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The Risks for Teenagers of Using Steroids

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on Dec 8, 2022.

Teenagers are faced with many pressures, such as those associated with school, relationships, puberty changes, and the pressure to do well at sports. So, it’s probably no surprise that research has found high rates of steroid use among teenagers, particularly teenage boys.

Research has shown the pressure to start using steroids begins in high school with some 14- or 15-year-old athletes influenced by senior students to use steroids to progress quickly toward the next stage of their sporting career.

Interestingly, steroid use is just as common among teenagers who do not participate in a team sport. These are often students preoccupied with their body size being too small or not muscley enough. In the DSM V, this preoccupation is known as muscle dysphoria but most people call it Bigorexia. And the condition is on the rise, especially among young adults with up to 35% of teenagers admitting to using protein powders or shakes, 5 to 10% supplements such as creatine, and almost 6% using steroids to bulk up.

But as a student who uses steroids or as a parent who is aware their child is taking them, what are the risks you need to know about?

teenagers and steriods

What are anabolic steroids?

Anabolic steroids (also called “roids”) promote muscle growth because they are a man-made derivative of the natural male sex hormone, testosterone. Testosterone has several different functions in both a male’s and female’s body but significantly it increases muscle protein synthesis by an average of 27%. Abuse of these drugs builds lean muscle mass, promotes aggressiveness, and increases body weight.

Anabolic steroids are not the same as steroid medications, such as prednisone or hydrocortisone, that are legitimately used to treat asthma and other inflammatory conditions. They are only available legally on a prescription from a doctor and their proper use includes certain blood disorders, connective tissue diseases, some cancers, some sexual disorders, and a few other serious conditions.

What are some popular anabolic steroids?

There are more than 100 variations of anabolic steroids, but some of the more common ones include dianabol, deca durabolin, depo-testosterone, and testosterone enanthate.

No anabolic steroid is safe; they all have potentially serious side effects and must be prescribed and used only under close medical supervision. Under both federal and often State Law, anabolic steroids may only be prescribed by an authorized prescriber after a face-to-face examination of a patient.

But steroids are easy for teenagers to obtain over the internet, from friends, or at the gym.

Signs of anabolic steroid use

If your teen plays competitive sports or has a naturally small build that has quickly bulked out, you may be concerned about the possibility of steroid use.

Signs to look for include:

If you suspect possible steroid use, talk to your pediatrician or doctor about screening your teenager further. Pay attention to their behavior and talk to them about it.

What are the dangers of steroid use?

Using steroids to build muscle can cause serious physical and mental problems. Teenagers, whose bodies are still developing, are at heightened risk.

Mental development

Aggression and drastic mood swings are common with long-term steroid use. Called “roid-rage” these can cause damage to relationships and severe depression. Feelings of paranoia, jealousy, or grandeur can also be present.

Sexual health and development

In teenage boys, steroid use can cause them to grow breasts and have smaller testicles. They can lower sperm counts and decrease fertility as well as increase the risk of prostate cancer.

In girls, steroids can cause hair loss around the temples and crown (similar to male-pattern baldness), cause growth of facial hair, and an enlarged clitoris. A girl’s voice may deepen and her periods may stop.

Both boys and girls may develop severe acne and puberty may stop, limiting height. Steroids can also cause weight gain, bad breath, oily hair, and red skin spots.

Serious steroid effects

Steroids can affect your heart, increasing your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and the risk of heart disease or having a heart attack or stroke.

Steroids can also cause liver disease and kidney failure.

The use of steroids is associated with a higher risk of injury to tendons and muscles.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.