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Anabolic Steroid Abuse and Risk of Addiction

Addiction Treatment
Jan Trobisch

Jan Trobisch

The illegal use of anabolic steroids has become a widespread problem. Originally thought to only be abused by professional athletes or body builders, anabolic steroids are now being used by typical fitness enthusiasts both male and female, as well as even some school-aged children.

This proliferation of steroid use is concerning because of the lack of education surrounding the effects and dangers of using steroids without medical supervision and without a true medical need. In fact, many ordinary individuals, particularly young men and women, don’t consider steroids to be dangerous, and many don’t even know about the addictive potential of anabolic steroids.

When anabolic steroids are abused illegally, it can open up steroid users to a host of physical, emotional and psychological dangers and side effects. From these symptoms stem a myriad of other effects that can greatly impact the personal and family lives of those abusing anabolic steroids.

What Are Anabolic Steroids Used For?

Anabolic steroids are synthetic drugs that act similarly to the natural human sex hormone, testosterone, which is produced by both men and women. Testosterone in men is produced by the testes and is responsible for controlling physical male features — particularly muscle mass and bulk. In females, limited amounts of testosterone are produced in the ovaries and within other tissues.

Anabolic steroids, specifically, are intended to be used for helping to build muscle mass in people who cannot build healthy muscle strength due to a variety of medical conditions, such as anemia and malnutrition. Other types of steroids, such as corticosteroids, are prescribed to people to help reduce swelling such as in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Anabolic steroids are intended for building muscle mass in people with medical conditions like anemia or malnutrition

Anabolic steroids are a controlled substance that are only available legally by prescription. Use of anabolic steroids without a medical prescription is illegal. Doctors do not prescribe anabolic steroids to young and healthy individuals to help them build muscles and improve athletic performance, and so, athletes and others who obtain and use anabolic steroids for performance enhancement and muscle building are doing so illegally.

These types of steroids that are characteristically used by body builders and athletes go by the full name of androgenic anabolic steroids. This means they are a class of drug responsible for building tissue, which results in masculine physical characteristics. The more steroids you take, the more muscle you build, and the more masculine or muscular your physical appearance becomes. For women specifically, anabolic steroids are used to improve muscle tone and definition by building lean body mass and reducing body fat.

Anabolic steroid brand names include Deca-Durabolin, Durabolin, Equipoise, and Winstrol. You may also hear anabolic steroids referred to as Arnolds, gym candy, juice, pumpers, roids, stackers and weight trainers. These are the street names for anabolic steroids that users and dealers refer to them as.

Who Uses Anabolic Steroids?

Beyond the legitimate medical uses for anabolic steroids, professional athletes, bodybuilders or even exercise and fitness enthusiasts will use anabolic steroids illegally. These are generally considered to be the stereotypical users of illegal anabolic steroids.

According to one study, over one million Americans have used anabolic steroids in an illegal capacity. Many of these individuals enter into bodybuilding competitions, and so they use anabolic steroids to give them a competitive advantage. Professional athletes in sports such as baseball, football, hockey and other sports are also known to take anabolic steroids to build up physical strength and endurance to help them perform better.

Over 1 million Americans have used anabolic steroids in an illegal capacity

However, there are plenty of other users of performance-enhancing drugs who may not fit this stereotypical image of steroid users. People employed as law enforcement officers, bodyguards, construction workers and other occupations also take anabolic steroids to build their strength and endurance. Individuals who wish to lose body fat and lean out their bodies to improve their physical appearance may take steroids as well.

Some others take anabolic steroids as a way of simply increasing their physical endurance and energy levels. Steroids are also thought to reduce the recovery period in between workouts, which means “gym buffs” can train harder and more frequently without risk of burnout or injury.

In addition to adult use, middle school and high school aged children are also using steroids. This may be due to a number of reasons including sports performance and physical appearance enhancement. Many high school children face a lot of pressures to compete in sports to obtain scholarships, and so the use of steroids is perceived to help support this dream.

