Are steroids addictive? Anabolic steroid abuse and teen addiction risk

Disapproval of steroid use in the media has been evident for years now. But latest data indicates that 1.5-2.5% of junior high and high school teenagers use steroids to improve athletic performance, muscle strength and physical appearance. And that’s only the teens that reported use. Can teens really get addicted to steroids? And who’s responsible for low self-esteem in a culture that always tells us that bigger is better?

minute read

Are steroids addictive?

The verdict is out, and has been for a while.  Steroids can be addictive.  Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances related to the testosterone and are illegal in the U.S. Steroids promote the growth of skeletal muscle and are so widespread in sports contests that international agencies fight against their use.  And the possible health consequences of steroid abuse (listed below) are numerous.

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So how do you know someone is addicted to steroids?

Steroid abusers spend time and (lots of) money obtaining the drugs, which is major indication of the addictive properties of steroids.  Despite physical problems or negative effects on social relations, people who use steroids will not stop using steroids.  People who abuse steroids can experience withdrawal symptoms including mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, steroid cravings and depression that can last for a year or more.

A year or more.

Despite the numerous drawbacks of using anabolic steroids, kids (especially adolescent boys) continue to take steroids or steroid supplements.  My theory is that boys use steroids due to low self-esteem.  And I’m not buying the line that they need to buff up to be respected.

I think that young men who experience a deep dissatisfaction with their inner lives end up relying on their appearance as the only way to feel good about themselves.  Sure, the “buff = tough” concept might be a product of the films, television shows and media images fed to our culture.  But each of us are responsible for our own actions regardless of cultural standards.  What these boys need to do is change the way they see their bodies and how they think about themselves.

How can teens find help?

Teens who chronically use anabolic steroids can talk to a parent, coach, religious leader, guidance counselor, therapist, or an adult friend about their use. A trusted adult – someone who supports- can help young men and women put their body image in perspective and give positive feedback about skills and abilities.  Teens addicted to steroids can also find treatment by using the U.S. government’s addiction treatment locator or by calling a teen crisis hotline (under social services in the yellow pages).

What do you think?  Should teens be held responsible for steroid use?  Are the pressures adolescent boys endure justification enough for use?  How can teens turn self-image around?

Possible health consequences of anabolic steroid abuse
Hormonal system in Men

  • infertility
  • breast development
  • shrinking of the testicles
  • male-pattern baldness

Hormonal system in Women

  • enlargement of the clitoris
  • excessive growth of body hair
  • male-pattern baldness

Musculoskeletal system

  • short stature (if taken by adolescents)
  • tendon rupture

Cardiovascular system

  • increases in LDL;
  • decreases in HDL
  • high blood pressure
  • heart attacks
  • enlargement of the heart’s left ventricle


  • cancer
  • peliosis hepatis
  • tumors


  • severe acne and cysts
  • oily scalp
  • jaundice
  • fluid retention


  • hepatitis

Psychiatric effects

  • rage, aggression
  • mania
  • delusions
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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