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.
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.
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.