The risks associated with the abuse of anabolic steroids include both temporary and permanent injury to anyone using them, especially teenagers. There are many assumptions regarding who is at risk for the abuse of steroids. However, multiple studies and surveys revealed that the use of steroids among teenage girls is more prevalent than many would think.

The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report from the CDC states the prevalence of female students who have taken steroids at some point in their lives was 2.4%. Even though that percentage may seem small, it equates to approximately 1 in every 42 teenage girls.

The use of steroids in teenage girls is alarming because, since the drugs mimic the actions of the male sex hormone testosterone, the use of anabolic steroids by a young girl could have devastating outcomes. Some long-term effects include stunted growth, infertility and permanent secondary male characteristics. In addition to causing possible permanent physical changes, the use of anabolic steroids significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and can cause various psychological changes. Steroid misuse also increases the risk of certain infections such as hepatitis, HIV and intramuscular abscesses from the use of unsanitary needles to inject steroids.

It is important for parents and adults who regularly interact with teenagers to be aware of the signs associated with steroid use because individuals are likely to begin steroid use as teenagers or in their twenties. Understanding why girls use steroids and recognizing the signs of girls on steroids is very important for providing appropriate support and guidance to any young girl who may be abusing anabolic steroids.

Why Do Girls Use Steroids?

A study published in 2007 found that steroid use in teenage girls was frequently linked with a range of high-risk behaviors as opposed to competitive athletics or bodybuilding. Such high-risk behaviors may include the misuse of other substances, sexual promiscuity and an increased likelihood of having suicidal thoughts.

What are steroids used for when abused by teenage girls? Some reasons may be:

  • To appear more toned. Anabolic steroids are typically thought of as “body-shaping drugs” and this may make them desirable to young girls who are preoccupied with their body image and physical appearance.
  • To feel stronger. Anabolic steroids increase muscle mass, which can promote strength. While increased strength may be desirable for an athlete, it could also be desirable for someone who has been a victim of an assault. 
  • Peer pressure. The teenage years are a vulnerable time, especially for young females. Peer pressure commonly plays a role in the abuse of substances by teenagers. 

Recognizing Teen Female Steroid Use

Anabolic steroids have a range of serious adverse effects on many organs. In many cases, the damage caused by steroid use, especially steroid use in teens, may be irreversible. It is important for adults that regularly interact with teenagers to know the signs of teen steroid use to be able to intervene early and possibly prevent irreversible damage.

Signs of female steroid use may include:

  • Increased facial hair. Anabolic steroids mimic the effects of testosterone in the body and, just like a male would develop facial hair as his body produces testosterone, a female can experience increased facial hair growth. 
  • Deepening voice. Symptoms of steroid use in females may include the development of a deeper voice, similar to the tone of a man’s voice. Deepening of the voice could be an obvious indicator of steroid use because you would not typically expect a young female’s voice to suddenly change.
  • Reduction of body fat (including the loss of breast and hip curvature). Reduction of body fat may have been one of the effects that were desirable for the abuse of steroids. However, the reduction of body fat is not targeted to certain areas and can include fat tissue of the breasts and hips. Shrinking of the breasts would be a sign of female steroid use that would be of great concern because body fat in females is crucial to the regulation of female hormones. 
  • Increased muscle mass. Increased muscle mass is typically an effect that is desirable for the abuse of steroids. However, changes in the mechanical operation of limbs due to increased muscle mass can result in tendon injuries
  • Hair loss on the scalp. Premature balding is one of the long-lasting side effects of steroids on females or males.
  • Changes in the menstrual cycle (or loss of cycle). The use of anabolic steroids in women can result in significant reproductive changes. A question commonly asked regarding steroid use in females is, “Can steroids cause infertility in females?” They can and changes in a female’s menstrual cycle is an indicator of the long-term risk of infertility. 
  • Blotchy skin. The use of anabolic steroids can cause an array of cosmetic effects on the skin, including acne, oily hair and purple or red spots on the body. These effects may be obvious but they can be easily overlooked as the changes that typically occur during the teenage years for females.  
  • Psychological effects and mood swings. Mood swings are a possibility with the use of anabolic steroids as well as other psychological changes. Other psychological effects of steroid use may include irritability, hostility, personality changes and psychosis. Also, the use of anabolic steroids can result in psychological dependence, making it difficult for the girl to stop using the steroid. Steroid use, especially in females, is typically accompanied by extreme dissatisfaction with body image. Effective treatment for the abuse of steroids should include appropriate counseling with trained professionals to help the girl cope with all the psychological effects of steroid use.
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice). Anabolic steroids can affect liver function and the injection of steroids increases the risk for contracting hepatitis due to the use of unsanitary needles. Yellowing of the skin or eyes, also known as jaundice, would require immediate medical attention.

Key Points: What to Do If Your Daughter is Using Steroids

Keep the following key points in mind about young women using steroids:

  • Teen steroid use has been associated with many serious short-term and long-term physical and psychological effects. It should be taken very seriously.
  • A study published in 2007 found that steroid use in teenage girls was more frequently linked with a range of high-risk behaviors and not with competitive athletics or bodybuilding.
  • The signs and symptoms common among girls on steroids include skin changes, premature balding, stunted growth, increased facial hair, deepening of the voice, shrinking breasts and period changes. 
  • Treatment for anabolic steroid abuse is available and generally involves education, counseling and managing the effects of steroid use

If you are concerned that your daughter may be abusing steroids, reach out to a trained professional to provide the appropriate support and guidance. Also, it is important to try to figure out how and where the teenager is getting the anabolic steroids. Because anabolic steroid medications require a prescription and are considered a controlled substance, it is illegal to use them without a doctor’s prescription or to administer them to someone who does not have a doctor’s prescription.