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Anabolic Steroids


Also called: Anabolic-androgenic steroids

Anabolic steroids are synthetically produced chemicals which mimic the effects of natural hormones, especially the male sex hormones or androgens. They include drugs such as nandrolone and stanozolol.

Anabolic steroids help to build the body’s tissues. They increase muscle development particularly in the upper part of the body – the neck, shoulders, chest and arm muscles. They also increase bone density while stopping growth at the ends of the bones (it’s the production of these sort of hormones in puberty which stops growth, which is one reason why we don’t carry on growing taller through adult life.)

Serious risks

The risks of anabolic steroids are well known. They include:

  • Cardiovascular changes, such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and an increased risk of heart attack.
  • Anabolic steroids alter the ratio of good and bad cholesterol in the blood, lowering levels of the good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and increasing levels of the villain, low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Fluid retention puts additional strain on the heart.
  • Liver damage.
  • Increased risk of certain cancers, such as kidney and liver.
  • Reduced fertility (men and women).
  • Psychological changes: although many people say they feel good on steroids, research from Harvard University shows mood swings, ranging from aggression to depression, paranoia and delusions are possible.

They’re rarely used in medicine

Because of the risk of these serious side effects, anabolic steroids are rarely used in medicine these days. Occasionally they’re prescribed along with a high-protein diet to help someone recover and build themselves up after a major and prolonged illness or operation. They also have a few more unusual uses, such as in certain forms of anaemia to increase the production of red blood cells.

Misuse in sport

Anabolic steroids have been used (or should I say abused) in many sports for years because they help to build muscle and strength. They also speed up the recovery of the muscles after a period of intense exercise, allowing athletes to follow a more demanding programme and greatly increase muscle power. Some say they increase confidence and give a feeling of invincibility.

Street name Iron Brew
Drug effect Users take the drug as an aid to muscle development, though there is a strong chance that users will become more aggressive.
Method of use Tablets, injections, capsules.
Dependency Psychological dependence is common.
Therapeutic use Can be used in the treatment of anaemia, thrombosis and often used to build muscle for patients who are long-term bed-ridden.
Withdrawal Some steroid users have reported lethargy and depression on stopping use.
Long-term use It is difficult to offer conclusive evidence regarding the effects of long-term steroid use as most users are taking multiple combinations and at doses that are well above the recommended level. There is some clear evidence that persistent and heavy use may cause infertility or lack of sex drive in men. Conversely, some men may become sexually violent. Women may develop masculine side-effects, such as a deeper voice and smaller breasts.
Overdose risk Can cause high blood pressure. In extreme cases, they can cause liver damage and there is some evidence of liver cancer.
Legal status Anabolic steroids are not currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Special note Steroids are extremely diverse and medical or pharmacological advice should be sought to avoid being wrongly informed.