Q: How would I know if my body-building friend is abusing steroids?
A: Anabolic steroids are one of several substances abused as a performance-enhancing-drug (PED). The goal of this abuse is to enhance athletic performance and/or improve physical appearance. Other PEDs include growth hormone, drugs or techniques to increase red blood cell count (this may include blood transfusions, medications that stimulate red blood cell production, others), and many other substances (including certain recreational drugs).
Androgenic steroids are what many people think of when they say anabolic steroids (in this article I will simply use the term ‘steroids’); you can think of these as testosterone-like substances. These are either naturally occurring or synthetically made hormones that stimulate the body to increase lean muscle mass and decrease body fat.
Steroid abuse is common, and it is not limited to professional athletes. One study noted that steroid abuse was higher among recreational athletes than professional athletes (18 percent vs. 13 percent), possibly due to professional athlete’s concern for testing and ‘getting caught.’ A report from the Centers for Disease Control in 2013 noted that over 3 percent of all high school students had taken steroids without a doctor’s prescription at least once, and this was more common in males than females. The average onset of steroid abuse is late teens to early twenties, the years where concerns about body image, competitiveness and peer pressure are often very pronounced.
Unlike many other drugs of abuse, steroids do not give an immediate ‘high’ feeling of euphoria, but the enhancement they give people from their altered physical appearance and/or physical performance can be just as addicting. Over one in three people who abuse steroids become physically dependent on them, manifested by drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms when they are stopped.