The Dangerous and Underreported Health Consequences of Steroid Abuse

Anabolic steroids are designed as synthetic variations of the male sex hormone testosterone. The full term for these compounds is anabolic-androgenic steroids.

The anabolic part of the name is a reference to muscle building and the androgenic term is a reference to increased male characteristics. Anabolic steroids are often referred to under different slang and street names such as “Gear,” “Juice,” “Roids,” and “Stockers.”

A Brief History of Steroids

Anabolic steroids were first developed in the late 1930s primarily as a way of treating hypogonadism, a condition in which the testes are unable to produce sufficient testosterone for normal development, growth and sexual functioning. Steroid compounds have been used by the medical profession to treat delayed puberty, some forms of impotence and to counteract wasting of the body caused by HIV infection and other diseases.

The scientific discovery in the 1930s that anabolic steroids had the ability to facilitate the growth of skeletal muscle in laboratory animals peaked the interest of some bodybuilders and weightlifters. They could see that they might gain a competitive advantage by using these compounds to enhance their performance capabilities.

Steroid abuse became widespread in athletics and created a marketplace where regulations have struggled to control the flow of illegal steroids. these substances are sometimes smuggled in from countries that do not require a prescription for the purchase of specific steroids. A number of steroids are also illegally diverted from pharmacies, while some are synthesized in unregulated laboratories.

There are a considerable number of oral and injectable anabolic steroids and these are often referred to by an abbreviated or slang name. To best understand these substances, it’s important to know what the names actually stands for.

Some of the oral versions of steroids you might encounter include:

Injectable steroids and associated street names include:

Adverse Side Effects of Steroid Use

The use of steroids has been associated with a wide range of known adverse side effects. Some of these include unwelcome physical reactions like acne or breast development in men. Steroids can also lead to a permanent deepening of the voice for female users, and put some people at an increased risk of heart attack or liver cancer.

Many of the long-term effects of using anabolic steroids are unknown because a large percentage of the data relating to these side effects is derived from case reports rather than more formal epidemiological studies. The National Institute on Drug Abuse voices concerns that a number of serious adverse effects might be going underreported and even under-recognized, because these side-effects might take many years to manifest and evolve.

Steroid Abuse Practices – No Evidence of Reduced Risk

Those who abuse anabolic steroids will often take them either orally or inject them directly into their muscles. These doses can often be many times higher than the dosage level prescribed by doctors to treat medical conditions. Steroids that are applied to the skin in the form of a gel, cream, or patch are also available. No matter how steroids are taken, the drug’s positive effects cannot be maximized while minimizing the side effects.

There are a number of known practices for taking steroids which are perceived to achieve these aims, including:

Cycling– Taking doses of steroids for a defined period of time, ceasing for a similar period, and then restarting the cycle over again.

Stacking– A practice where the user looks to combine two or more different steroids at the same time

Pyramiding– A practice that involves a steady incremental increase of the steroid dose before reaching a peak level and tapering off, before beginning the process again.

There is currently no scientific evidence that supports the theory that these established practices actually have any positive impact on reducing the harmful consequences and side effects associated with steroid abuse.

The Effects of Steroids on the Brain

Anabolic steroids do not have the same short-term effects on the brain as other drugs of abuse. Steroids do not trigger the same rapid increases in the brain chemical dopamine, which creates the characteristic “high” that often drives people to continue abusing other substances. The consequences of prolonged steroid abuse on your brain are complex and varied. Steroids can eventually affect the same brain pathways and chemicals influenced by other drugs, and create significant changes in your mood and behavior.

Those who abuse steroid may also experience some short-term mental health problems such as paranoia, extreme irritability, delusional thoughts and impaired thinking. Mood swings can be a characteristic of steroid abuse and this can induce extreme feelings of anger and rage that could trigger a violent outburst. Scientists are The Dangerous and Underreported Health Consequences of Steroid Abuse

How Steroids Impact the Hormonal System

The bottom line is that steroid abuse interrupts and disrupts the normal production of hormones in your body. This disruption to your hormonal system can cause both reversible and some irreversible changes. Temporary and reversible issues include a reduced sperm count and a shrinking of the testicles, known as testicular atrophy.

Some of the irreversible changes that can occur include male pattern baldness and breast development (gynecomastia) in men. Steroid abuse in women can lead to masculinization, a reduction in breast size and body fat, coarser skin, a deeper voice and excessive body hair growth.

Prolonged and continued steroid abuse can ensure that a good number of these hormonal side effects become permanent features. It is estimated that about half of all bodybuilders suffer from either testicular atrophy or gynecomastia, or both.

Cardiovascular Diseases and Steroid Use

Steroid abuse has been directly associated with a number of recognized cardiovascular diseases, and can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Even in young people under the age of 30, steroid abuse has the ability to make a notable contribution toward the development of cardiovascular diseases. Steroids have the capacity to change the levels of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol in your blood.