The problem of anabolic steroid abuse is becoming hard to manage because of the diverse level of use among multiple demographics. This is why it’s more important than ever to spread awareness and education regarding anabolic steroid abuse and addiction.

Anabolic Steroid Abuse

Unfortunately, there are a lot of misperceptions about steroid use among those who take them, especially younger males and females. Many of them have been told anabolic steroids are safe to use, have no concerning side effects and do not have addictive properties.

This is simply not the case. Anabolic steroids are synthetic drugs, which always come with a certain level of health risk. Additionally, the risk of abusing significantly increases when anabolic steroids are used without the direct supervision or prescription of a medical professional.

The risk of abuse rises significantly when used without the supervision of a medical professional

When people abuse anabolic steroids, they are taken orally, as pills or injected intra-muscularly. Steroids are also available as topical creams. Anabolic steroid abuse occurs when these drugs are taken without an authentic medical prescription. The doses typical steroid abusers take are also normally 10 to 100 times higher than the standard doses prescribed for medical conditions.

Steroid abuse also occurs in deliberate patterns and frequencies referred to as “cycling.” This is when several high doses of steroids are taken over a specific period of time, followed by a break and then starting up again.

Another form of potential anabolic steroid abuse is called “stacking” which occurs when multiple types of steroids are taken together. The goal with stacking is to amplify the effects of the drugs by using them together as opposed to using them individually.

A final method of abusing steroids is called “pyramiding” where steroid users start out with a certain dose and frequency of steroid use and then gradually increase the dosages and frequencies of use while combining multiple steroid types. They eventually taper off these dosages and frequencies and repeat this process in cycles every six to 12 weeks.

"Pyramiding" is starting out with a certain dose & frequency of steroid use and gradually increasing it while combining different steroid types

These systematic and promoted methods of abuse among the communities of steroid users make it easy for others to fall victim to steroid abuse, as it seems like a well-organized process. Unfortunately, many people who continue to abuse these systems and cycles can eventually suffer from physical repercussions and health risks, which we’ll talk more about later.

Anabolic Steroid Addiction

When continued anabolic steroid abuse occurs, it can create severe health side effects. Despite experiencing these health repercussions, many people may continue to take anabolic steroids. At this point, an anabolic steroid addiction may form. This addiction may include not only physical dangers, but also social and emotional effects that can psychologically damage the steroid user.

As with any addiction, a dependence on anabolic steroids can take up a massive amount of time and money and turn into an unhealthy obsession. Steroid users may spend money they don’t have to obtain the drugs to perpetuate their addiction.

If individuals have been using steroids over a long period of time, they may experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly choose to stop using. These withdrawal symptoms may include decreased sex drive, fatigue, insomnia, mood swings, irritability and loss of appetite. Once they’ve stopped using steroids, they may notice an increase in steroid cravings as well.

Withdrawal symptoms may include decreased sex drive, fatigue, insomnia, mood swings, irritability, & loss of appetite

When withdrawal becomes severe, then depression, anxiety and even suicide attempts may occur. These mental health symptoms can possibly persist for up to a year after steroid abuse has ended.

Anabolic steroid addiction may affect different people in different ways. Regardless of the severity of addiction, anabolic steroids are not safe to use for anyone who hasn’t been clinically assessed for their safe use.

Side Effects of Anabolic Steroid Abuse

Anabolic steroid abuse can produce a variety of symptoms, side effects and health dangers, and these adverse reactions can affect people physically, emotionally and psychologically. Side effects can surface immediately and last throughout the short term, or they may cause long-term damage. Some side effects are more severe than others ranging from physical appearance changes to life-threatening health conditions.

Because of the relatively new surge in popularity of using large doses of anabolic steroids, the short-term side effects are much more well-known than the long-term ones. There are clear short-term side effects to be aware of for all users including men and women of all ages.

