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Some kids dream of being pro athletes, and why not? It's fun to think about being the very best in your favorite sport and maybe becoming rich and famous.

But some athletes have admitted to using steroids, which are artificial hormones that can improve strength and muscle mass. Steroids are illegal and they can cause serious health problems. But some kids, teens, and adults are still willing to try them.

Let's talk about what steroids are, how they can affect your body, and why it's smart to avoid them.

What Are Steroids?

The word "steroids" has more than one meaning. Your body naturally makes some steroids, which help you fight stress and grow bigger during puberty. There's also a type of medicine called steroids that people might take if they have pain, asthma, or a skin problem. But these aren't the kind of steroids that get attention in sports.

When people say steroids (say: STARE-oydz), they often mean illegal anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are manmade hormones that are the same as, or similar to, androgens, the male-type sex hormones in the body. The most powerful of these is testosterone (say: tes-TOSS-tuh-rone). Anabolic steroids can be used as pills, powders, or injections. Anabolic steroids are always illegal, meaning that you could get arrested for buying, selling, or taking them.

Some athletes take anabolic steroids because of their testosterone-like effects, such as increasing muscle mass and strength. And it's not only professional athletes who have taken these illegal drugs. Some teens, college athletes, and others have taken steroids.

There are supplements available that contain anabolic steroids. You might see ads for these on the Internet or in the back of sports or body building magazines. Many are banned in the United States while others are still legal. Legal or illegal, these supplements can cause health problems. Kids should not take any steroid supplement, even those still being sold.

What Are the Dangers of Steroids?

Anabolic steroids can cause many different problems, including:

  • not growing as tall as a person was supposed to (their bones mature too fast and stop growing too soon)
  • liver problems
  • heart muscles that get too big
  • mood swings, including anger and sadness
  • a higher risk for heart disease
  • acne
  • lasting stretch marks
  • early hair loss and male-pattern baldness
  • muscle aches
  • oily hair
  • bad breath

Girls also can have:

  • increased facial hair growth
  • a deeper voice
  • breasts that get smaller
  • period changes

Risks for boys include:

Because steroids can be injected (given in a shot), users run the risk of getting illnesses that can be passed through needles that are dirty or shared. These include HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, a serious liver disease. Though some problems may show up right away, others may not appear for years.

Using Steroids Isn't Playing Fair

Your health is the top reason not to use steroids or a steroid supplement. But there's another very important reason: It's just not fair. When people use steroids, it can give them an unfair advantage against others who trained and practiced without using illegal steroids.

And because all levels of sports — from high school to the pros — test athletes for steroid use, there's a good chance the person will get caught. Then, they'll face a lot of embarrassment and could be banned from the sport.

Also, any achievements the athlete made while on steroids could be questioned. People might say, "They didn't really deserve to be on the All-Star team" or "They didn't earn that trophy."

So win on your own power — without steroids. Then, you can hang on to all your honors — and your health!

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date Reviewed: Apr 20, 2023

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