Anabolic steroid users are 12 times more likely to have used cocaine in the past month. According to one study, around 77% of steroid users report using at least one other illicit drug, including nonmedical use of prescription drugs.

“There’s so much pressure on winning. It’s tough for these kids to stay true to themselves.”

Tyler HamiltonOlympic cyclist who was asked to return his gold medal after testing positive for doping

Male college students (particularly athletes) are the most at-risk for simultaneous use of steroids and other drugs. But more often than not, substance issues begin prior to college. Left unaddressed, these habits can worsen and pave the way for additional problems with drugs and alcohol

Where Do Teens Get Steroids?

A number of steroids are handed out by doctors, for boys who are “late bloomers,” for teens failing to grow and for those with debilitating injuries or muscle loss from diseases. They are only available by prescription — that being said, many teens prescribed steroids will resell them among classmates. This is the same way thousands of teens access and get addicted to prescription pills.

Increasingly, drug dealers are selling steroids and synthetic HGH alongside other illicit drugs. Your teen may find them through word of mouth, or by asking classmates on their school’s sports teams. A growing number of dietary or “body building” supplements are unlawfully including growth hormones and leaving the information off the label. With access to the Internet, your son or daughter can easily track down these products through search engines or online forums. Monitor your teen’s web usage to ensure they’re not looking for steroids — or other drugs, for that matter — online.

Symptoms of Steroid Abuse

If your teen is using steroids or other growth hormones, you may not notice the signs right away. But the longer they use, you should be able to notice obvious changes to their behavior and appearance. The sooner you can identify a possible problem, the quicker you can get help. Symptoms of steroid abuse can include the following:

  • Change in weight
  • Abnormal increases in muscle mass
  • Working out an unhealthy amount
  • Increased appetite
  • Appearance of acne
  • Missing school or other obligations
  • Becoming irritable or hostile
  • Acting violent towards others or themselves
  • An unhealthy amount of competitiveness or envy

Talk with their friends or teachers if you notice worrisome signs. Speak with a doctor and discuss the symptoms you’ve noticed. You may also find paraphernalia of these substances in your teen’s bedroom, laundry, car, school supplies or garbage can. These items may include needles and empty pill bottles or packages.

Effects of Steroid Abuse

A teenage man using steroids

Anabolic steroids can seriously alter your teen’s body and mind, and the effects are sometimes irreversible. Because users may take excess amounts for faster results, these potentially extreme side effects can develop overnight. Steroid users are often so blinded by their endgoal — gaining a certain number of pounds or winning the big game — that they ignore the obvious consequences and continue to use.

Effects on the Body

Both steroids and synthetic HGH target the body, first and foremost. These drugs put the muscles into overdrive and make the user’s organs work overtime to keep up. The wear and tear caused by this process can be immense. Physical side effects of these substances might include:

  • Stunted growth
  • Severe acne
  • Liver problems, including cancer
  • Kidney problems or failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in blood cholesterol
  • Heart attack or stroke (even in young users)

Some additional physical side effects of steroid use are gender-specific. In males:

  • Increased risk for prostate cancer
  • Low sperm count
  • Possible infertility
  • Breast growth
  • Shrinking of testicles

In females:

  • Excess facial hair
  • Male-pattern baldness
  • Changes in menstrual cycle
  • Deepening of voice
  • Enlargement of clitoris

Though steroid abuse is usually associated with males, females experiment with these drugs at an equally alarming rate, and are, in fact, the fastest-growing users of steroids. Around 2.5% of females have tried anabolic steroids at least once (nearly 200,000 young women in the U.S.). In addition to using them for athletic purposes, girls are also using steroids as weight-loss supplements. They may be perceived as safe compared to some illicit drugs, but teens who abuse steroids risk death with a steroid habit — both from possible heart attacks and from HIV or other infections related to sharing needles.

Effects on the Brain

Steroids take their toll on a young man

Steroids affect the brain — in particular, the brain’s limbic system (responsible for controlling mood). Long-term steroid use is commonly associated with an inability to control mood — this results in mood swings, aggression and increased levels of hostility (also called “roid rage”). A desire to experiment with anabolic steroids, or continue using for a long period of time, may result from or result in mood disorders, eating disorders, depression or other co-occurring mental health disorders.

Other psychological effects of steroid abuse can include:

  • Paranoia
  • Jealousy
  • Delusions (i.e. believing something that isn’t true)
  • Feeling invincible

Addiction and Withdrawal

A young woman working out

Just like so-called “hard” illicit drugs, anabolic steroids have a great potential for addiction. Teens who seek out steroids or growth hormones to get fit can become obsessive in their pursuit. Once they begin, no amount of muscle mass will be enough to please them — and because proper dieting and exercise are often bypassed, these users often become dependent on the steroids to maintain their newfound mass and improved self-image. It quickly develops into a vicious cycle, and usually doesn’t end well — addicts go broke and behave erratically, losing friends along the way and possibly getting in trouble with either their school or law enforcement.

If a teenager is battling a drug dependency and attempts to stop, they may experience a steroid withdrawal — painful side effects that can last for days or weeks. This withdrawal is another major reason that addicts continue using steroids in spite of negative consequences. Withdrawal symptoms of steroid addiction can include:

  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Intense cravings
  • Depression

Steroid withdrawal has been linked to clinical depression. When this is paired with the irrational fear of losing the new muscle they’ve gained, the result can be so overpowering that it can lead to a steroid user harming themselves — or even committing suicide. Steroid-induced depression has been known to last for a year or more, even after the user kicks the habit. Addiction treatment and substance abuse counseling offer teens struggling with steroids abuse the best chance to get clean with minimal side effects.

Does My Teenager Need Rehab?

If you notice signs that your teenager has been abusing any substance — including steroids — take action right away. This situation can get ugly if it’s not addressed swiftly. In some cases of drug addiction, rehab is the only way to get your child healthy again, but only a professional can determine whether this is necessary. That said, your first step is to reach out to a treatment professional such as an addiction counselor, or make an appointment with your doctor. Our recovery advisors here at TeenRehabCenter.org are also available to speak with you any time, free of cost. We can help you figure out what exactly is happening with your child, and help you weigh any necessary substance abuse treatment options.

We have helped many parents in your shoes, who have wondered if their child was abusing substances. We’ve seen that family involvement is a huge indicator of success in recovery, so don’t wait to dive in and address this, whatever the situation may be. Begin by calling us — it’s free, private and obligation-free. Let’s get the ball rolling.

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