Short-Term Physical Symptoms

Both males and females may experience the following short-term physical steroid abuse side effects and symptoms:

  • High levels of blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Severe facial and body acne
  • Hair thinning and balding
  • Fluid retention
  • Liver disorders, liver damage and jaundice
  • Kidney damage
  • Sexual and reproductive conditions specific to men and women individually
  • Risk of contracting HIV and other diseases through sharing infected needles

Specific physical side effects will differ between male and female anabolic steroid users. This is both in terms of the types of symptoms and their level of severity.

Specific physical side effects will differ between male and female anabolic steroid users

Physical Side Effects in Males

Here is a look at the physical short-term potential anabolic steroid abuse side effects in male users:

  • Atrophy of muscles, organs and testicles
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Decreased hormone levels
  • Increased levels of estrogen
  • Lowered sperm production
  • Painful erections
  • Enlarged breasts and prostate
  • Sterility

Many of these side effects can be controlled or halted in males when anabolic steroid use ends. When men stop taking anabolic steroids, they are eventually able to restore a natural hormonal balance and regain organ function. This includes being able to improve sperm production and reverse the shrinking of testicles. On the other hand, certain side effects such as male pattern baldness and breast enlargement are irreversible symptoms.

Physical Side Effects in Females

While women suffer many of the same side effects as men, there are anabolic steroid effects on females that are different. Many of these anabolic steroid effects on women can continue into the long-term and even be permanent. Here are the physical anabolic steroid effects on females:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Infertility
  • Enlarged clitoris
  • Deepening of voice
  • Development of facial hair and hair on stomach and upper back
  • Male pattern baldness and thinning hair
  • Diminishing breast size
  • Other masculinizing characteristics

Unfortunately, many of these anabolic steroid effects on females are irreversible. This includes baldness as well as the masculinizing effects such as deepening of the voice and facial hair growth. With continued use of anabolic steroids over long periods of time, most women will find they suffer from permanent damage and physical side effects.

Side Effects in Adolescents

With the growing number of teens using anabolic steroids, it’s important for them to be aware of the specific side effects they face as adolescents. Here are some of the physical side effects and dangers of teens using anabolic steroids:

  • Stunted growth
  • Muscle rupture and tears
  • Depression
  • Acne and pimples
  • Hormonal imbalances especially around age of puberty
  • At risk of fatality caused by liver damage or internal bleeding in young, developing youth
  • At risk for future health problems in adulthood

Many adolescents who use anabolic steroids will face the same problems that adult men and women face when using steroids. However, for a teen, these changes can be much more emotionally and psychologically damaging because they are young and at a vulnerable time in their lives.

For a teen, these changes can be much more emotionally & psychologically damaging.

The changes in young boys and girls may open them up to being ridiculed by others and thus facing self-esteem issues. These challenges can leave a damaging effect on the mentality of teenagers as they grow up, too.

Psychological and Emotional Side Effects

In addition to physical side effects of anabolic steroid abuse, there are also devastating emotional and psychological side effects that are often overlooked. Because steroids alter your hormonal composition, it affects your mood and emotions.

Here are some of the emotional and psychological side effects that can be expected in men and women abusing anabolic steroids:

  • Mood swings
  • Aggressive and violent behavior
  • Manic behavior
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Impaired judgment when feeling invincible
  • Delusions
  • Addiction

These side effects can occur due to ongoing anabolic steroid abuse. When people have been abusing steroids for too long, their psychological state may become altered. In some cases, extreme aggression may result in unusual criminal, violent or sexual activity that is often referred to as “roid rage.” This puts not only the anabolic steroid user at risk of self-harm, but it places others at risk of harm as well.

Many psychological symptoms can also occur when people who have become addicted to anabolic steroids suddenly stop taking them. They may start to experience psychological withdrawal. When these withdrawal symptoms exhibit themselves in severe forms of depression, the psychological side effects of anabolic steroids can potentially result in suicide.

