The steroid culture extends beyond the body builders and athletes who use drugs to unfair advantage in competition. For rugby players, club and pub bouncers, policemen and other groups, steroids have become "tools of the trade". There are also men who inject steroids to look good on the beach or enhance self-esteem. A steroid-users clinic has been set up in Wales to provide "needle exchanges" (to ensure protection against Aids and hepatitis) and advice on health-related matters and some of the psychological side-effects of steroid use.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone. The full name is androgenic (promoting masculine characteristics) anabolic (building) steroids (the class of drugs). These derivatives of testosterone promote the growth of skeletal muscle and increase lean body mass. Anabolic steroids were first abused by athletes seeking to improve performance. Today, athletes and others abuse anabolic steroids to enhance performance and also to improve physical appearance.
It is not a crime to import or possess steroid for personal use, only to sell them without a prescription. The cost of steroids is not high compared with illicit drugs, and whilst there are dealers and traders, most steroids are freely available both under and over the counter. Some use the cheaper steroids made for animal use in meat production.
Anabolic steroids are taken orally or injected, and athletes and other abusers take them typically in cycles of weeks or months, rather than continuously, in patterns called cycling. Cycling involves taking multiple doses of steroids over a specific period of time, stopping for a period, and starting again. In addition, users frequently combine several different types of steroids to maximize their effectiveness while minimizing negative effects, a process known as stacking.
The major side effects of anabolic steroid use include liver tumors, jaundice (yellowish pigmentation of skin, tissues, and body fluids), fluid retention, high blood pressure, increases in LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreases in HDL (good cholesterol); others are severe acne and trembling.
Research shows that aggression and other psychiatric side effects may result from anabolic steroid abuse. Many users report feeling good about themselves while on anabolic steroids, but researchers report that anabolic steroid abuse can cause wild mood swings including manic-like symptoms leading to violent, even homicidal, episodes. Depression often is seen when the drugs are stopped and may contribute to steroid dependence. Researchers reported also that users may suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.
Body building is most popular in areas of high unemployment. "Roid rage" is steroid-induced aggression which is said to have contributed to violent sexual abuse and murder, although it is argued by some the correlation is weak and that people who take steroids already have a tendency towards violence. Roid rage has been used successfully by defendants in rape cases in the UK.
Overuse by "stacking" involves enormous doses of different types of steroid, one on top of the other, to reach maximum effect at a particular time. One Scottish study found that peak doses were up to 10 times recommended levels. Other surveys have reported up to 100 times the therapeutic dose.
In 1997, about 175,000 teenage girls reported taking anabolic steroids at least once within the past year, an increase of 100 percent since 1991.