Stories about athletes and steroids seem to pop up regularly in the news. Some professional baseball players, cyclists, and track stars have been accused of — and in some cases have admitted to — using steroids to give them an edge competitively.
And steroid use has trickled down to younger athletes too, who face fierce pressure to be stronger and faster, and to make it to college and professional leagues. Some research has shown that 5% of teen boys and 2.5% of teen girls have used some form of anabolic steroids.
Steroids promise bold results, but there is little proof that they deliver any such benefits. Extensive research, however, shows how they can harm developing kids — with some of these ill effects not likely to turn up until years later. And steroids are illegal, too.
It's important to understand the facts about steroids, their side effects, and what can drive kids to try them. Being aware of the kinds of pressures kids deal with in sports can help you make sure that your child isn't at risk.
Drugs commonly referred to as "steroids" are classified as anabolic (or anabolic-androgenic) and corticosteroids. Corticosteroids, such as cortisone, are drugs that doctors typically prescribe to help control inflammation in the body. They're often used to help control conditions like asthma and lupus. They're not the same as the anabolic steroids that receive so much media attention for their use by some athletes and bodybuilders.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic hormones that can boost the body's ability to produce muscle and prevent muscle breakdown. Some athletes take steroids in the hopes that they will improve their ability to run faster, hit farther, lift heavier weights, jump higher, or have more endurance. In the United States, it is against the law to use anabolic steroids without a prescription.
Androstenedione, or "andro," is a kind of anabolic steroid taken by athletes who want to build muscle. But research suggests that andro taken in large doses every day can significantly increase levels of testosterone, which can lead to a number of health problems.
Anabolic steroids are drugs that resemble the chemical structure of the body's natural sex hormone testosterone, which is made naturally by the body. Testosterone directs the body to produce or enhance male characteristics such as increased muscle mass, facial hair growth, and deepening of the voice, and is an important part of male development during puberty.
When anabolic steroids increase the levels of testosterone in the blood, they stimulate muscle tissue in the body to grow larger and stronger. However, the effects of too much testosterone circulating in the body can be harmful over time.
Steroids are dangerous for two reasons: they are illegal, and they can damage a person's health, especially if used in large doses over time. Also, the health problems caused by steroids may not appear until years after the steroids are taken.
Although they might help build muscle, steroids can produce very serious side effects. Using steroids for a long time can negatively affect the reproductive system. In males, steroids can lead to impotence, a reduction in the amount of sperm produced in the testicles, and even reduced testicle size.
Females who use steroids may have problems with their menstrual cycles because steroids can disrupt the maturation and release of eggs from the ovaries. This disruption can cause long-term problems with fertility.
Steroids taken for an extended period of time also can cause:
Teen girls and women risk these additional side effects:
In addition to the health risks, kids who use steroids without prescription are breaking the law. Drug testing for all athletes has become more prevalent, and those who fail a drug test for steroids can face legal consequences, including jail time, monetary fines, exclusion from an event or team, or forfeiture of trophies or medals.
Andro use has been banned by many sports organizations, including the International Olympic Committee, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Association of Tennis Professionals, and most high school athletic associations.
Many pressures may drive young athletes to experiment with steroids. Although most athletes exercise hard, eat properly, and take care of their bodies to maintain optimal fitness and performance levels, athletic competition and the desire to look physically toned and fit can be fierce.
Help kids handle these pressures by:
If you suspect your child is using steroids, watch for these warning signs:
If you see any of these signs in your child, talk with your doctor.
Steroids may give kids the sense that they're stronger and more athletic, but the consequences are too dangerous to risk. Help kids stay away from steroids by encouraging healthy eating and fitness habits that will help them feel well prepared for competition.
When steroid use among pro athletes is in the news, use that as a launching point to discuss the issue, making sure your child understands the health risks, the possibility of legal trouble, and the concept that using steroids is cheating.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: October 2013
|National Basketball Association (NBA) This site gives you a glimpse of NBA players through live chats, interviews, and new releases.|
|Partnership for a Drugfree America This site features information about drugs and their effects and treatments. The site also shows paraphernalia associated with different drugs and includes personal stories.|
|National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) NIDA offers a science-based drug abuse education program for students, news, information, and resources.|
|National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD) This organization provides education, information, and help in the fight against alcohol and other drug addictions. Call: (800) NCA-CALL|
|American Council for Drug Education The ACDE is a prevention and education agency against substance abuse. This website includes a helpful list of symptoms associated with specific drugs.|
|Alcohol and Drug Problems Association of North America The Alcohol and Drug Problems Association of North America addresses the prevention and recovery of alcohol and substance abuse. Call: (314) 589-6702|
|National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information This organization provides resources and referrals related to drug and alcohol abuse. Call: (800) 729-6686|
|Feeding Your Child Athlete All kids need to eat balanced meals and have a healthy diet. But should that balance change for kids who play on a sports team or work out?|
|Sports Supplements Sports supplements are products used to enhance athletic performance. Lots of people who want to improve their performance have questions about how supplements work and whether they're safe.|
|Fitness and Your 13- to 18-Year-Old Kids who enjoy exercise tend to stay active throughout their lives. Learn how to encourage fitness in your teen.|
|Steroids and Cancer Treatment If your doctor prescribed steroids as part of your treatment for an illness, don't worry. It's not the illegal, doping scandal kind of steroid. Get the details in this article for teens.|
|Steroids for Treating Cancer Unlike the steroids that body builders use, steroids used in cancer treatment are safe and help kids feel better.|
|Compulsive Exercise Compulsive exercise can lead to serious health problems. Lots of people don't know when they've crossed the line from healthy activity to unhealthy addiction. Read about ways to tell.|
|Compulsive Exercise Even though exercise has many positive benefits, too much can be harmful. Teens who exercise compulsively are at risk for both physical and psychological problems.|
|Handling Sports Pressure and Competition Winning is all that matters when you play sports, right? Not when that means you can't even enjoy the game. Read about how to handle sports pressure and competition.|
|Steroids You've probably heard about sports stars using steroids to get stronger. Find out why these illegal drugs are bad news.|
|Are Steroids Worth the Risk? Will using steroids transform you into the most powerful athlete your coach has ever seen? Read this article to learn the facts on steroid use.|
|Kids and Exercise Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better and are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges.|
|Strength Training and Your Child With a properly designed and supervised program, strength training can be a fun way for kids to build healthy muscles, joints, and bones.|
|A Guide to Eating for Sports You've prepared for the game in almost every way possible: but now what should you eat? Read about performance foods, nutritional supplements, and more.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.