It’s a commonly known fact that anabolic steroid use has been prevalent throughout professional athletics and bodybuilding for decades, but what you may not know is that the abuse of steroids is extremely commonplace amongst fitness professionals, models, general fitness enthusiasts, amateur athletes and even youth athletes. One study indicated that 1,084,000 Americans, or 0.5 percent of the adult population, said that they had used anabolic steroids at one point in life. Although it is impossible to definitively identify someone as a steroid user without the proper drug testing protocol, there are several side effects and indications of steroid use that can be subjectively viewed.
Fat Free Mass Index
Following years of studying steroid users and analyzing bodybuilders from several different eras, Harrison Pope, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, developed the fat-free-mass index (FFMI) to estimate the genetic potential of a person’s natural ability to build muscle mass. This calculation evaluated the height, weight, and body-fat percentage of a person to estimate the physiological ceiling of a person muscular development. Harrisson estimated that the ceiling of a natural bodybuilder was on average 25 FFMI. This indicates that anyone with a FFMI of 26 or above would be a prime suspect of being a performance enhancing drug (PED) user.
It should be noted that this study is not a definitive measure and has been the subject of much scrutiny over the last few years. There will always be rare genetic outliers who can achieve a natural FFMI above 25; and there will also, on the opposite spectrum, be individuals who are steroid users who have not achieved a FFMI of 25.
The physical changes from steroids are often the most notable and objective signs of steroid use because some physical alterations are very apparent depending on the time and duration a person uses anabolic steroids.
Some of the common physical changes can include:
- Acute or rapid increases in strength and/or muscle mass
- Testicular atrophy/clitoral size increase
- Greasy hair or oily skin
- Stretch marks on the inner joints from rapid growth
- Small red or purplish acne, including breakouts on the shoulders and back
- Gynocomastia, the abnormally excessive development of the breast tissue in males
- Thinning hair throughout the head or receding hairline (male pattern baldness)
- Increased length and thickness in body hair
- Jaundice or yellowing of the skin
- Skin eruptions and infections, such as abscesses and cysts (Injection sites)
- Limping or pain in quad, glutes, shoulders (Injection sites)
- Drastic appetite shifts (extreme hunger or lessened/loss of appetite)
- Joint pain; greater chance of injuring muscles and tendons
- Disrupted sleep patterns (not sleeping well or sleeping too much)
- Fluid level changes, bloating (face & body), and night sweating
- Change in libido
Personality changes are much harder to evaluate and there is a mix of contradicting research to indicate that true personality changes exist versus and enhancement of normal character attributes.
Some of the possible personality changers can include:
- Extreme mood swings
- Increased aggression or irritability
- Becomes disrespectful or abusive (verbally and/or physically)
- Poor decision making stemming from feelings of invincibility
- Becomes secretive and/or starts lying
- Withdraws from family members
- Depression (usually when steroids are discontinued)
- Hallucinations – seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
- Paranoia – extreme feelings of distrust, anxiety or fear