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What Are Anabolic Steroids?


Updated April 01, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Are Anabolic Steroids?
Answer: The term "anabolic steroids" is used to refer to a group of synthetic substances related to male sex hormones, for example testosterone. The drugs promote in both males and females the growth of skeletal muscle (anabolic effects) and development of male sexual characteristics (androgenic effects).

Therefore, the proper term for these substances should be "anabolic-androgenic steroids," throughout the About.com Alcoholism / Substance Abuse website, they are referred to as the more commonly used term "anabolic steroids."

Used for Medical Purposes

Originally, anabolic steroids were developed in the 1930s to treat a medical condition known as hypogonadism, in which the testes do not produce enough testosterone, which can stunt growth, development and sexual functioning.

Today, anabolic steroids are still used medically to treat delayed puberty, some types of impotence and wasting away of the body caused by HIV infection and other diseases.

Abused by Athletes

When early research with animals in the 1930s found that anabolic steroids could facilitate the growth of skeletal muscle, the drugs began to be abused for that purpose by bodybuilders and weightlifters. They later began to be abused by athletes in other sports because of their performance-enhancing capabilities.

Because their use can affect the outcome of sports competition, anabolic steroids have been banned from use by all amateur and professional sports organizations.

In some countries, no prescription is needed for anabolic steroids. Therefore, most of the illicit steroids sold in gyms, competitions and mail-order operations are smuggled into the United States. Some steroids are produced in illegal laboratories or diverted from pharmacies.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these are some commonly abused steroids:

Commonly Abused Steroids

Oral Steroids
  • Anadrol (oxymetholone)
  • Oxandrin (oxandrolone)
  • Dianabol (methandrostenolone)
  • Winstrol (stanozolol)

Injectable Steroids
  • Deca-Durabolin (nandrolone decanoate)
  • Durabolin (nandrolone phenpropionate)
  • Depo-Testosterone (testosterone cypionate)
  • Equipoise (boldenone undecylenate)
  • Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG)

Back to: Anabolic Steroids FAQ


National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Anabolic Steroid Abuse." Research Report Series Updated July 2012

The Partnership at DrugFree.org. "Steroids." Drug Guide. Accessed March 2014.

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