Steroids may not be one of the most abused drugs in the U.S., but they’re still highly addictive. Studies show that as many as four million Americans have used anabolic steroids, with a quarter of them developing a dependency.
Steroids, like many illegal and chemical substances, wreak havoc on the body and the mind. Read on to learn more about this dangerous drug.
What Are Steroids?
There are two kinds of steroids: corticosteroid and anabolic. Both are man-made hormones. But, they’re used in very different ways.
Corticosteroids mimic the hormone your adrenal glands make to fight stresses from injury or illnesses. They treat a number of health issues including:
- Autoimmune diseases (lupus, multiple sclerosis, etc.)
- Skin conditions (eczema, rashes, etc.)
- Some types of cancer
Anabolic steroids are man-made testosterone. Some physicians do prescribe it for:
- Delayed puberty
- Low testosterone levels (low T) and other hormonal deficiencies
- Muscle loss due to certain diseases
However, athletes and bodybuilders use anabolic steroids to build muscle and increase their performance. Using steroids in this manner is illegal. It’s also unsafe.
Many pharmaceutical companies make anabolic steroids. They’re sold under the brand names:
Recently, it came to light by a Clemson University researcher that homemade steroids are becoming more prevalent. This includes steroids users make themselves or buy from overseas.
How Are Steroids Taken?
When an athlete or bodybuilder takes steroids to increase performance or build muscle, they ingest it a pill form or inject it. The dosage is usually between 10 and 100 times the strength of prescribed steroids.
Athletes and bodybuilders take steroids four main ways. This is to avoid detection or to reduce the side effects.
- Cycling – Taking multiple doses for a period of time (6-12 weeks) then stopping for a period of time, then starting their steroid routine back up.
- Plateauing – Alternating or overlapping with a different steroid to avoid developing a tolerance.
- Pyramiding – This happens in two cycles. During the first cycle, the user increases the dose until they reach their peak. During the second cycle, they slowly reduce the dose back down to zero.
- Stacking – Taking multiple types of steroids at the same time or mixing pills and injectables.
Most users don’t consider themselves addicts. This is despite their best efforts to hide or manipulate their use.
Who Takes Steroids?
Steroid abuse begins later in life for users than typical street drugs. The National Institute of Drug Abuse found in their latest study steroid use in high school is low and on the decline.
This is likely due to an emphasis placed on steroids from the NCAA and the US Olympic Committee.
As men — and in some rare cases, women — reach their 20’s and 30’s, there’s an increased use among amateur bodybuilders.
NIDA does list disordered male body image — specifically muscle dysmorphia — as one of the reasons for taking steroids. Men who use steroids tend to have lower self-esteem, and higher rates of depression, substance abuse, and being overweight.
A Brief History of Steroids
German scientists synthesized testosterone in 1935 to treat depression. By 1954, Russian weightlifters were given steroids in preparation for the 1956 Olympic Games.
Steroid use continued worldwide among athletes. In the late ’70s to early ’80s, amateur bodybuilders began taking them.
In 1988, the first federal regulation of steroids was included in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. It imposed penalties on both its sales and possession.
Two years later, Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Enforcement Act of 1990. This categorized anabolic steroids as a Schedule III controlled substance.
Since then, athletic organizations have banned the use of steroids. They also penalize athletes who test positive for the drug. The International Olympic Committee banned Russia from participating in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games due to its rampant steroid and PED use.
Steroids Effects on the Body
While steroids work to build muscle, they also produce severe side effects. As mentioned, this is one of the reasons users take steroids in cycles.
Effects on the Mind and Body
Steroids affect men and women differently. From a physical standpoint, the side effects in men are:
- Decreased sperm count
- Gynecomastia (development of breasts)
- Erectile dysfunction
- Increased risk of prostate cancer
- Shrinking testicles
For women, the effects of steroids make them appear more masculine. This is because the increased testosterone levels start canceling out estrogen. Women can expect:
- Changes to their menstrual cycle
- Decrease in breast size
- Enlarged clitoris
- Deepened voice
- Facial and body hair growth
- Male-pattern baldness
When it comes to the mental effects of steroids, both men and women experience the same side effects. These include:
- Aggressive behavior
- Extreme jealousy
- Irrational thoughts and behavior
Unlike drugs like opioids, steroids don’t trigger endorphins or dopamine. This means they don’t cause a high.
Researchers are still working to understand what causes these aggressive tendencies. It’s thought it has to do with the hormonal changes in the body.
Long-Term and Short-Term Health Effects
Both men and women see the same health effects of steroid abuse. In the short-term, this includes:
- Decreased appetite
- Mood swings
While the short-term effects seem manageable, the long-term effects are deadly. Steroid users can experience:
- Changes in cholesterol
- Enlarged heart
- Heart disease – including increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of blood clots
- Kidney disease or failure
- Liver damage
Massachusetts General Hospital found the effects on the heart are potentially permanent. The test subjects took steroids for two years and the results showed they had weaker hearts than their peers who never took steroids.
Using Steroids with Other Drugs
Because steroid abusers tend to show signs of aggression, depression, and paranoia, they often take drugs that give them a euphoric high. When a steroid addict takes these mood-altering drugs, they usually have to take more to feel the effects. This leads to an increased risk of overdose.
What Other Drugs Are Commonly Used with Steroids?
Steroid abusers turn to stimulants for the release of dopamine. They also use these drugs to suppress their appetites, thinking the effects of steroids will get increased.
The most common drugs steroid addicts take are:
- MDMA (ecstasy)
Many people don’t know that mixing stimulants and steroids increases aggression. It also puts added stress on the heart.
Due to injuries from working out or overexertion, many turn to opioids. To combat insomnia, they begin drinking alcohol in excess.
Find Help Today
It’s not always easy to know when someone is addicted to drugs. For steroid abusers, it can be even harder to detect.