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Steroid Abuse and Addiction Information Guide

Steroid Abuse and Addiction: Performance Enhancement That’s Not Worth the Costs

Just hearing the word “steroids” probably brings to mind a host of scandals in professional athletics.

And while the effects of these performance-enhancing drugs certainly give athletes an edge over their opponents, there’s a lot more to worry about when it comes to abusing steroids than just an unfair advantage on the field.

Whether your steroid abuse is driven by a negative body image, a need to excel in certain sports, or simply a desire to make your body stronger and more powerful, the truth is that abusing this drug can lead to a number of dangerous (and even deadly) side effects.

Here’s everything you need to know about steroid abuse and addiction. After all, one of the core principles of effective drug abuse prevention is education.

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What Are Steroids and How Are They Used?

While the term “steroids” is bound to bring images of bodybuilders and professional athletes to mind, the truth is that it actually applies to a number of other compounds that you may not expect.

According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NGIMS), a steroid is:

… a chemical name for any substance that has a characteristic chemical structure consisting of multiple rings of connected atoms. Some examples of steroids included vitamin D, cholesterol, estrogen, and cortisone—molecules that are critical for keeping the body running smoothly.

While these compounds are natural steroids, the synthetic steroids are probably the ones you’re most familiar with. They’re used to treat a variety of conditions including:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Gout
  • Muscle loss
  • Delayed puberty

And while all steroids carry with them a number of detrimental health effects, anabolic steroids in particular are sometimes used as substances of abuse.

When taken illicitly in order to increase physical ability, these drugs can be extremely dangerous and could cause several long-term and even permanent health conditions. What’s more, they may even ultimately cause a physical and mental addiction that can lead to a life-changing downward spiral.

One of the most common misconceptions about steroids is that there’s only one type – and that’s the one that famous athletes abuse to give them a physical edge over their opponents.

However, the reality of the situation is that there are actually two different types of clinical steroids: corticosteroids and anabolic steroids. What’s more, they affect the body very differently from one another and should not be confused.

Corticosteroids, for example, are typically used to treat swelling and inflammation and may be prescribed to reduce the symptoms of severe allergies, asthma, or arthritis according to the Mayo Clinic. They are also referred to as glucocorticoids.

Anabolic steroids on the other hand are closely related to the male sex hormones and promote the growth of certain types of muscles. They also spur the progression of male sexual characteristics.

While each type of steroids does in fact have a legitimate medical purpose, anabolic steroids are most typically the type that are frequently abused. So, while there are plenty of side effects associated with corticosteroids, rest assured that taking these drugs long-term won’t lead to the same symptoms of anabolic steroid abuse.

How Does Steroid Use Affect the Body?

Anabolic steroids are used illicitly more often than not to promote muscle growth. While corticosteroids are primarily related to the natural bodily compound known as cortisol, anabolic steroids are closely related to testosterone.

Anabolic steroids are used illegally by athletes looking to gain a physical edge. But these drugs are far more dangerous than you may know and can be addictive.

In both of these cases, steroids are synthetically created in order to mimic the effects of these natural hormones.

Anabolic steroids work on the body in a couple of ways. First of all, they have an anabolic effect which increases protein production and promotes anabolism, the construction and growth of the body’s cells and skeletal musculature.

As long as the user continues to work out, these higher levels of protein allow the muscles to grow at a much quicker rate and help reduce the necessary recovery time after exercise.

Anabolic steroids also have an androgenic effect in that they affect the primary and secondary sex characteristics of the user. Many anabolic steroid abusers experience these effects in the form of:

  • Increased body hair growth
  • Acne
  • Deeper voice
  • Impotence
  • Diminished menstruation
  • Infertility

Are All Steroids Illegal?

The short answer here is no, not all steroids are illegal. In fact, corticosteroids are some of the most common treatments used to reduce the severity of many different inflammatory diseases such as colitis, asthma, and even rashes.

