An undetermined percentage of steroid users may develop a steroid use disorder. Substance use disorders are defined by continued use despite adverse consequences; for steroid users, these may include physical or psychological problems such as breast growth (in men), sexual dysfunction, high blood pressure, excessive fats in the blood, heart disease, mood swings, severe irritability, or aggressiveness. Anabolic steroid users also may give up other important activities for fear that they will miss workouts, violate their dietary restrictions, or be prevented from using steroids. Steroid users also typically spend large amounts of time and money obtaining the drugs, and they may try to reduce or stop anabolic steroid use without success—possibly due to depression, anxiety about losing muscle mass, or and other unpleasant effects of withdrawal.
Withdrawal from Steroid
Withdrawal from steroids occurs when an individual develops dependence. A review of the research suggests that about 32 percent of people who misuse anabolic steroids become dependent. Symptoms of dependence can include tolerance, which is needing to take more steroids to achieve the same effects. Another indicator of dependence is withdrawal once anabolic steroid use stops. Withdrawal symptoms can include fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, and steroid cravings. The most dangerous of the withdrawal symptoms is depression, because it sometimes leads to suicide attempts.
Anabolic steroids are either prescribed or illegally obtained by individuals who want to appear stronger and develop muscle mass in a short period of time, often resulting in increased confidence and self-esteem. There are over 100 types of anabolic steroids, only a fraction of which have been approved for medical use.
Even though steroids don’t chemically produce euphoria or a “high” like a typical addictive substance, those who regularly abuse these drugs are at risk of developing a severe addiction. The desire to continue feeling good about oneself and achieve a desired appearance can quickly take over, fueling greater and greater use. Any time a medication is used without a prescription or beyond its medical scope, intended purpose, at higher doses, or increased frequencies than prescribed, it is considered as steroid abuse.
Anabolic steroid is addictive due two primary factors. The first is a behavior of many individuals with substance use disorders, the compulsive need to seek out and use anabolic steroids. The second is the appearance of withdrawal symptoms due to when the user cuts back or stops using steroids completely. The obsessive-compulsive behavior to keep using anabolic steroids often begins when the steroids improve physical appearance and strength in a short amount of time, which may eventually result in an addiction developing.
Individuals with a history of substance use disorders are at higher risk of abusing anabolic steroids. This is also true of individuals who have co-occurring disorders, especially body dysmorphia, as they may find themselves continuously using steroids to “keep improving,” even after they have reached their original goal.
People taking steroids may also develop a tolerance to the drugs and experience withdrawal symptoms such as low sex drive, loss of appetite, mood swings, fatigue, insomnia, and depression when they stop taking them. These are both signs of an addiction.
Other signs of an addiction include:
- Spending large amounts of time and money getting or using steroids
- Ignoring responsibilities at work or home
- Continuing to use steroids despite physical side effects like hair loss
- Having persistent issues with friends and family
- Experiencing severe depression as a result of withdrawal
People who take steroids for a prolonged period of time disrupt natural hormonal balances in their bodies. When someone addicted to steroids suddenly stops taking the drugs, they can become depressed and even suicidal due to these hormonal imbalances. Someone looking to quit taking steroids should look for help. In treatment for steroid addiction, doctors can prescribe medications to restore healthy hormonal balance and reduce depressive symptoms.
What Is Anabolic Steroid?
Anabolic steroids are synthetic drugs that mimic testosterone, the male sex hormone. The full name of these drugs is “anabolic-androgenic steroids.” The word “anabolic” refers to the drug’s muscle-building effects, and “androgenic” refers to its masculinizing effects.
There is another type of steroid, known as corticosteroids, which shouldn’t be confused with anabolic steroids. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are often used to treat allergic reactions. These steroids don’t have the same effects as anabolic steroids, as they don’t facilitate muscle growth and don’t mimic the male sex hormone.
Anabolic steroids are available with a prescription and have important medical applications. Doctors prescribe anabolic steroids to treat several medical conditions, including:
- Delayed puberty, especially in adolescent boys
- Hormone imbalances in men
- Breast cancer
- Muscle loss due to disease
- Certain types of anemia
- Weight loss in individuals with HIV
- Other hormonal conditions
Anabolic steroids activate components of DNA in muscle cells that increase production of the proteins that build muscle tissues and fibers. This results in increased muscle growth and body mass in short periods of time. These components also increase bone minerals and impact the function of the immune, reproductive, central nervous, and other body systems and organs.
Anabolic steroids come in the form of pills, injectable liquids and topical gels or creams. Street names for anabolic steroids include juice, stackers, hype and roids. Some of the most common steroid brands include:
Some steroid abusers have even been known to use veterinary steroids like Equipoise because these drugs are usually cheaper, more accessible and produce similar results.
