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Article Summary

A Guide To Anabolic Steroid Addiction

Steroids are used in many situations as life-saving medications. Corticosteroids, for instance, are effective at open the lungs up to allow asthmatic patients to breathe during an attack.

However, other steroids might prove to be incredibly damaging to your health and wellness. The main culprits, in this case, are anabolic steroids. Since they resemble human testosterone, they will encourage your body to increase muscle mass and lay down protein. Continued use eventually gives way to tolerance, dependence, and abuse - particularly among sports people and body builders.

Of course, there are some legitimate uses for anabolic steroids. For instance, doctors may prescribe these medications to induce puberty among late-blooming teens or to encourage the building of muscle mass for patients suffering from wasting diseases and illnesses.

However, even such legal prescriptions come at a price. If you are healthy and you take anabolic steroids, you might damage your health and suffer additional unwanted effects. Read on to learn more:

Understanding Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids are synthetic formulations designed to resemble testosterone, the male sex hormone. Scientifically speaking, these compounds are referred to as anabolic-androgenic steroids. The anabolic part refers to the ability of the drugs to build muscle while the androgenic section is tied to how the substance increases male-sex characteristics among users.

On the street, anabolic steroids are also referred to as Andro, Gear, Gym candy, Hype, Juice, Pumpers, Roids, or Stackers. On the other hand, popular steroid brands include Anadrol-50, Oxandrin, Winstrol, Anavar, and Dianabol.

Developed in the 30s, anabolic steroids were primarily formulated for the treatment of hypogonadism - a medical condition in which the testes in men do not produce testosterone in adequate amounts for normal growth, sexual functioning, and development. With time, doctors started using them to treat impotence, delayed puberty, and body wasting as caused by sexually-transmitted diseases and conditions like HIV and AIDS.

However, people have started abusing these drugs. In many cases, weightlifters, athletes, and bodybuilders use them to improve their performance and physical appearance.

Anabolic Steroid Uses

Anabolic steroids are often available through mail order, and at competitions and gyms. The steroids are synthesized in illegal clandestine labs or diverted from US-based pharmacies.

The use of anabolic steroids is so endemic that a recent paper published in JAMA reported that anywhere between 3 and 4 million Americans had used them at one point or the other in their life. Additionally, close to 1 million men in the US become dependent on these drugs and end up taking high doses for many years.

Those who abuse these steroids typically inject them directly into the muscles or take them orally. When abused, anabolic steroid doses can be 10 to 100 times higher than the commonly prescribed doses. Others may also apply these substances to the skin as a patch, gel, or cream.

At their most basic, anabolic steroids are synthetic drugs that resemble testosterone. This hormone is crucial because it helps people build more muscle mass. When used legally, a doctor would prescribe them for patients whose bodies cannot generate testosterone in adequate amounts - such as for boys suffering from delayed puberty, men with abnormally low testosterone count, and those who have lost muscle mass due to AIDS, cancer, and other adverse health conditions.

However, since anabolic steroids also boost muscle growth and physical performance, some people abuse and misuse them. When this happens, the user would typically take extremely high doses.

The three common ways most people abuse these drugs include:

1. Stacking

Stacking refers to the process of taking more than one type of steroid at a go or mixing injectable and oral formulations. Many abusers are of the opinion that stacking will increase results, although there is no scientific proof of this happening.

2. Cycling

Cycling refers to the process of using anabolic steroids after predetermined durations of time - typically 6 to 12 weeks. While cycling, you would usually take multiple steroid doses for a couple of weeks, stop for another set of weeks, and go back to using them.

The off-cycles are designed to allow your body to start producing testosterone naturally, thereby reducing the potential damage that the steroids can cause to your internal organs.

3. Pyramiding

Last but not least, some users take steroids according to a particular cycle. At the beginning of the cycle, you would start with a relatively small dose before increasing the dose gradually to the maximum mid-cycle. During the second half of the steroid abuse cycle, you will slowly taper down your dosage.

