There are several different types of steroids, but the type that teenagers are most likely to misuse are anabolic-androgenic steroids. Teenage athletes and steroids are commonly associated, particularly among weightlifters. Teen steroid misuse and abuse is uncommon, but steroid misuse is associated with dangerous short- and long-term physical and psychological consequences.
What Are Steroids?
Steroids are a broad class of chemicals, including both naturally produced and synthetic steroids. Naturally produced steroids are responsible for a number of crucial functions, including proper development, homeostasis, reducing inflammation and maintaining proper immune system function.
Naturally produced steroids can generally be categorized as androgenic (the metabolic process of building up) and catabolic (the metabolic process of breaking down). Androgenic steroids, like testosterone, build up muscle tissue and increase protein production in the body, while catabolic steroids, like corticosteroids, break down chemicals during normal metabolism. Catabolic steroids are typically not misused or abused by teenagers in the United States.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic steroids that mimic the normal male sex hormone testosterone. Testosterone is an androgenic steroid, and so the synthetic anabolic steroid is called an anabolic-androgenic steroid.
Anabolic steroids do have legitimate medical uses. FDA-approved indications for anabolic steroid use include treatment of genetic abnormalities in boys that result in abnormally low testosterone production (for example, hypogonadism) and supplementation with anabolic-androgenic steroids can allow for normal development. Some types of anemia (a deficiency in red blood cells or red blood cell function) can respond well to anabolic-androgenic steroids and anabolic steroids can help manage symptoms associated with some types of tumors.
There are also legitimate off-label (non-FDA-approved) uses for anabolic-androgenic steroids, including stimulating bone marrow production in people with leukemia, helping to manage symptoms of kidney failure and stimulating appetite and muscle mass in cancer patients and in people suffering from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Why Are Steroids Used By Teens?
Generally speaking, teenagers misuse only one type of steroid: Anabolic-androgenic steroids, commonly known as anabolic steroids. The term anabolic refers to a metabolic process that builds up muscle tissue and allows for a more rapid muscle recovery time, which is why anabolic steroids are so popular among weightlifters. Because anabolic steroids are associated with the male sex hormone testosterone, people who regularly use anabolic steroids (even women) will develop deeper voices, increased facial, body and pubic hair and increased sex drive or libido.
Teens misuse and abuse steroids to gain muscle mass or to improve teen body image. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future survey of 8th, 10th and 12th graders, approximately 1% of teenagers have used steroids at least once and approximately 0.5% of high school students reported having used steroids within 30 days of the survey. The majority of teenagers who abuse steroids are weightlifters but wrestlers, football players and other athletes have also been found to use anabolic steroids.
Common Types of Steroids
The most common steroids that people misuse are anabolic-androgenic steroids. Depending on the type, steroids look like pills or clear liquid in vials.
Common types of oral steroids include (brand names are indicated in parentheses):
- Fluoxymesterone (Halotestin), or “Halo”
- Mesterolone (Proviron)
- Methandienone (Dianabol), or “Dbol”
- Methyltestosterone (Virilon)
- Mibolerone (Cheque)
- Oxandrolone (Anavar, Oxandrin), or “Var”
- Oxymetholone (Anadrol), or “Drol”
- Stanozolol (Winstrol), or “Winny”
Common types of injectable steroids include (brand names are indicated in parentheses):
- Boldenone undecylenate (Equipoise), or “EQ”
- Methenolone enanthate (Primobolan), or “Primo”
- Nandrolone decanoate (Deca Durabolin), or “Deca”
- Nandrolone phenpropionate (Durabolin), or “NPP”
- Testosterone cypionate (Depotest)
- Testosterone enanthate (Andro-Estro)
- Testosterone propionate (Testex)
- Trenbolone acetate (Finajet), or “Tren”
Although it is not a steroid, human growth hormone (HGH) is a commonly abused anabolic product.
Popular street names for steroids include:
- Gym candy
- Weight trainers
There are a few patterns of anabolic steroid misuse that teenagers frequently use in order to limit building up a tolerance or to prepare for a specific event:
- Cycling: Intermittently stopping use
- Stacking: Combining steroid types and/or methods of use
- Pyramiding: Gradually increasing the dose before tapering back to zero
- Plateauing: Alternating, substituting or overlapping steroid types
What Risks Do Teens Face from Using Steroids?
Risks of using anabolic steroids are particularly consequential for teenagers and include short- and long-term physical and psychological damage. Teens who misuse or abuse steroids face unique risks, including stunted growth, which occurs as a consequence of steroid signaling to the body to stop producing growth hormones, and stunted height, especially in children and young adolescents (9 to 14 years old).
Anabolic steroid use is also associated with psychological changes. The term “roid rage” was coined after people who regularly took steroids displayed abnormally erratic and violent behavior. Teenagers and steroids are a particularly risky combination and can have lifelong negative consequences in terms of mental health and wellbeing.
Although steroids are not associated with physical dependence or addiction, psychological dependence or addiction are possible when a teenager uses anabolic steroids regularly.
Short-term synthetic steroid side effects may include:
- Fluid retention
- Painful urination
- Hair loss or growth
- Tendon rupture
- Mood disorders
- Psychological dependence or addiction
- Stunted growth
- For boys: Shrinking testicles, development of breast tissue
- For girls: Shrinking breasts, deepening voice, facial hair
Long-term health consequences of steroid misuse and abuse may include:
- Liver disease
- Muscle damage
- Cardiovascular disease
- Kidney damage
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Kidney disease
- Sudden cardiac death
Steroids and Alcohol
Although steroids and alcohol are typically not purposefully co-used, the risk of combining steroids and alcohol can result in serious negative consequences. Steroid use may also increase the risk of teenage drinking or other substance use.
Co-using alcohol and steroids is not associated with increased intoxication or a pleasurable “high,” but risks of liver damage, cardiovascular or gastrointestinal problems and psychological disorders like psychosis, depression and suicidal thoughts or actions are increased when teens co-use anabolic steroids and alcohol.
Talking to Teens About Steroid Abuse
The teenage years can be very challenging and are associated with a great deal of pressure to perform academically, socially and, in many cases, athletically. Steroid use can seem like a valid way to increase athletic performance. Unfortunately, teenagers often make decisions without fully understanding the potential outcomes.
Although there is no simple answer to the question of how to talk to teens about drugs, honesty and transparency are the best approaches. Discussing the immediate consequences of steroid use may be the most effective way to convince teenagers of their risk. Acne, fluid retention, and hair loss or growth are potential consequences that can play to a teenager’s vanity.
For teenage boys, discussing the potential of shrinking testicles, breast tissue growth and sterility may help dissuade them from using steroids. Teenage girls who misuse or abuse steroids will likely experience shrinking breasts, growth of facial and body hair and a deepening voice, as well as menstrual cycle disorders.
Discussing the real, long-term consequences of steroid use is also incredibly important. The risk of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, genitourinary and neuropsychiatric disorders that can have lifelong consequences are substantially increased when teenagers misuse or abuse steroids.
If you are concerned that your teenager is misusing or abusing steroids or any other substance, Next Generation Village can help. We have a multidisciplinary team of experts who are experienced in helping teens ages 13 to 17 overcome substance use disorders. Contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive rehab programs.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.