Anabolic Steroid Abuse

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Why do people abuse anabolic steroids?

People abuse steroids for a variety of reasons, but most do it to increase body performance and appearance. There may be peer pressure to use anabolic steroids in some sports because of a fear that normal training will not be enough to succeed. There is also the perception that other athletes are abusing steroids and gaining an unfair advantage.

People who use steroids to enhance their appearance by increasing muscle and decreasing fat may suffer from muscle dysmorphia or abnormal perception of their own body. Males may think that they are perpetually too small and weak, and females may think themselves fat, even though that perception may not be actually true.

Bodybuilders and weight lifters are not the only athletes to think that anabolic steroid use is their road to success. Athletes, from strength sports like football and throwing the discus to speed sports like track sprinters and speed skaters, have attempted to use steroids to enhance performance and increase the efficiency of their training.

How do people abuse anabolic steroids?

Though most anabolic steroids need to be injected into the body to be effective, some may be taken by mouth and others used as a cream or gel and applied to the skin. The user will try to take enough anabolic steroid to increase the ability to exercise and allow muscles to grow while minimizing the risk of side effects and the potential of being caught. Usually steroids are taken in cycles with regular injections followed by periods of rest. Numerous books and web sites discuss the benefits and risks of different techniques to maximize the effect of a variety of steroids on the body. There is a large underground illegal industry that has grown to meet the demand for anabolic steroids and also provides methods to try to avoid detection.

Cycling, stacking, and pyramiding are three common ways that anabolic steroid abusers take their drugs. Cycling refers to taking a steroid for a period of time, stopping for the body to rest, and then restarting again. If more than one type of steroid is used at a time, this is called stacking. There is the belief that using two or more steroids at a time increases the effectiveness of each. Pyramiding combines the cycling and stacking. One or more steroids are begun in a low dose and the dose gradually increased until halfway through the cycle where the amount is maximized and it is then tapered to zero by the end of the cycle.

Exercise programs are tailored so that more can be done as the effect of the steroid increases. The cycles of steroid use are usually six to 12 weeks long and may be followed by a rest period.

In athletes who use anabolic steroids, a cat and mouse game exists. They try to time their steroid injections so that the drug is out of their system if and when they are drug tested. Sometimes masking drugs are also taken to try to "beat" the test by making the test negative. Designer steroids are being continually developed to again prevent their use from being detected.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/23/2015

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