As mentioned above, no scientific evidence exists to show that any of the practices described here will reduce the harmful effects and medical consequences of abusing anabolic steroids.

When you increase your dosage of anabolic steroids, the severe side effects can start setting in. However, even after this happens, most abusers may continue using them to enhance their performance and appearance.

Anabolic Steroid Effects

Apart from the mental issues the drugs cause, anabolic steroids might also cause severe cancer and body swelling (in the feet and hands). Other effects of long term use include:

a) Health Problems

Abusing anabolic steroids can cause severe - even permanent - problems with your health. These include:

  • Changes in blood cholesterol
  • Enlarged heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Kidney failure or problems
  • Liver damage

b) Age- and Gender-Specific Effects

Other effects can be related to your age and gender, including:

i) In Men
  • Baldness
  • Decreased sperm count
  • Development of breasts
  • Increased risk of prostate cancer
  • Shrinking testicles
ii) In Women
  • Changes in the menstrual cycle
  • Deepened voice
  • Enlarged clitoris
  • Growth of excess body hair
  • Growth of facial hair
  • Male-pattern baldness
  • Stop in the menstrual cycle
iii) In Teens
  • Stunted growth (the high levels of hormones caused by the steroids can signal the body to stop growth bones too early)
  • Stunted height (especially if teens take steroids and feel its effects before their growth spurts)

In many situations, these physical effects - such as the shrinking of sexual organs among men - may eventually give way to severe mental effects. As a direct result, those who abuse anabolic steroidsmay also suffer mood disorders.

Anabolic Steroid Side Effects

Abusing anabolic steroids is also likely to cause the side effects listed below:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Baldness
  • Blood clot
  • Delusions, or false ideas and beliefs
  • Extreme irritability
  • Extreme mood swings, including roid rage accompanied by angry behavior and feelings that can lead to violence
  • High cholesterol
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Paranoid (unreasonable or extreme) jealousy
  • Vomiting blood
  • Yellow skin and eyes

Anabolic steroid abuse can also lead to behavioral and psychiatric issues. Studies find that long term users were particularly prone to violent behavior. Similarly, murder, armed robbery, and domestic violence have all been linked to long-term steroid abuse.

Although some of the above effects and side effects are reversible if you stop the drugs early, others may persist (such as deepened voice among women who use these substances).

Anabolic Steroid Addictive Qualities

Anabolic steroids are different from most of the other substances of abuse in the sense that they do not have the same effects on the brain. The crucial difference is that these drugs do not trigger the rapid increase in the production of dopamine, the chemical that often drives people to start and continue abusing other substances.

That said, using anabolic steroids in the long term can also affect some of the same chemicals and pathways in the brain as other drugs - including but not limited to opioid, serotonin, and dopamine systems. This can result in significant effects on your behavior and mood.

Similarly, abusing anabolic steroids can eventually give way to addiction. Recent studies show that animals self-administer the drugs when they get the opportunity - behavior that is similar to other addictive substances.

As such, you may find yourself continuing to abuse the drug despite the problems it causes to your body, finances, and relationships. This type of behavior reflects the addictive potential of anabolic steroids.

Anabolic Steroid Overdose

Overdosing on anabolic steroids tends to manifest itself differently. For instance, these drugs are not associated with severe or acute overdose (that can happen during a single instance of use). However, overdose arises from the accumulation of the adverse effects resulting from long term abuse, in which case it can be described as a chronic overdose.

Some of the symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Aggression
  • Dangerous changes in cholesterol levels, even in young users
  • Delusions
  • Enlarged heart
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Irritability
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Major mood swings
  • Stunted growth in teens

Although chronic overdose might not seem like it is a severe medical emergency, it may eventually result in a wide range of adverse consequences to your physical and mental health.

If you start overdosing on these steroids, you should seek medical assistance and substance abuse treatment. This is the best option for your survival and long-term health and wellness.

