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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 who are in good health and too young a low-T problem take steroids to promote muscle growth, decrease body fat, and enhance 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 they are no longer in use, especially when taken by adolescents.
Some common street names for steroids include:
Legally, steroids are prescribed by doctors 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:
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 properly 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.
Common patterns of steroid misuse include:
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. 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.
There is no scientific evidence that proves stacking to be effective, but it’s a common process among those with steroid use disorder.
Steroid use produces several side effects.
Steroids lead to the development of acne and hair loss. They can trigger breast growth in males and beard growth in females. They can also cause liver tumors and heart problems. People who misuse steroids also have a higher risk of experiencing uncontrolled “roid rage” and violent mood swings.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic variations of the male sex hormone testosterone. Introducing them into a balanced body throws things into an imbalance. This is dangerous for anyone, but it’s especially risky for adolescents. Hormones are an important part of adolescent development. Introducing them into a developing body creates confusion.
Teen boys who use steroids have a higher risk of reduced sperm count and shrunken testicles, in addition to gynecomastia. Steroids oppositely affect teen girls by interfering with the development of feminine traits. Young female steroid users have deeper voices, male pattern hair growth, and decreased breast size.
The use of steroids might positively affect muscle growth, but it comes at a significant price and major health risks. Not only do steroids affect muscles, but they also affect organs and cause individual cells to create proteins. This is how tumors develop.
Steroids can also cause peliosis hepatis, which triggers blood-filled cysts in the liver. Internal bleeding can occur if these cysts rupture.
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 negative side effects won’t deter their use. They might also prioritize steroids over other responsibilities, such as family obligations, financial security, and work or school. Some even try to quit steroid use and fail.
Withdrawal can occur if a person is dependent on steroids. According to research, approximately 32 percent of people who misuse anabolic steroids become dependent and will experience withdrawal upon stopping steroid use.
Steroid withdrawal symptoms include:
Long-term steroid misuse can impact brain pathways and chemicals that are affected by other drugs, such as dopamine, serotonin, and opioid systems. Someone abusing steroids will experience physical and psychological signs of addiction. These include:
In addition to the expected risks of abusing anabolic steroids, there are other concerns. These are issues that were likely present when steroid use began and the person tried steroids as a result. For example:
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.
To treat a steroid use disorder effectively, a program needs to address the physical dependence and the underlying causes of steroid use. Successful treatment includes:
It’s also important for a program to begin with withdrawal support. Easing the symptoms of withdrawal improves the chances a person will not relapse quickly.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Are Anabolic Steroids Addictive?” Drugabuse.Gov, 2019, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/steroids-other-appearance-performance-enhancing-drugs-apeds/are-anabolic-steroids-addictive.
Wedro, Benjamin. “Steroid Abuse Symptoms, Side Effects & Treatment.” MedicineNet, 2008, www.medicinenet.com/anabolic_steroid_abuse/article.htm.