Anabolic steroids

Anabolic steroids are a group of synthetic drugs that are related in chemicalstructure to the male hormone testosterone. "Anabolic" means to build up protein and muscle tissue, and that is what these drugs do. Anabolic steroids have legitimate medical uses, but they are more commonly known for their abuseby athletes seeking to enhance their performance by increasing their muscle mass and strength.

In 1935 scientists discovered that under certain conditions giving anabolic steroids to dogs increased the dogs' muscle mass. However, it was not until the 1950s that athletes began using steroids to give them what they believed tobe a competitive edge. The first athletes to abuse steroids competed in areas such as weightlifting, bodybuilding, football, discus, and other events where success was highly dependent on strength. Presently, anabolic steroids abuse has spread to virtually every sport at every level of competition. A 1997study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated that 0.8-1.5% of alleighth, tenth, and twelfth graders in the United States had tried anabolic steroids. Men, however, are many times more likely to use steroids than women.

More than 20 anabolic steroids have been banned by the International OlympicCommittee and most other organizations sponsoring national and internationalathletic competitions. The ban is enforced through drug testing, which at times is considered controversial. In 1983, 19 athletes were disqualified for their use of banned steroids. In 1988, the United States Congress passed legislation making non-medical distribution or possession of anabolic steroids a Federal offense. Following in 1990, anabolic steroids were reclassified as a controlled substance. This legislation lead to an increase in the black marketsale of steroids, which in 1997 was estimated at $400 million annually.

Anabolic steroids are administered either orally by pill or intramuscularly through injection. Steroids taken in pill form remain in the body several weeks, while injected steroids can be detected for months. Abusers normally takelarge doses of steroids, hundreds of times stronger than would be prescribedfor legitimate medical use, hoping to increase the muscle building effects ofthese drugs. This also increases the severity of side effects. Degree of side effects range from mild and annoying to serious and life-threatening.

Anabolic steroids have different effects on men and women and on adolescentsand adults. In all people, they may lead to increased acne, baldness, jaundice, trembling, the swelling of the feet, bad breath, high blood pressure, liver damage, increased risk of some cancers, aching joints, and increased chanceof injury to tendons, ligaments, and muscles. They may also be psychologically or physically addicting and produce depression and withdrawal symptoms when stopped.

In men, anabolic steroid use also causes a decrease in the production of natural testosterone. Long term use leads to shrinking of the testicles, reducedsperm production, impotence, development of breasts, and the enlargement of the prostate gland. Steroids also may produce psychological effects, such as increased aggression, extreme irritability, and delusions of invincibility.

Anabolic steroid use causes women to become more masculine in appearance. Women may grow facial hair and see a reduction in their breast size. Their voices permanently deepen, they may stop menstruating, and their clitorises may enlarge. In adolescents, anabolic steroids, even in small doses, can irreversibly stop growth, forcing the body to unknowingly complete growth. As a result,the growth plates of the long bones of the arms and legs permanently close,preventing further increases in height.

Anabolic steroids, however, are also powerful drugs with legitimate medical uses. They have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in treating specific types of anemia, some types of cancer such as testicular cancer, some cases of osteoporosis, endometriosis, and a few rare hereditary diseases involving pituitary malfunctions. Anabolic steroids are also given to female transsexuals to masculinize them as part of the gender change process.

Anabolic steroids have been successfully used by patients diagnosed with AIDSwho are experiencing muscle deterioration and severe weight loss as a side effect of the disease. Two steroids in particular, naldrolone and oxandrolone,have been shown to be successful in reversing weight and muscle loss for those AIDS. With this reversal has come an improvement in quality of life for many patients.

Anabolic steroids are powerful drugs with the potential for serious side effects if abused. They must be prescribed by a medical doctor for limited use totreat specific conditions. People using anabolic steroids should be monitored regularly for adverse effects.

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