Anabolic Steroid Withdrawal

If you have been abusing anabolic steroids for some time and you decide to stop using them, you may experience the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Decreased sex drive
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Steroid cravings
  • Suicidal ideation

Anabolic Steroid Dangers

Using anabolic steroids is dangerous. More specifically, those who inject the substances increase their risk of transmitting or contracting blood-borne diseases like hepatitis B and C, and HIV/AIDS.

Among both men and women, using this drug can cause a variety of serious health issues, including:

  • Acne
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Breast growth
  • Cancer
  • Delusions (false beliefs)
  • Growth of facial hair
  • Heart attack
  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Higher levels of LDL (bad cholesterol)
  • Irritability
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Lower levels of HDL (good cholesterol)
  • Male-pattern hair loss.
  • Mania (uncontrolled high energy)
  • Oily skin
  • Rage
  • Shrinking of testicles
  • Skin infections
  • Stroke
  • Violence
  • Voice deepening

Similarly, using anabolic steroids can reduce the pleasurable effects derived from abusing other drugs and substances. This diminished high may compel you to take a higher dose, increasing your risk of an overdose. This mostly happens with drugs that are commonly abused by anabolic steroid users, such as cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), Adderall, marijuana, alcohol, and opiates.

Combining these drugs - such as Adderall and cocaine - with anabolic steroids may heighten your potential for aggression. It can also stress out your heart because of the interaction between the stimulants and the steroids.

On the other hand, if you take alcohol while on steroids, the interaction may cause excessive aggression. In the long term, these interactions can have an impact on your behavior, worsen your addiction, and cause you to commit violent crimes.

Signs And Symptoms Of Anabolic Steroid Abuse

Some of the signs and symptoms of anabolic steroid use, abuse, and addiction include:

1. Physical Symptoms
  • Abnormally fast muscle growth
  • Bad breath
  • Blood or discoloration in urine
  • Body and face bloating
  • Changes in fluid level changes
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Dizziness
  • Drastic changes in appetite shifts
  • Evidence of hair loss in showers, brushes, combs, and beds
  • Gynecomastia (abnormal growth of breast tissue among male users)
  • Injured tendons and muscles
  • Joint pain
  • Lethargy or hyperactivity
  • Nausea
  • Night sweating
  • Progressive or rapid weight gain
  • Skin infections and eruptions, such as cysts and abscesses
  • Skin yellowing or jaundice
  • Small purplish or red acne, with breakouts on the back and shoulders
  • Stretch marks on inner joints
  • Sudden or progressive increase in muscle size
  • Thinning hair and a receding hairline
  • Trembling
  • Trouble urinating
  • Unusually oily skin or greasy hair or oily skin
  • Vomiting
2. Psychological Symptoms
  • Becoming physically or verbally abusive/disrespectful
  • Becoming secretive
  • Depression
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased irritability or aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Poor decision making
  • Tendency to lie
  • Withdrawal from family members
3. Behavioral Symptoms
  • Always covering the back with a towel to conceal acne
  • Forgetfulness
  • Frequently nodding off
  • Going to extreme lengths to acquire and use the drug
  • Having severe cravings for the drug
  • Losing or stealing belongings
  • Loss of concentration, focus, and performance at work, home, and school
  • Prioritizing steroid abuse over the potential health risks
  • Relationship problems arising from drug abuse
  • Seclusion
  • Stealing or borrowing money
  • Sudden urges to exercise and work out
  • Taking longer baths and showers

Treatment For Anabolic Steroid Addiction

As an user, you may find it hard to quit your anabolic steroid abuse and addiction - even after you have experienced painful effects and overdosed. At this point, you should seek out addiction treatment.

The therapists will provide the medications and therapy to help you stop abusing the drugs. Eventually, participating in a rehabilitation program will enable you to steer away from drug use while also dealing with the psychological effects of anabolic steroids.

Remember, the earlier you start on treatment, the easier it can be for you to stop using anabolic steroids and get your life back.

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