Anabolic steroids are a class of steroid hormones based on the androgen testosterone. Anabolic steroids are also known as anabolic-androgenic steroids or AAS or performance enhancing drugs.
What Do Anabolic Steroids Do?
Anabolic steroids increase the rate of protein synthesis within cells. The building of cellular tissue (anabolism) is especially noticeable in muscles. Anabolic steroids also have androgenic and virilizing effects. They influence masculine characteristics such as the growth of the vocal cords and body hair.
How Are Anabolic Steroids Used as Drugs?
Anabolic steroids have been attractive to athletes and bodybuilders because they increase the size and strength of muscles. They also increase aggressiveness and competitiveness, which can be desirable traits in sports. Anabolic steroids may be prescribed to promote appetite, stimulate bone growth, induce male puberty, to lessen the effects of muscle wasting from chronic diseases, such as cancer or AIDS, and may show promise as a male contraceptive. The drugs are available as oral pills, injectable steroids, and skin patches.
How Do Anabolic Steroids Work?
Anabolic steroids change muscle mass and strength by two processes. First, the steroids lead to an increased production of proteins, which are the building blocks of muscle. The steroids also block the effect of the hormone cortisol on muscle tissue, so that existing muscle is broken down at a slower rate. Additionally, anabolic steroids lead to cells differentiating into muscle more readily than fat.
What Are the Risks of Using Anabolic Steroids?
In addition to increasing muscle strength and mass, the effects of taking anabolic steroids include harmful changes in cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, acne, liver damage, and changes to the structure of the left ventricle of the heart. Anabolic steroids have an androgenic or virilizing effect, meaning they affect male characteristics. Anabolic steroids affect the onset of puberty, growth of the clitoris in females and the penis in male children (does not affect the size of the penis in adults), increased size of the vocal chords and deepening of the voice, increased body hair, and premature baldness in people predisposed to it. Another side effect is decreased fertility and testicular atrophy.
Why Are Anabolic Steroids Dangerous for Teens?
Many of the side effects of taking performance enhancing drugs can be countered by combining them with other drugs and exercise and are somewhat reversible in adults. However, anabolic steroid use can have permanent negative consequences if used by adolescents. One side effect can be early onset of puberty. More significantly, the drugs can stunt growth by prematurely stopping the lengthening of the bones.