Anabolic steroids are a group of powerful compounds closely related to the male sex hormone testosterone. Developed in the 1930s, steroids are seldom prescribed by physicians today. Current legitimate medical uses are limited to certain kinds of anemia, severe burns, and some types of breast cancer.
Taken in combination with a program of muscle-building exercise and diet, steroids may contribute to increases in body weight and muscular strength. Because of these properties, athletes in a variety of sports have used steroids since the 1950s, hoping to enhance performance. Today, they are being joined by increasing numbers of young people seeking to accelerate their physical development.
Steroid users subject themselves to more than 70 side effects ranging in severity from liver cancer to acne and including psychological as well as physical reactions. The liver and the cardiovascular and reproductive systems are most seriously affected by steroid use. In males, use can cause withered testicles, sterility, and impotence. In females, irreversible masculine traits can develop along with breast reduction and sterility. Psychological effects in both sexes include very aggressive behavior known as roid rage and depression. While some side effects appear quickly, others, such as heart attacks and strokes, may not show up for years.
Signs of steroid use include quick weight and muscle gains (if steroids are being used in conjunction with a weight training program); behavioral changes, particularly increased aggressiveness and combativeness; jaundice, purple or red spots on the body; swelling of feet or lower legs; trembling; unexplained darkening of the skin; and persistent unpleasant breath odor.
Steroids are produced in tablet or capsule form for oral ingestion or as a liquid for intramuscular injection.