Long-Term Health Risks

Beyond the irreversible physical symptoms of anabolic steroid abuse in men and women, there are other potential long-term side effects to consider. Though there are only case reports to analyze as opposed to scientific data on long-term side effects, one can recognize the risk for chronic psychological health issues.

If depression and other psychotic conditions result from the abuse of anabolic steroids, it can become a long-term health challenge that may take many years to overcome. Left untreated, these psychological health risks of anabolic steroid addiction can worsen over time.

If depression & other psychotic conditions result from the abuse of anabolic steroids, it can become a long-term health challenge

These side effects can also spill over into other aspects of the person’s life including their personal, social, family and professional lives. It can impact their financial stability and their reputation. Just like any other addiction, anabolic steroid addiction can alter one’s life entirely and will require professional recovery treatment.

Additionally, because anabolic steroid abuse is illegal it can potentially lead to hefty legal fines and even incarceration. These legal consequences are much more serious if you also become involved in the trafficking of anabolic steroids. Federal penalties for anabolic steroid trafficking can be upwards of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Penalties only increase further from there if multiple trafficking convictions occur.

Ultimately, the long-term side effects of anabolic steroid use are potentially unlimited and can seriously disrupt your life and the life of those you love and can even arrive at fatal outcomes.

Signs of Anabolic Steroid Addiction

If you are concerned that someone you love is facing a potential anabolic steroid addiction, then it’s vital to know the specific signs of this type of addiction. An addiction to anabolic steroids may produce the following signs in your loved one:

  • Rapid lean muscle gain over a 10-week period
  • An increase in working out and going to the gym
  • Receiving unknown packages in the mail that may be labeled “fragile”
  • Noticing or hearing pill bottles
  • Ordering syringes and needles
  • Appearance of track marks on the skin that look red and inflamed
  • Sudden signs of acne
  • A strong chemical odor that could indicate steroid creams
  • Low or slipping grades
  • Changes in mood including aggression or depression
  • Lack of sleep and fatigue
  • Lowered sex drive

While not all of these signs will indicate an anabolic steroid addiction, a combination of several of these could be clear signs of steroid abuse.

Tips for Dealing With Anabolic Steroid Addiction and Abuse

As you struggle to deal with a loved one’s potential anabolic steroid abuse or addiction situation, it may seem confusing and overwhelming. However, it’s important to know that an addiction to anabolic steroids can be treated, and your loved one can recover.

It's important to know that an addiction to anabolic steroids can be treated, and your loved one can recover

Some tips for families on how to handle anabolic steroid addiction in their loved ones include:

1. Stay informed: Knowing the scientific and medical facts surrounding steroid use is critical to making safe and informed decisions about how to safely end the use of steroids. This includes knowing the physical and psychological dangers and being prepared for these side effects and changes.

2. Seek support: Anabolic steroid addiction is a unique form of addiction that requires specialized recovery treatments. Seeking out professional support for interventions and ongoing treatment is vital to ensuring your loved one restores their health. This may potentially include psychiatric therapy and treatment for addressing psychological and emotional side effects.

3. Be compassionate: Your loved one is struggling with an addiction that causes physical and psychological issues that are difficult for many to acknowledge. If your loved one is in denial and doesn’t feel that their abuse of anabolic steroids is dangerous, then you must remain compassionate. Stay patient while you work with them to create awareness about the health risks of their addiction.

4. Encourage healthy options: People who abuse anabolic steroids are often doing so because they are wanting to achieve a certain physical appearance and performance level. Once your loved one has been able to seek treatment and support for their addiction, you can further encourage them to pursue physical fitness in safe and healthy ways. Be supportive of a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle that includes plenty of rest, proper nutrition and injury prevention.

If you or someone you love is struggling with steroid abuse and exhibiting signs of steroid addiction, contact Synergy Recovery Services for help. Synergy Recovery Services can provide a treatment plan that includes counseling to support recovery from all addictions, including anabolic steroids.