Research on the prevalence of steroid use and abuse among adults is limited. In the mid-1990s, roughly 1,084,000 American adults admitted to using steroids, the National Institute on Drug Abusereports. Since then, the focus has primarily been on sports figures and teenagers. Abuse of these drugs among teens was steadily, with around one in 20 teens abusing the drugs, as of 2012, a Journal of Pediatrics study conveyed. As is the case with most forms of substance abuse, when it begins during developmental years in one’s life, there seems to be a propensity toward the behavior continuing into later life.
The Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence published a review in 2007 that noted the only significant increase in steroid abuse among college students over an eight-year span was seen in men who reported past-year abuse of anabolic steroids. Jumping from 0.36 percent to 0.90 percent, the group was tightly correlated with athletic participation and the abuse of other drugs and alcohol.
Signs of Steroid Abuse
Abuse of steroids may actually be one of the easiest forms of substance abuse to spot. The signs of it can show up in a lot of physical and external ways that are apparent to others. Steroids typically cause increased growth of skeletal muscle and the development of androgynous physical characteristics. Signs of abuse include:
- Breast growth
- Rapid muscular development
- Severe mood swings
- Hostility and marked aggression
- High blood pressure
- Intense paranoia
- Being highly irritable
- Poor judgement
Underlying Proponents of Steroid Abuse
In many cases, the abuse of steroids starts with someone’s desire to obtain a physical image that is fairly unattainable through diet and exercise alone. In other instances, it’s about performance rather than how one looks.
Steroid abuse is quite common among athletes. The American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation reported the results of a 2009 study that polled retired National Football League players and touted that nearly one in 10 of them had used steroids. Steroid use among the group also correlated with higher risks of injury.
Steroid abuse is even more common among professional bodybuilders. A Journal of Drug Education study noted 54 percent of male bodybuilders and 10 percent of female bodybuilders abused steroids. This gender disparity isn’t limited to the bodybuilding community. Men do abuse steroids more than women in general.
Among adolescents, lifetime use of steroids ranges from 4 percent to 12 percent in males and 0.5 percent to 2 percent in females, per the American College of Sports Medicine.
People who abuse anabolic steroids often think if they do so in a certain manner that they can eliminate or reduce the risks involved with using them. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. One popular method of abuse is known as “cycling.” This process involves taking intermittent breaks from steroid use. Some people stack different kinds of steroids; this just means they use more than one kind at a time. Others may engage in “pyramiding,” a practice involving a slow increase in the dosage amount or frequency until they reach a specific amount they are aiming for before they begin to taper their dose back down to nothing.
Co-occurring Mental Illness
While the overall co-occurrence of mental illness and substance abuse is high, individuals who abuse anabolic steroids are a little different than people who abuse other drugs. They generally don’t abuse the drugs initially to try to escape any form of mental, emotional, or physical pain; rather, they are trying to attain the physique they want. Since they are unhappy with their body the way it is, there may be a correlation between eating disorders and low self-esteem, which can contribute to the formation of depression. The Endowment for Human Development notes some cases of steroid abuse stem from mental illnesses, like muscle dysmorphia, which alters the way an individual perceives their body’s appearance.
Steroids are not like typical drugs that most people abuse. They don’t cause a high or any sense of euphoria. They don’t inflict the user with any sense of calm or peacefulness either.
Over time, steroid abuse can lead to damaging effects along nervous system pathways that severely alter an individual’s moods, thoughts, and behaviors. Kidney failure and liver damage have both been known to occur as a result of long-term steroid abuse. Steroids also increase the risk of stroke and heart attack by raising blood pressure, enlarging the heart, and increasing cholesterol. In addition, steroid abuse can lead to serious hormonal dysfunction and imbalance.
Men may suffer from testicular shrinkage, sterility or lowered sperm count, and erectile dysfunction. Women who abuse steroids may experience amenorrhea – a complete absence of their menstrual cycle.
The opposite effect of most steroids may be seen in youths; many who abuse steroids stunt their growth, sometimes permanently. People who inject steroids also run the risk of contracting blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis. AIDS.gov reports injection drug use is responsible for 10 percent of HIV infections annually.
There is a lot of misinformation looming around the addictive potential of steroids. Dependency is indeed capable of forming with anabolic steroid abuse. This is evidenced by the withdrawal that occurs when people try to quit using them, and the compulsions they have to continue using regardless of what they have to do to make it happen and despite the poor effects on their health and relationships.
During detox from steroids, antidepressants may be prescribed for individuals found to be suffering from depression or body dysmorphic disorder.In some cases, hormone therapy may be needed to restore hormonal balance. In addition, pain relievers may be used to keep discomfort from withdrawal at bay. Symptoms experience during this period may include abdominal pain, lethargy, tiredness, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Ongoing support is often necessary to keep individuals from relapsing and using steroids again. Therapy is vital. Support groups can be a terrific way for individuals to forge friendships with others who have struggled with the same issues while also helping themselves heal from addiction. With comprehensive treatment and solid support, full recovery is possible.