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The non-medical use of anabolic steroids among college and university students is a growing concern. Anabolic steroids are available by prescription to treat low testosterone levels. As a performance-enhancing drug, steroids are used illegally by athletes and others to enhance physical performance and build muscle mass. Taken orally or injected over the course of weeks or months, different types of steroids are often combined to maximize effectiveness, called “stacking.”

A National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) national study (PDF file) found that about 1 percent of all college athletes used anabolic steroids in 2001. This is a drop from the rate of 5 percent in 1989, but is still triple the national rate by non-athlete students. Steroid abuse is higher among males than females, but use is growing most rapidly among young women.

Steroid abuse has many adverse consequences, including severe acne, liver tumors and cancer, high blood pressure, increases in cholesterol, and kidney tumors. In addition, men who abuse steroids may experience shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, development of breasts, and increased risk for prostate cancer. Women may have gender-specific side effects including growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris, and deepened voice. Adolescents who abuse steroids may have stunted growth and accelerated puberty; they may be of short stature for the rest of their lives as a result abusing steroids in their youth.

Frequent users of steroids may become addicted. If they suddenly stop using steroids, they may experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Depression is a particularly dangerous withdrawal symptom, as it may last for over a year and may lead to suicide attempts.

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