Since the 1990 implementation of the Anabolic Steroids Control Act though, anabolic steroids have been categorized as a Schedule III drug. As such, these substances are in many cases 100% illegal to use, possess, or sell without a valid prescription and could lead to jail time as well as a hefty fine.

A basic rule of thumb when it comes to using steroids: if your doctor didn’t prescribe it, don’t use it.

One of the biggest differences between steroids and other substances of abuse is that anabolic steroids do not trigger the rush of pleasure-causing dopamine in the body like other drugs. In effect, steroids don’t create the same high – let alone any high at all.

But like other drugs, continued steroid abuse can in a sense condition the mind to crave more anabolic steroids – so much so that individuals may experience withdrawals if they go too long without using.

According to NIDA, long-term steroid abuse can in fact act on the same brain pathways and chemicals which are typically affected by other drugs, namely dopamine, serotonin, and opioid systems.

In effect, steroids may not create the same physical high of other drugs and, as a result, may be more difficult to categorize as physically addictive. However, research has shown that some people’s bodies do become physically and chemically altered due to long-term steroid abuse, one of the hallmarks of addiction.

In addition to the numerous signs of drug addiction in general, there are several symptoms of steroid abuse in others to be on the lookout for.

While you may already have a gut feeling that someone you love is abusing anabolic steroids, identifying these signs (will help you determine if you need to seek out professional help.

  • Gynecomastia in men (the development of breasts)
  • Disproportionate upper body development
  • Unnaturally rapid muscle growth
  • Severe acne
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Exceptionally oily skin or hair
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Depression

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Am I Addicted to Anabolic Steroids?

If you think you are suffering from an anabolic steroid addiction, the first step in recovery is acknowledging your addiction – considered by many to be the hardest step of all.

One of the easiest ways of coming to this realization is by taking a quick online addiction quiz to give you a better perspective on the extent of your steroid addiction.

You can also use the clinical guidelines for a substance use disorder provided by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. These criteria provide an even more in-depth look at your addiction behaviors and will help you determine if you are suffering from an addiction.

What’s more, they’re also the exact guidelines used by physicians and mental health professionals across the country. It doesn’t get much more trustworthy than that.

Physical Short-Term Effects of Steroids

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) there are a number of short-term side effects of steroid abuse.

As steroids are very closely related to the body’s natural sexual hormones, men and women as well as prepubescent boys will all experience somewhat different side effects.

For men, these effects include:

  • Acne
  • Testicle shrinkage
  • Skin tissue damage due to injection
  • Decreased semen volume, sperm production and motility
  • Frequent or continuing erections
  • Enlargement of the breast (also known as gynecomastia)
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased LDL and decreased HDL cholesterol levels
  • Fluid retention
  • Abnormal liver function
  • Prostate enlargement
  • Bleeding (usually nose)

For young men who take anabolic steroids before reaching puberty there are a number of other side effects as well, including:

  • Precocious sexual development
  • Painful, prolonged erections
  • Penis enlargement
  • Premature closure of the growth plates in long bones resulting in a permanent stunting of growth
  • Fluid retention

Women will experience a range of different effects including:

  • Acne
  • Oily skin
  • Tissue damage due to injection
  • Deepening of the voice
  • Increased body and facial hair growth
  • Enlargement of the clitoris
  • Male pattern baldness
  • Decreased breast size
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Fluid retention

And finally, there are a number of cardiovascular effects that can impact both men and women in the short-term including:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased LDL cholesterol
  • Enlargement of the heart
  • Actual death of heart cells
  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke

Physical Long-Term Effects of Anabolic Steroids

The long-term effects of continued steroid abuse are generally increases in the severity of the short-term effects.

The initial stages of acne, for example, may be exacerbated by using steroids over a long period of time. Likewise, the impact on sperm motility may be temporary for short-term steroid users but the longer they’re used, the more likely these fertility problems will become irreversible.

Similar to illicit substances like heroin, ecstasy, and cocaine, prolonged anabolic steroid use can also cause serious damage to the liver. The resulting damage may cause cancer, peliosis hepatis, the development of tumors, and hepatitis.

