Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances that relate to testosterone, the male sex hormone.
Anabolic steroids are a Schedule III controlled substance regulated by the United States DEA. Anabolic steroids can be legally obtained when prescribed by doctors to treat hormone problems in men, including delayed puberty, and muscle loss from cancer and AIDS.
Illicit steroids may be smuggled into the U.S. illegally and are sold online or obtained in gyms, typically in an effort for people to boost athletic performance or improve physical appearance by increasing muscle mass and strength. The National Institute of Drug Abuse indicates that the majority of people who misuse anabolic steroids are male weightlifters in their 20s and 30s.
Anabolic steroids are sometimes referred to as Arnolds, juice, pumpers, roids, stackers, and weight gainers. They’re available in creams, gels, capsules, tablets, and via an injectable solution.
Adverse Effects of Steroid Abuse
Use of anabolic steroids may have a wide range of adverse health effects depending on the age and sex of the user, the type, amount and dose of anabolic steroid used, as well as the length of time used.
Men may experience:
- Shrinking testicles.
- Lower sperm count/infertility.
- Enlargement of breast tissue.
Women may experience:
- Deepening of the voice.
- Decrease in breast size.
- Male-pattern baldness.
- Enlarged clitoris.
- Increased facial and body hair.
- Stunted growth.
- Early onset of puberty and sexual development (males only).
Mental health effects of steroid use in both men and women may include dramatic mood swings, impaired judgement, and increased levels of aggression and hostility (commonly referred to as “roid rage”).
Longer-term adverse health effects of anabolic steroid use include liver abnormalities and disease, kidney damage, and an increased risk of heart disease. In 2017, the American Heart Association published a study comparing male weightlifters age 34-54 who used anabolic steroids with non-users. The steroid users had higher coronary plaque volume vs. non-users and 71% had impairment of their heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently.
Steroid Addiction and Treatment
Use of steroids often starts with someone’s desire to obtain a physical image that’s fairly unattainable through diet and exercise alone. In other instances, it’s about performance and athletic achievement rather than how one looks.
Steroids aren’t like typical illicit drugs that most people abuse. They don’t produce an immediate reward or “high.” Users don’t experience a rush or a sense of euphoria. Anabolic steroids also don’t physiologically inhibit the user from experiencing pain or instill a sense of calm or peacefulness.
Despite this—as well as considering the immediate and long-term adverse health effects and the significant expense and effort taken to obtain them—users of anabolic steroids continue to use and report feeling good about themselves and their appearance. When they stop, users report experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, and they still feel the need to compulsively use them.
Treatment of anabolic steroid abuse as a result of body dysmorphic disorder will typically include the prescription of antidepressants. Antidepressant medication can also be helpful in eliminating the experience of withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, hormone therapy may be needed to restore hormonal balance.
Ongoing support is often necessary to keep individuals from relapsing and using steroids again. Therapy is vital, and 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.