Anabolic steroids are synthetic, or human-made, variations of the male sex hormone testosterone. The proper term for these compounds is anabolic-androgenic steroids. “Anabolic” refers to muscle building, and “androgenic” refers to increased male sex characteristics. Unfortunately, it can also be habit-forming and this anabolic steroid abuse may cause bad effects.
Health care providers can prescribe steroids to treat hormonal issues, such as delayed puberty. Steroids can also treat diseases that cause muscle loss, such as cancer and AIDS. But some athletes and bodybuilders misuse these drugs to boost performance or improve their physical appearance.
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Abuse And Addiction Symptoms
Long-term steroid misuse can impact brain pathways and chemicals affected by other drugs, such as dopamine, serotonin, and opioid systems. Someone abusing steroids will experience physical and psychological signs of addiction. These include:
- Mood Swings
- Steroid Cravings
- Physical effects of extended steroid use that vary by gender
- Prioritizing steroid use over other things in life
What Are Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids?
Anabolic-androgenic steroids are synthetic hormones designed to mimic male sex hormones. Doctors prescribe them to help with certain conditions, such as anemia or low testosterone (low-T) levels. But they are also used illegally to enhance muscle growth. People in good health and too young a low-T problem take steroids to promote muscle growth, decrease body fat, and improve athletic performance.
Although it might seem as if the benefits of using steroids are positive, they are harmful and potentially fatal. Steroid addiction can affect the body long after no use, especially when taken by adolescents. Some common street names for steroids include:
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Uses Of Steroids
Legally, doctors prescribe steroids to boost testosterone levels in the body for men who are out of balance. This might happen because of metabolic issues or due to certain illnesses. Anabolic steroids are also used to treat:
- Hereditary Angioedema
- HIV Wasting Syndrome
- As an adjunct treatment for some types of breast cancer
- For children with growth problems
But these are only the legal uses of steroids. People also use steroids without a doctor’s prescription to enhance performance and “improve” their bodies. Steroids come in pill form or injection that goes directly into muscles. When used correctly and under the supervision of a doctor, they are relatively safe. But people using steroids illegally have a higher risk of overusing them. Injecting steroids can also increase the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV or hepatitis.
Patterns Of steroid Misuse
- Stacking: People who abuse steroids take doses up to 100 times the regularly prescribed amount or use more than one type of steroid at a time. They are known as “stacking,” the practice results in faster increases in muscle mass. Some abusers even have a system in which they cycle their steroid use, gradually increasing their dosage over a six to 12-week period.
- Cycling: When a person takes multiple doses for a certain amount of time, stops taking them, and then starts using again.
- Plateauing: When drug tolerance builds, a person takes higher doses to achieve the same effects. When it comes to steroids, they may overlap, alternate, or substitute with a different steroid to avoid building a tolerance.
There is no scientific evidence that stacking is effective, but it’s a standard process among those with steroid use disorder.
Steroid use produces several side effects. Steroids contribute to acne and hair loss, stimulating male breast development and female beard growth. Additionally, they may result in liver tumors and cardiac issues. People who misuse steroids also have a higher risk of experiencing uncontrolled “roid rage” and violent mood swings. Introducing them into a balanced body throws things into an imbalance. This is dangerous for anyone as well as for adolescents.
Hormones are an essential part of adolescent development. Introducing them into a developing body creates confusion. Boys who use steroids have a higher risk of reduced sperm count and shrunken testicles, in addition to gynecomastia. Steroids oppositely affect girls by interfering with the development of feminine traits. Female steroid users have deeper voices, male pattern hair growth, and decreased breast size.
Steroids can also cause peliosis hepatis, which triggers blood-filled cysts in the liver. Internal bleeding can occur if these cysts rupture.
Health Effects Of Anabolic Steroids Abuse
Aside from mental effects, steroid use commonly causes severe acne. It also causes the body to swell, especially in the hands and feet.
Anabolic steroid misuse might lead to severe, even permanent, health problems such as:
- Kidney Problems or Failure
- Liver Damage and Tumors
- Enlarged heart, high blood pressure, and changes in blood cholesterol, all of which increase the risk
- of stroke and heart attack, even in young people
- Increased Risk of Blood Clots
Several Other Effects Are gender- and Age-Specific:
- Shrinking Testicles
- Decreased Sperm Count
- Development of Breasts
- Growth of facial hair or excess body hair
- Decreased Breast Size
- Male-pattern baldness
- Changes in or stop in the menstrual cycle
- Enlarged Clitoris
- Deepened Voice
How Do Anabolic Steroid Abuse Affect The Brain?
Anabolic steroids work differently from other drugs of abuse; they do not have the same short-term effects on the brain. The most crucial difference is that steroids do not directly activate the reward system to cause a “high”; they also do not trigger rapid increases in the brain chemical dopamine, reinforcing most other types of drug-taking behavior.
Misuse of Anabolic Steroids Might Lead to Adverse Mental Effects, such as:
- Paranoid (extreme, unreasonable) jealousy
- Intense Irritability and Aggression (“roid rage”)
- Delusions—false beliefs or ideas
- Impaired judgment
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Anabolic Steroid Abuse Withdrawal
Steroid use disorder is possible when abusing steroids. Someone with a steroid use disorder will continue to use even with negative consequences. The physical problems, mood swings, and other adverse side effects won’t deter their use. They might also prioritize steroids over additional responsibilities, such as family obligations, financial security, and work. Some even try to quit steroid use and fail.
Steroid Withdrawal Symptoms include:
- Muscle Aches
- Loss of Appetite
- Mood Swings
- Reduced Sex Drive
- Steroid Cravings
Other Risks And Dangers Of Steroids
In addition to the expected risks of abusing anabolic steroids, there are other concerns. These were likely present issues when steroid use began, and the person tried steroids as a result. For example:
- Poor self-esteem
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
- Ignorance about health
- Focus on weight or shape encouraged by peers, parents, and others
- Eating disorders
- Abuse of other substances
Some steroid users have muscle dysmorphia, which is a disorder that results in a man thinking he looks weak or small even if the opposite is true. It is similar to what those with eating disorders experience when they believe themselves to be overweight even if they are significantly underweight.
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Anabolic Steroid Abuse Treatment
Treatment is available for steroid abuse, but it’s not often used. Research shows most people don’t discuss their steroid use with their doctors. Misleading information is available online. Steroid users also turn to their peers for information. In both cases, steroid users tend to be dissuaded from seeking professional help, even though it’s available.
Treatment of steroid use disorder effectively, a program needs to address the physical dependence and the underlying causes. Successful treatment includes:
- Support for muscle dysmorphia and other psychological issues that drive steroid use
- Endocrine therapy to restore the body’s natural function
- Medication to alleviate depression (endocrine treatment might help with this)
- Medication and support for co-occurring conditions
- Behavioral therapy and medications to manage withdrawal symptoms
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