With drug programs such as D.A.R.E. available in schools, students have the opportunity to learn about the risks of different types of illicit drugs. However, one class of drugs is rarely discussed, despite how common it is: steroids.

Anabolic steroids (the steroids we will be discussing in this article) are not to be confused with Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are used to minimize overactive immune responses or to reduce swelling. They are not typically found on the streets or used recreationally.

Decades ago, society was under the incorrect premise that steroids were limited to extreme athletes that wanted to excel in their sport. For example, many bodybuilders would use anabolic steroids to win competitions. However, with more influence in the fitness industry and bodybuilding competitions being more accessible to the public, steroids have trickled their way into the general population.

What Are They?

Anabolic steroids are performance-enhancing drugs that are rampant within the fitness industry. Depending on the goal of the user, they can alternate between different medications or “stacks” to achieve their desired result. Some common anabolic steroids are Anadrol, Dianabol, Winstrol, Deca-Durabolin, and Oxandrin. Most steroid users report using more than one drug at a time, and many users will pyramid their doses in 6 to 12-week cycles.

Anabolic steroids can be injected, taken orally, applied topically to be absorbed by the skin or implanted with pellets under the skin. Anabolic steroids are derived from testosterone – a hormone that promotes and maintains muscle mass, as well as enhances secondary sex characteristics.

Testosterone is a necessary hormone and typically secreted naturally. In some cases, doctors may prescribe testosterone in various forms. For example, if naturally occurring testosterone levels have declined rapidly, also known as hypogonadism, testosterone therapy may be prescribed. Though this therapy can be incredibly helpful in men that don’t naturally produce enough testosterone, it can still pose health concerns, and it has to be monitored by a medical professional closely.

What Are The Side Effects?

Side effects of anabolic steroids will include secondary sex characteristics such as deepening of the voice, increase in facial hair and promotion of oil production (often leading to acne).

An incredibly undesired side effect of steroid use in men is the development of breasts. This condition is called gynecomastia (defined as “an enlargement or swelling of breast tissues in males), and it is often very uncomfortable and sometimes can only be reversed with surgery.

Steroids can be especially detrimental when teenagers use them. If use begins before growth ends, teenagers may stunt their standard growth patterns and may not reach their full adult height.

Long-term use of illicit anabolic steroid use can have severe health complications such as heart disease and liver failure. Furthermore, it’s common to see extreme aggression. Steroid use over time can affect multiple different organs and muscles and eventually become fatal.

How Common Are They?

Despite little warning given about steroids, they are gaining momentum in Canada. According to the Canada Border Services Agency, steroids are seized six times more frequently than cocaine and twenty-two times more than heroin. Anabolic steroids are the second most common seized drug at the Canadian border, falling only behind cannabis.

The stats don’t lie: Steroids are making their impact on Canada, and they can be extremely detrimental to our health – primarily when misused.

What Can We Do?

Teenagers are incredibly aware of the risks of cannabis, cocaine, heroin and other mainstream illegal drugs. However, they must become aware of how dangerous anabolic steroids can be.

How you can help:

Discuss ethics 

  • Technically, steroids are considered cheating in most sports. Sit down with your teenager and discuss the ethics behind performance enhancers and encourage healthy athletic performance with proper diet and training.

Be mindful 

  • Attend your teenager’s games and practices. Get involved – speak with teachers and coaches to ensure that everyone is staying cognizant about the team’s performance. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on your child’s athletic performance.

Stay honest 

  • Avoiding conversation is the first sign of trouble! Be honest and have an open discussion within your family. Be knowledgeable and encourage trust and communication with your children.

Written by Celina Dawdy