Everything Youth Workers Need to Know About Steroids

steroid vials

This information is taken from NHS Lothian’s ‘Local Aids’ fact sheet as well as Talk to Frank about Steroids

With the media bombarding young people with largely unattainable beautify ideals, body image is a serious issue, and the pressure on young men to be muscular and chiselled is greater than ever. A recent video by BBC Newsbeat story also covered the phenomenon of ‘Bigorexia’, which is a sort of ‘reverse anorexia’.

As a result of this pressure, more gym users in Scotland are now using anabolic steroids and other types of Performance & Image Enhancing Drug (PIED), with a 645% rise reported by the Crime Reduction Initiative in 2010 – 2013. Some surveys report that as many as 20 – 40% of gym users are using PIEDs – primarily men but, also women seeking to increase muscular size and/or strength.

What are Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs?

Although there are many types of PIED, Anabolic Steroids are the most common type, and are a synthetic versions of the male sex hormone testosterone. They are sometimes known as ‘roids’, ‘juice’, or ‘gear’.

PIEDs can be taken orally or by injection. It is believed that up to 90% of PIED users have injected, and users most commonly inject directly into the muscle (intramuscular injecting) as opposed to into their veins.

The Risks of Using Anabolic Steroids

Long term use can affect a user’s mental health, including increased aggression, anxiety and mood swings. There is also an increased risk to the kidney and liver, as well as hypertension, cardiac hypertrophy (thickening of the heart muscle) and raised cholesterol. Users might develop acne and fluid retention.

Men can experience shrinking of the testicles, baldness, and the development of breasts, as well as increased risk of prostate cancer. Young people who take steroids may interfere with their body’s development.

Women can experience the growth of facial hair, baldness, cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris, and a deepened voice.

Drugs Which are Taken with Steroids

Users might use other drugs alongside steroids, either to minimise side-effects of steroids or to increase muscle mass/strength and decrease body fat. These can include insulin, anti-estrogen, human growth hormone and diuretics.

How do People Take Steroids?

PIEDs are often ‘cycled’, which involves taking them for a period of time before stopping for a rest period and restarting. They are sometimes ‘stacked’, which involves taking more than one anabolic steroid at a time, and also ‘pyramided’, involving gradually increasing doses.

Cycles usually last from 4 – 12 weeks, after which no steroids are taken in order to give the body time to recover. Specific drugs may be taken at the end of a cycle to minimise the side-effects and encourage the body to produce its own testosterone.

Can You Get Addicted to Steroids?

The physical results of PIEDs can be potentially addictive for the user, making them crave more, require more to get the same effect, and have withdrawal symptoms if they stop. Sudden withdrawal can lead to depression, apathy, poor concentration, insomnia, anorexia, decreased libido, fatigue, headaches, and muscle/joint aches.

Steroid Harm Reduction Advice:

Oral forms of PIEDs may be more harmful to the liver than injecting, and so should be avoided.

Avoid taking more than one PIED at a time, and stay well hydrated.

Use local injecting provision services.

If you are injecting, get checked for blood borne viruses and get immunised for HBV.

Steroids and the Law:

Anabolic steroids are a Class C drugs and it’s legal to possess them for personal use, but you can’t import them using the post or a courier – that’s illegal.

As with all Class C drugs, possession with intent to supply is illegal and could lead to 14 years in prison, as well as an unlimited fine. That includes giving them to friends.


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