Oral steroids, in particular, heighten the level of low-density atherosclerosis developing, which is a condition in which fatty substances are deposited inside the arteries and cause disruption to blood flow. You could suffer a heart attack if blood fails to reach your heart efficiently. You are also at risk of suffering a stroke if blood is prevented from reaching your brain.

Steroid Abuse and Liver Damage

Steroid abuse can cause serious damage to your liver and has been associated with tumors as well as a rare condition known as “peliosis hepatis,” which causes blood-filled cysts to form in your liver. These tumors and cysts have the potential to rupture at some point, leading to internal bleeding.

How Steroids Affects the Skin

Classic symptoms of steroid abuse include oily skin, greasy hair and severe acne. You could also experience jaundice or yellowing of the skin, which is an indication of potential liver damage. Those who abuse steroids may also suffer skin eruptions and infections such as cysts and abscesses.

The Risk of Infection From Steroid Use

There is always the risk that a person who is abusing steroid by injecting may use a nonsterile or contaminated needle. Some steroids produced illegally may have been manufactured under nonsterile conditions, creating a potential danger of infection.

Life-threatening viral infections such as hepatitis B and C, and HIV are risks in those circumstances. Those who abuse steroids also face the prospect of developing endocarditis, a bacterial infection that could lead to a potentially fatal inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. Some may also experience localized pain and abscess formation from bacterial infections around the injection site.

Anabolic steroid abuse may lead to serious, even permanent, health problems such as:

  • Kidney problems or failure
  • Liver damage
  • 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

Several other effects are gender- and age-specific:

  • In men:
    • Shrinking testicles
    • Decreased sperm count
    • Baldness
    • Development of breasts
    • Increased risk for prostate cancer
  • In women:
    • Growth of facial hair or excess body hair
    • Male pattern baldness
    • Changes in or stop in the
    • Menstrual cycle
    • Enlarged clitoris
    • Deepened voice
  • In teens:
    • stunted growth (when high hormone levels from steroids signal to the body to stop bone growth too early)
    • stunted height (caused when teens use steroids before their growth spurt)

Some of these physical changes, such as shrinking sex organs in men, can also contribute to mental health side effects such as mood disorders.

A Growing Adolescent Problem

The Taylor Hooton Foundation reports that teen girls are the fastest growing group of new steroid users, and more than 1.5 million teens have admitted to using anabolic steroids. Adolescents steroid users primarily state that their reasons for taking steroids is to improve their look. More than half of the teens questioned said that they would take a pill or powder if it improved their athletic prowess, even if the consequences were that it shortened their life expectancy.

There are specific problems associated with steroid abuse in this age category as teenage bodies are still developing. Using steroids could cause the body to stop bone growth too early and diminish the potential to reach projected height if steroids are taken before a growth spurt.

Spotting the signs of steroid use and abuse in young users is normally done through noticing physical changes that are hard to mask with a novice user. Short-term visible changes in appearance such as rapid weight gain that can’t be attributed to normal growth and a more bloated appearance are just a couple of indicators. When combined with noticeable personality changes and behaviors, these signs could point to a problem with steroid abuse.

Are Anabolic Steroids Addictive?

Despite the fact that anabolic steroids do not have the capacity to cause the same high as other drugs, they can still lead to addiction.

Getting Treatment for Steroid Use

Getting treatment for a potential addiction to anabolic steroids takes a similar route to the network of help options available to other additional problems. Some people find talking therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helpful in seeing how their thoughts and feelings affect their behavior. Some physicians have found that supportive therapy is sufficient to resolve the problem in some cases, however, very few studies have been carried out so far relating to the treatment of anabolic steroid abuse.

Medication might be used when withdrawal symptoms are prolonged or severe. Some medications are specifically used to target the restoration and rebalancing of your hormonal system after it has been disrupted by steroid abuse. Antidepressants might be prescribed to treat depression symptoms, or analgesics for muscle and joint pains, or problems with headaches.

The Importance of Finding Help for Steroid Abuse

There are persistent reports of steroid abuse amongst professional athletes and there are clearly issues affecting young adults who are sometimes turning to steroids in an attempt to change and “improve” their body shape and confidence levels. It is important to understand how abuse of anabolic steroids differs from the abuse of other illicit substances, because the initial abuse of anabolic steroids is not driven by the immediate euphoria that accompanies most addictive drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana, but by a person’s desire to alter their appearance and performance. These characteristics are especially significant for some adolescents and adults looking to enhance their physical attributes and performance capabilities.

While the effects of steroids can potentially provide an initial boost to confidence levels and physical strength, but this can cause some to underestimate and overlook the potentially life-threatening, long-term damage that abuse of these substances can cause. The fact that these long-term consequences of steroid abuse are still going largely underreported in comparison to more high-profile drug addiction issues does not make the health consequences any less damaging.

If you or someone you know needs help with a steroid use, contact The Recovery Village today. With a broad range of drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and co-occurring disorder treatment, The Recovery Village can help you find long-term healing.