And finally, as with most illicit drugs on the market today, the mere fact that these substances are illegal means that their production and synthesis are not monitored by reliable government regulations and standards.

That means that there really is no safeguard against unsafe ingredients, putting you at risk for a near-infinite number of problems caused by fillers, stimulants, analogues, and other impurities that you may be lurking in your batch of steroids.

Roid Rage

While full-blown drug induced psychosis is rare in anabolic steroid abusers (though not unheard of), there is significant evidence that using anabolic steroids can lead to extreme mood swings and anger – also known as “roid rage.”

NIDA reported that out of four of the most reputable studies attempting to test the relationship between anger and anabolic steroids, three of them showed that steroid abuse does in fact produce feelings of irritability and aggression.

However, it seems as though the results are highly variable across individuals as well as the type of steroids used. For instance, some steroids may have a decreased impact on the body’s secondary sex characteristics (thought to be the cause of such rage) than others.

That being said, knowing exactly which product puts you at a greater risk of roid rage is exceedingly difficult due to the illegality of the drug and the lack of trustworthy standards. What’s more, knowing just how your body will react to each is even more challenging.

The best way to avoid accidental and potentially life-changing violence caused by roid rage then is by refraining from any steroid abuse.

Another particularly notable side effect of continued steroid abuse is the increased risk of developing serious depression. While there is already a significant correlation between any substance use disorder and psychiatric mood disorders, anabolic steroids specifically have been shown to increase the likelihood of depression down the line.

In fact, one Finnish study cited by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) discovered that a whopping 38% of the deaths of steroid-using power lifters were the result of suicide. To put that into perspective, only 3% of the general male population in Finland died of the same causes.

Beyond that, glucocorticoids (a.k.a. corticosteroids) also have a long list of detrimental psychiatric effects. One large-scale UK study found that glucocorticoid users were:

…almost 7 times more likely to commit or attempt suicide, more than 5 times more likely to develop delirium, more than 4 times more likely to develop mania, and almost twice as likely to develop depression.

Ultimately, steroids of both kinds have been linked to serious depression, the results of which may in fact be life-threatening. Just one more reason to stay clear of this drug.

Despite the claims of some people and more often than not the people who abuse this drug, steroids can in fact lead to eventual addiction. As the body and mind become accustomed to a continuous presence of steroids in the system, they begin to physically adapt and change.

And once anabolic steroids are abruptly discontinued, both the brain and the body may have a hard time shifting back to business as usual without the drug. The uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous symptoms that come about as a result are known as withdrawals.

While addiction can be a bit more difficult to detect among steroid abusers (thus making it harder to document the symptoms of withdrawal), NIDA points out that there are a few signs of withdrawal that are more common than others such as:

  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Cravings

Depression is another very serious withdrawal symptom of anabolic steroids and, as we’ve already seen, can be potentially fatal when it results in suicide as so many steroid use cases have in the past.

Where to Get Help for Anabolic Steroid Abuse

If you’re ready to drop your steroid use disorder and start down the path of cleaner, steroid-free living, one of the first steps in the process is finding a proper addiction treatment center.

But not all rehab facilities are created equally. In fact, there are a few specific things you should watch out for when choosing your recovery center.

Ones that employ evidence-based treatments are key for any addiction. Beyond just detox and coping with withdrawals, the most effective facilities will also employ other addiction therapies like CBT and DBT as well as additional therapies.

What’s more, given the prevalence of depression occurring alongside steroid abuse, finding a facility capable of treating a dual diagnosis is absolutely essential to your recovery.

Ensuring your facility has each of these specialties is a great start on your path to sobriety.

Anabolic Steroids: Performance Enhancement at A Dangerous Cost

Steroids are certainly one way to increase the performance of your body. But the dangers, both physically and mentally, associated with their use make them far more hazardous than they are beneficial.

As such, if you or anyone you know is suffering from a steroid addiction, it’s crucial to get the necessary help today before it’s too late.

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