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Why Do People Abuse Anabolic Steroids?


Updated April 01, 2014

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

Question: Why Do People Abuse Anabolic Steroids?
Answer: Probably the most common reason people abuse steroids is to enhance athletic performance, but there are other reasons that steroids are used.

Although official estimates placed anabolic steroids use among athletes at less than 6%, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that "anecdotal information suggests more widespread abuse."

Strict testing procedures deter the use of steroids for some professional and amateur athletes, but new "designer" steroid drugs are constantly being developed in an effort to beat standard testing. As a result, some athletic associations are beginning the practice of saving urine and blood samples to be tested later by newer technology.

Steroid use is banned by most professional and amateur athletic associations because their use can affect the outcomes of competition, but also because their use is not considered safe.

Poor Body Image

Anabolic steroids are also used by a group of people who suffer from muscle dysmorphia syndrome, a behavioral condition in which they have a distorted image of their bodies. For example, men with the syndrome may be large and muscular, but see themselves as small and weak.

Women with muscle dysmorphia may appear to be lean and muscular, but imagine themselves to be fat and flabby instead, the NIDA said.

The Sexual Abuse Link

Having experienced past sexual abuse or rape is one reason that some people turn to anabolic steroid abuse. NIDA research found that 25% of male weightlifters reported childhood sexual or physical abuse. Likewise, female weightlifters who had been raped were twice as likely to use anabolic steroids or other muscle-building drugs.

Many women weightlifters who had been raped reported that they increased their bodybuilding efforts after their attack, they said, because they believe that being bigger and stronger would deter future attacks because they would appear either intimidating or unattractive.

High-Risk Behavior

Some teens abuse anabolic steroids because it is another in a pattern of high-risk behaviors. Many adolescents who abuse steroids also report drinking and driving, carrying a gun, driving a motorcycle without a helmet and abusing other illicit drugs.

Adolescents with a history of other high-risk behaviors are more likely to initiate or continue steroid abuse, according to the NIDA.

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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