Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone, testosterone. They come in tablet or liquid form and can be swallowed or injected. Steroids sold illegally might be of poor quality or intended for animal use only.
Steroids are used medically to treat male hormone deficiencies and to build up the body mass of people with medical conditions such as HIV. They are used illegally by athletes and body-builders to boost performance and increase muscle size.
The minor effects are reversible after stopping steroid use. They include hypertension, fluid retention, decreased sex drive, increased acne, colds or flu, and early hair loss. People might also become more aggressive – this is known as “roid rage”.
Serious, permanent, effects include bigger breasts, increased chance of heart disease, altered carbohydrate tolerance, bicep tear and rupture, risk of contracting Hepatitis C, HIV, and other infections through sharing unclean needles.
For women the effects also include a deepening voice, more facial hair, an enlarged clitoris, and problems with the regularity of menstrual periods.
Adolescents and children who use steroids might stunt their growth permanently.
Taking larger doses of anabolic steroids does not increase their effects. It simply overloads the muscles and might increase the side-effects.
In New Zealand it is illegal to use steroids without a prescription. Steroid use has been banned in international sport and athletes can be disqualified if found using anabolic steroids.