Are Steroids Addictive? | Signs, Symptoms, Treatment
The desire to compete, win, and look fit while doing it makes anabolic-androgenic steroids seem like the perfect solution for people who want to boost their athletic performance.
Anabolic-androgenic steroids, a medication that mimics the male hormone testosterone, can help them build muscle, lose body fat, and enhance athletic performance and appearance. These steroids (also called anabolic steroids) also allow the body to recover faster from the effects of exercise.
While steroid abuse occurs in the professional sports world as well as among high-school and college and university athletes, they are not the only ones who seek out steroids.
It is illegal to prescribe anabolic steroids to enhance athletic performance, and it is illegal to have them, sell them, and distribute them as well. That still doesn’t deter people from misusing and abusing them, including those who aren’t in competitive sports.
“Performance-enhancing drugs are no longer just for bodybuilders or pro-athletes who are willing to try illegal and potentially dangerous means to improve their bodies’ function. These drugs are being used everyday by people of all ages, from middle-school, high-school, and college students to older recreational athletes,” writes MedicineNet.com.
While the benefits lure many into regular use of anabolic steroids, such use can quickly become abuse, and there are harmful side effects that accompany this practice.
Are Steroids Addictive?
Some steroid users may wonder, “Are steroids addictive?” or ask, “Is steroid abuse really a thing?”
First, it’s important to clarify which steroids people are talking about. Kenneth Mautner, MD, of Emory University, explained to WebMD the difference between anabolic steroids that build up muscle and corticosteroids, which “are used to dampen overactive immune responses and reduce swelling.”
Anabolic steroids, synthetic versions of the male hormone testosterone, are the ones that are usually the focus when the subject of abuse comes up. There are legitimate medical reasons to use this kind of steroid. Doctors prescribe them to treat muscle wasting, a condition seen in some AIDS patients, certain types of anemia, and delayed puberty or testicular function loss, among other medical reasons.
However, anabolic steroids are addictive, and chronic misuse and abuse can lead to a chemical and psychological dependence on them. People who have been prescribed steroids also can develop a dependence on them should they take them differently than prescribed.
Signs, Side Effects of Steroid Abuse
An “undetermined percentage” of people who abuse steroids may become addicted to the drugs, NIDA says.
The agency says that while steroids themselves are not considered intoxicating, chronic steroid use can affect the brain’s dopamine receptors like that of other addictive substances. In many cases, steroids are taken along with other substances, such as stimulants that are part of a performance-enhancing routine. To manage effects related to pain, sleep disturbances, and mood, steroid users may use marijuana (cannabis), alcohol, and opioids, among other substances.
Signs of steroid abuse include:
- Unusually fast muscle mass growth
- Unusually greasy hair or oily skin
- Track marks on the skin from injections
- Sudden outbreaks of red or purplish acne
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Excessive hair loss, shedding
- Drastic appetite changes
- Joint pain
Personality and emotional changes that accompany steroid abuse include but are not limited to:
- Extreme mood swings
- Poor decision-making
- Increased aggression, irritability
- Relationship changes with family, friends
Source: Taylor Hooten Foundation
Steroid abuse has side effects that affect health and well-being. For men, they include:
- Breast development
- Painful erections
- Shrunken testicles
- Decreased sperm count
Women who take anabolic steroids may experience:
- Excessive face, body hair
- Voice changes (deeper voice)
- Irregularities with menstrual cycle
- Reduced breast size
Both sexes are at risk of other side effects that may prove irreversible in the long run. Using steroids can increase the risks of liver disease and liver cancer, and because steroids are administered via injection, contracting HIV or hepatitis from an unsterile needle or syringe is possible.
Steroid Abuse and Withdrawal
Chronic steroid users likely will develop a tolerance to the performance-enhancing drugs as they take them over time. They may notice they feel different when they don’t take them or cut back on their use. These changes are characteristic of drug withdrawal, which are physical, mental, and emotional changes experienced as the body readjusts to not being in its system in the way it is used to.
- Appetite loss
- Hormonal changes
- Loss of muscle mass
- Mood swings
- Reduced sex drive
- Steroid cravings
Users may crave the drug after going off it only to return to using just to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. This routine signals the start of an endless cycle of dependence that could lead to overdose or the urge to abuse other drugs. Steroid abusers may also experience depression, which is considered the most dangerous of all the withdrawal symptoms because it can lead to suicide attempts.
Addiction treatment is recommended for steroid abuse. “If left untreated, some depressive symptoms associated with anabolic steroid withdrawal have been known to persist for a year or more after the abuser stops taking the drugs,” says NIDA.
Steroids Addiction Treatment
Ending a dependence on steroids may require entering a drug addiction treatment program at an accredited facility. According to a NIDA report addressing treatment for anabolic steroid abuse, physicians have found therapy is sufficient for some people who are educated about steroid withdrawal and evaluated for suicidal thoughts. Medications can be used to help restore the hormonal system after steroid abuse and help recovering users manage uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Behavioral therapies may be used to treat those who require extended care.
Steroid Abuse and Co-occurring Disorders
Effective steroid abuse treatment may require addressing any mental and physical health issues the person may have along with their substance abuse disorder(s). Treating both conditions together at the same time ensures the person will recover with a plan that is realistic and achievable.
Need Help with Ending Steroid Abuse?
The benefits of anabolic steroids in the short run do not outweigh the long-term effects on mental, physical, and psychological health. “Are steroids addictive” is a question chronic users should consider before engaging in illegal use that can lead to addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with ending abuse of steroids, call Ocean Breeze Recovery at (844) 789-2841 today so we can help you start your recovery as soon as possible. We understand that addiction is a progressive and complex disease that requires professional help.