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Anabolic Steroid Abuse

NIDA-funded prevention research helps reduce steroid abuse.

Amore sophisticated approach has shown promise for preventing steroid abuse among players on high school sports teams. The Adolescents Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids (ATLAS) program is showing high school football players that they do not need steroids to build powerful muscles and improve athletic performance. By educating student athletes about the harmful effects of anabolic steroids and providing nutrition and weight-training alternatives to steroid use, the ATLAS program has increased football players' healthy behaviors and reduced their intentions to abuse steroids. In the program, coaches and team leaders teach the harmful effects of anabolic steroids and other illicit drugs on immediate sports performance, and discuss how to refuse offers of drugs.

Studies show that 1 year after completion of the program, compared with a control group, ATLAS-trained students in 15 high schools had:

  • Half the incidence of new abuse of anabolic steroids and less intention to abuse them in the future;
  • Less abuse of alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, and narcotics;
  • Less abuse of "athletic enhancing" supplements;
  • Less likelihood of engaging in hazardous substance abuse behaviors such as drinking and driving;
  • Increased protection against steroid and other substance abuse. Namely, less interest in trying steroids, less desire to abuse them, better knowledge of alternatives to steroid abuse, improved body image, and increased knowledge of diet supplements.

The Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives (ATHENA) program was patterned after the ATLAS program, but designed for adolescent girls on sports teams. Early testing of girls enrolled in the ATHENA program showed significant decreases in risky behaviors. While preseason risk behaviors were similar among controls and ATHENA participants, the control athletes were three times more likely to begin using diet pills and almost twice as likely to begin abuse of other body-shaping substances, including amphetamines, anabolic steroids, and muscle-building supplements during the sports season. The use of diet pills increased among control subjects, while use fell to approximately half of the preseason levels among ATHENA participants. In addition, ATHENA team members were less likely to be sexually active, more likely to wear seatbelts, less likely to ride in a car with a driver who had been drinking, and they experienced fewer injuries during the sports season.

Both Congress and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have endorsed ATLAS and ATHENA as model prevention programs. These Oregon Health & Science University programs have been awarded the 2006 annual Sports Illustrated magazine's first-ever "Champion Award."

This page was last updated August 2006

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