Drugs of Abuse

DRCNet Response to the
Drug Enforcement Administration


Anabolic steroid abuse has become a national concern. These drugs are used illicitly be weight lifters, body builders, long distance runners, cyclists and others who claim that these drugs give them a competitive advantage/or improve their physical appearance.

Once viewed as a problem associated only with professional athletes, recent reports estimate that 5 percent to 12 percent of male high school students and 1 percent of female students have used anabolic steroids by the time they were seniors. Concerns over a growing illicit market and prevalence of abuse combined with the possibility of harmful long-term effects of steroid use, led Congress in 1991 to place anabolic steroids into Schedule III of the Controlled substances Act (CSA).

The CSA defines anabolic steroids as any drug or hormonal substance chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone (other than estrogens, progestins, and corticosteroids), that promotes muscle growth. Most illicit anabolic steroids are sold at gyms, competitions and through mail operations. For the most part, these substances are smuggled into this country. Those commonly encountered on the illiicit market include: boldenone (Equipoise), ethlestrenol (Maxibolin), fluxoymesterone (Halotestin), methandriol, methandrostenolone (Dianabol), methyltestosterone, nandrolone (Durabolin, Deca-Durabolin), oxandrolone (Anavar), oxymetholone (Anadrol), stanozolol (Winstrol), testosterone and trenbolone (Finajet). In addition, a number of bogus or counterfeit products are sold as anabolic steroids.

A limited number of anabolic steroids have been approved for medical and veterinary use. The primary legitimate use of these drugs in humans is for the replacement of inadequate levels of testosterone resulting from a reduction or absence of functioning testes. In veterinary practice, anabolic steroids are used to promote feed efficiency and to improve weight gain, vigor and hair coat. They are also used in veterinary practice to treat anemia and counteract tissue breakdown during illness and trauma.

When used in combination with exercise training and high protein diet, anabolic steroids can promote increased size and strength of muscles, improve endurance and decrease recovery time between workouts. They are taken orally or by intramuscuclar injection. Users concerned about drug tolerance often take steroids on a schedule called a cycle. A cycle is a period of between 6 and 14 weeks of steroid use, followed by a period of abstinence or reduction in use. Additionally, users tend to "stack" the drugs, using multiple drugs concurrently. Although the benefits of these practices are unsubstantiated, most users feel that cycling and stacking enhance the efficiency of the drugs and limit their side effects.

Yet another mode of steroid use is "pyramiding" in which users slowly escalate steroid use (increasing the number of drugs used at one time and/or the dose and frequency of one or more steroids), reaching a peak amount at mid-cycle and gradually tapering the dose toward the end of the cycle. The escalation of steroid use can vary with different types of training. Body builders and weight lifters tend to escalate their dose to a much higher level than do long distance runners or swimmers.

The adverse effects of large doses of multiple anabolic steroids are not well established. However, there is increasing evidence of serious health problems associated with the abuse of these agents, including cardiovascular damage, liver damage, and damage to reproductive organs.

Physical side effects include elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels, severe acne, premature balding, reduced sexual function and testicular atrophy. In males, abnormal breast development (gynecomastia) can occur. In females, anabolic steroids have a masculinizing effect, resulting in more body hair, a deeper voice, smaller breasts and fewer menstrual cycles. Several of these effects are irreversible. In adolescents, abuse of these agents may prematurely stop the lengthening of bones, resulting in stunted growth.

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