While the majority of people who use steroids are people in their twenties or thirties, a significant number of people start using steroids in their teenage years. About 22% of people using anabolic steroids started using them as teenagers.
Steroids are a class of drugs normally given by prescription to regulate levels of natural hormones in the body. Steroids may be legally prescribed to treat the following conditions:
- Certain mood disorders associated with hormone levels
- Delayed puberty
- Impaired sexual performance
- Low bone strength
- Low testosterone
- Prevention of muscle loss
So why would someone take steroids without a prescription? People abuse steroids as a shortcut to building muscle or as a method to “fix” a perceived flaw in their appearance.
While the primary effect of steroids is to build muscle quickly, some people with body image issues abuse steroids to correct their perceived flaws.
What Are Steroids?
Steroids are synthetic hormones intended to treat diseases that involve low testosterone or other hormones. Drug abuse means using them without a prescription or in a way different than the prescription is written. Steroids are considered to be appearance and performance-enhancing drugs (APED).
Illicit steroid use will produce two different types of effects: anabolic and androgenic. The desired effects of steroids are the anabolic ones, which are abnormal and fast muscle growth. Androgenic effects are those that abnormally increase masculine characteristics — they are usually an unwanted side effect.
Examples of different types of steroids, listed by brand (with their generic form) include the following:
- Anadrol (oxymetholone)
- Deca-Durabolin (nandrolone decanoate)
- Depo-Testosterone (testosterone cypionate)
- Dianabol (methandrostenolone)
- Durabolin (nandrolone phenpropionate)
- Equipoise (boldenone undecylenate)
- Oxandrin (oxandrolone)
- Winstrol (stanozolol)
Some steroids are designed for human use but others, like Equipoise, are designed for horses. Veterinary offices are sometimes broken into by people looking to steal steroids to use or sell on the street.
Some common street names for steroids include:
- Gym gandy
- Weight trainers
Street names are used because they are easier to remember than the chemical names and using slang masks steroid use in front of others. For example, if you overhear someone talking about “juice” they can claim they were talking about a nutritional supplement or juice shake.
Teen Steroid Facts and Statistics
Between the years of 2007 and 2017, the overall steroid use rate among teenagers was relatively low compared to other drugs used by teens during that time. However, since many surveys do not ask about steroids specifically, these use rates might be artificially low.
Twelfth graders report the highest amount of steroid abuse, at just above 1%. 10th graders and 8th graders report steroid use at just below 1% for each group.
Who Uses Steroids?
Steroid use is more common among males. A significant number of females are on steroids as well, especially those in competitive sporting events. Women with diseases of perception (i.e., they believe their body is flawed) may use steroids as well.
Another group that commonly abuses steroids are victims of physical or sexual assault. Steroid use may be a way of regaining some sense of control for victims of assault.
Why Do Teens Use Steroids?
Teens use steroids for different reasons, such as to be more competitive in sporting events or to resolve problems of self-perception or self-esteem.
For teens involved in competitive sporting events, steroids cut back on time spent in the gym training for events. A quick injection can produce the same results that their peers achieve who are working for hours every day to build muscle.
For teens struggling with self-esteem, they may feel that steroids can resolve their perceived flaws and teen body image issues. This belief might work at first, but they may not realize that steroids can lead to several side effects that are unflattering, like abnormal body hair growth, baldness or breast growth in males.
In addition to changing how the body looks and feels, steroids also have negative side effects for organs like the kidneys, liver and the heart.
Effects of Steroids on Teens
Steroids can have permanent, negative side effects, including:
- Heart problems, including heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Kidney damage
- Liver disease
- Problems with cholesterol
- Stunted growth
Damage to organs like the kidneys and liver can result in permanent injuries.
If someone takes steroids to fix a problem with self-image, some cosmetic side effects may cause more psychological damage in the long run.
High School Drug Testing Debate
Many people may not know that there is a debate around whether schools should have mandatory drug testing. In 1995, the United States Supreme Court ruled that random drug testing of high school athletes is constitutional. They have not made any similar rulings on whether testing of non-athletes is constitutional.
Some argue that testing would make students safer. They argue that catching early drug use would allow for early treatment and intervention. They also claim that random drug testing discourages drug use because it gives teens a reason to “say no.” Random drug testing would also discourage unfair competition in sports.
Opponents to the rule claim that random drug testing is a violation of privacy for students, that random drug testing is financially unreasonable in an already strained economy and that drug testing is not an effective deterrent to stop drug abuse. Additionally, these people believe that students will switch to more harmful drugs, like inhalants, that cannot be detected in urine.
Since steroids are not a part of a standard drug use urinalysis, steroid use falls outside of this debate and testing specific to steroids would need to be implemented. Steroid testing is expensive and may cost several hundred dollars per student per test.
Signs That A Teen is Using Steroids
The most obvious sign of steroid use in teens is a rapid and unexplained gain in muscle mass.
Changes from steroid use should not be confused with normal signs of puberty. Growth spurts, for example, are not indicators of steroid use. Possible symptoms should be carefully considered. Parents should speak with a medical professional if they have any questions.
Some signs of steroid use are specific to boys or girls. Boys may experience some of the following side effects of steroid use:
- Breast growth
- Low sperm count
- Testicles shrinking
Girls experience symptoms a little differently because they have less testosterone, to begin with. Symptoms of steroid use more common in girls include:
- Body and facial hair growth
- Menstrual cycle changes
- Voice deepening
If someone stops using steroids, they will probably experience symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal happens with any drug that causes dependence. Regular steroid use causes changes to the body that can encourage addiction. In the case of steroids, a person may become addicted to the positive feelings they get from an improved body image. Side effects and withdrawal symptoms may then negatively impact that body image, leading to cravings.
Teen addiction is a cycle that involves compulsively taking a drug to alleviate symptoms of withdrawal, even to the detriment of other aspects of one’s life like work, school or financial obligations.
Symptoms of steroid withdrawal may include:
- Depression and mood symptoms
- Increased tiredness
- Lowered appetite
- Lowered sex drive
- Restlessness or irritability
- Trouble sleeping
If your child struggles with a substance use disorder that developed from their desire to fit in, help is available. Contact Next Generation Village to speak with a representative about how professional addiction treatment can address a substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health disorders. Your teen deserves a healthier future, call today.
Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.