It's important to understand the facts about steroids, their side effects, and what can drive kids and teens 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.

What Are Steroids?

Drugs commonly referred to as "steroids" are classified as corticosteroids or anabolic (or anabolic-androgenic) steroids.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids, such as cortisone, are drugs that doctors prescribe to help control inflammation. They're used to help control conditions like asthma and lupus. They're not the same as the anabolic steroids.

Anabolic Steroids

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. It is now a controlled substance because of suspected health risks and available only by prescription. There is little or no evidence that it has any significant anabolic effects.

Why Do People Use Steroids?

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.

Steroid use has trickled down to younger athletes too, who face pressure to be stronger and faster, and to make it to college and professional leagues.

Steroids promise bold results, but there is little proof that they deliver any such benefits. But they can harm developing kids — with some of these ill effects not likely to turn up until years later.

How Do Anabolic Steroids Work?

Anabolic steroids are drugs that resemble the chemical structure of the sex hormone testosterone, which is made naturally by the body. Testosterone directs the body to make 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.

What Are Dangers of Anabolic Steroids?

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 have very serious side effects. Using steroids for a long time can harm 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 can cause long-term problems with fertility.

Steroids taken for a long period of time also can cause:

  • stunted growth in teens (by causing bones to mature too fast and stop growing at an early age)
  • liver tumors
  • abnormal enlargement of the heart muscles
  • violent, aggressive behavior and mood swings
  • blood lipid abnormalities that contribute to heart disease
  • acne (or a worsening of acne)
  • increased breast growth in males, especially teens
  • irreversible stretch marks
  • a heightened tendency for hair loss and male-pattern baldness
  • muscle aches

Teen girls and women risk these additional side effects:

  • male-type facial and body hair growth and male-pattern baldness
  • deepening of the voice
  • enlargement of the clitoris

What Else Can Happen?

Besides the health risks, kids who use steroids without a prescription are breaking the law. Drug testing for all athletes has become common, and those who fail a drug test for steroids can face legal consequences, including jail time, monetary fines, being banned 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.

Talking to Kids About Steroids

Many pressures might drive young athletes to try steroids. Although most athletes exercise hard, eat properly, and take care of their bodies to reach fitness and performance goals, the pressure to excel and the desire to look physically toned and fit can be intense.

Help your kids handle these pressures by:

  • discussing healthy competition with them
  • talking about the coaches' and team members' attitudes toward steroids
  • knowing what kind of sports environments they compete in
  • encouraging them to prepare mentally and physically for competition by eating well and getting enough rest

Watch for these warning signs of steroid abuse:

  • exaggerated mood swings
  • worsening acne
  • unusually greasy skin with stretch marks
  • a sudden increase in muscle size

If you see any of these signs in your child, talk with your doctor. Steroids may give young athletes the sense that they're stronger and more athletic, but the risks are too dangerous. 

When steroid use among pro athletes is in the news, use it as a way to discuss the issue, making sure your child understands the health risks, the possibility of legal trouble, and the concept that steroid use is a form of cheating.

Back to Articles


Related Articles

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Dealing With Stress In Sports

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Steroids

You've probably heard about sports stars using steroids to get stronger. Find out why these illegal drugs are bad news.

Read More

Strength Training

With a properly designed and supervised program, strength training can be a fun way for kids to build healthy muscles, joints, and bones.

Read More

Competitive Sports: Helping Kids Play it Cool

Sometimes the pressure to succeed on the field or in the court can be overwhelming. Learn what you can do to help your child keeps things in perspective.

Read More

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.

Read More

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?

Read More

Kids and Exercise

Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges.

Read More

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.

Read More

Steroids for Treating Cancer

Unlike the steroids that body builders use, steroids used in cancer treatment are safe and help kids feel better.

Read More

Female Athlete Triad

Female athlete triad is a combination of three conditions: disordered eating, amenorrhea (loss of a girl's period), and osteoporosis (a weakening of the bones).

Read More

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.

Read More

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

Search our entire site.