Any use of anabolic steroids without a doctor’s prescription is abuse. It’s also illegal. Those abusing anabolic steroids often take much larger doses than would ever be prescribed, in some cases 10 to 100 times larger. Anabolic steroids change how the body builds muscle. During exercise, people create small tears in their muscles. When it heals, the muscle tissue becomes stronger than before. Anabolic steroids quicken the healing process. This helps people exercise harder, more often and with greater results.
Some individuals who abuse anabolic steroids for extended periods of time eventually reach a high tolerance, resulting in the use of two or more different steroids at the same time, called “stacking.” This places individuals at much greater risk of negative side-effects and/or health risks.
People abuse anabolic steroids to change their physical appearance and abilities. Some athletes and bodybuilders use steroids for a competitive edge. Bodybuilders may use the drugs to get bigger, feel stronger, and increase their confidence. Some football players use steroids before a game to feel more aggressive. For years, several major league baseball players have taken steroids for more power at the bat. All of this despite the fact that is illegal and against professional codes to use steroids in sports.
For many, the pressure to stay competitive is a major factor in the decision to use steroids. However, many people taking steroids just want to look better.
Contrary to common belief, most [anabolic steroid] users do not engage in competitive athletics, but simply want to become leaner and more muscular.- H.G. Pope Jr., Treatment of Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Related Disorders, 2015
There are three common ways people abuse anabolic steroids. They are:
- “Stacking”Stacking is taking multiple types of steroids at once or mixing oral and injectable formulations. Many steroid abusers believe stacking increases results, but this method has not been scientifically proven.
- “Cycling”Cycling is a process of taking steroids during predetermined periods of time, usually 6-12 weeks. Users who are cycling take multiple doses for several weeks, stop for several weeks, and then start taking the steroids again. Steroid abusers use off-cycles to allow the body to produce its own testosterone and to reduce damage to internal organs.
- “Pyramiding”Pyramiding is a method of taking steroids during a cycle. In the beginning of the cycle, users start with a low dose and gradually increase to a maximum dose mid-cycle. In the second half of the cycle, the user slowly tapers down their steroid dose.
According to the leading scientific research, none of these methods have been verified, nor do they reduce the risks or side effects of anabolic steroid use.
The Food and Drug Administration estimates that 375,000 young men and 175,000 young women in high school abuse anabolic steroids every year.
Even though males make up the majority of those abusing steroids, females also turn to the drugs for a better physique. In an article for the New York Times, one woman described her decision to take steroids as a teenager. Dionne Roberts was a popular cheerleader who wanted six-pack abs.
It’s not uncommon to strive for that four-pack or six-pack, even in girls. Being in shape is not just a masculine thing. So I mentioned to a friend on the football team that I was interested in [steroids].- Dionne Roberts, New York Times, 2008
Roberts easily acquired her first cycle of steroids but ultimately regretted the decision to use them. The drugs induced aggression and a serious depression that sent her to the hospital, where she was placed on suicide watch. Roberts eventually moved past her difficulties with steroids and graduated college.
Although rare, people taking large amounts of anabolic steroids may overdose. Steroid overdose may lead to coma, heart attack and stroke.
What Is Estrogen Rebound?
Steroids act as mood elevators, which results in similar effects to anti-depressants. Once an individual stops a steroid cycle, especially a man, a condition called “estrogen rebound” may develop. It results in the production and release of the female hormone estrogen at rapid, elevated levels. Side-effects of “estrogen rebound” include symptoms of depression. The greater the dosage of anabolic steroids and the longer they are abused, the more more severe the symptoms of estrogen rebound will be.
Dangerous Drug Combinations
Anabolic steroids can reduce the pleasurable effects of certain drugs. The diminished high caused by steroids leads many users may take higher doses than they normally would. This increases their risk of overdose.
Some drugs commonly abused by steroid users include:
- MDMA (ecstasy)
Steroid users abusing other drugs often turn to stimulants like cocaine and Adderall for an energy boost and decreased appetite. What many people don’t realize is that mixing stimulants and steroids heightens aggression and puts stress on the heart. Abusing alcohol while taking steroids often leads to excessive aggression. Taking these substances together may have a long-term impact on behavior and can worsen an addiction. People abusing alcohol and steroids together may be more likely to commit violent crimes.
Some people become addicted to alcohol or other drugs in an attempt to self-medicate unwanted side effects of anabolic steroids like insomnia and aggression. A study of men with heroin addiction found that 9 percent started taking the drug because of their steroid use.
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