What are steroids?
Anabolic steroids (officially known as anabolic-androgenic steroids) are synthetic substances (drugs) that mimic testosterone, the male sex hormone. They have limited medical use and should NOT be confused with corticosteroids!
They are Class C drugs that effectively mimic the male sex hormone – testosterone and come in several different forms – pills, injectable liquids, gels and creams. Some abusers will also take veterinary steroids as they are cheaper and have a similar effect.
Common slang terms for steroids include ‘roids’, ‘gear’ and ‘juice’
Users often inject the substance straight into their muscle or take them orally. They are under the misconception that by taking them in certain ways that they can avoid side effects (of which there is no evidence!).
There are three main methods that users of anabolic steroids use:
- “cycling” – takes the substance for a limited period, stops and then starts again.
- “stacking” – takes more than one type of anabolic steroid at a time; believing it makes them work better.
- “pyramiding” – a combination of “cycling” & “stacking”; start off by taking a low dose of one or more anabolic steroids and then increase the dose over time up to the maximum dose. They then stop to give their body a rest before starting the cycle again
Some individuals believe that using steroids will make them fit and healthy and cover perceived flaws in their appearance that no one else can see. Taking them is a DANGEROUS HABIT that may lead to severe physical and mental conditions.
A person who becomes dependent on or addicted to anabolic steroids craves the substance and requires more and more to get the same effect. Sudden withdrawal can be dangerous and MUST be managed with medical intervention.
Common Signs of Anabolic Steroid Abuse:
- Cravings for more of the substance
- Going to great lengths to fund and find the substance
- Persistent issues with family and friends due to substance use
Ignoring the potential health risks of using steroids can induce:
- Skin problem eg. acne
- Excessive weight and muscle gain
- Facial hair growth (women)
- Severe depression
Side Effects of Anabolic Steroids
The use of substances such as anabolic steroids on a regular basis can lead to both physical and psychological changes; as well as increasing the risk of suffering from potentially life threatening medical conditions.
The physical effects of anabolic steroids use differ in men and women due to the differing hormonal makeup.
Physical effects in males:
- development of breasts (gynaecomastia)
- erectile dysfunction
- reduced sperm count
- testicles & penis shrinkage
- abdominal pain
- prostate problems
Physical effects in females:
- shrunken breasts
- increased growth of body and facial hair
- abnormal clitoris growth
- increased sex drive
- deepened voice
- loss of menstrual cycle (amenorrhea)
- hair loss
Any of the following medical conditions can develop due to abuse of anabolic steroids:
- kidney and liver failure
- risk of heart attack and stroke
- high blood pressure
- fluid retention
- high blood pressure
- blood clots
- stunted growth in adolescents
- damage to veins, leading to ulceration and gangrene * hepatitis B & C
- vomiting blood
- yellow skin and eyes – jaundice
- increased cancer risk
- high cholesterol
- long term cognitive damage
Abusing anabolic steroids can lead to significant psychiatric and behavioural issues:
- ‘roid rage’ – aggressive behaviour and mood swings
- Suicidal due to hormone imbalance
- manic behaviour
- hallucinations and delusions
- violent behaviour
- domestic violence
- armed robbery and murder can also be linked to abuse
Damage caused by long-term steroid use
Long-term use of anabolic steroids can produce many unpleasant and often permanent conditions, including :
- damage to the gonads (testicles or ovaries)
- liver diseases
- malfunctions of kidneys, heart & liver
- ‘roid rage’ characterised by uncontrollable outbursts of psychotic
- severe paranoia
- mood swings, including deep depression
- severe acne
- high blood pressure
- high blood cholesterol levels
- injuries to tendons that can’t keep up with increased muscle strength
- delusional feelings of being ‘superhuman’ or ‘invincible’
- fluid retention
- trembling and muscle tremors
- stunted bone growth in adolescents
Withdrawal from Anabolic Steroids
Due to hormonal imbalances caused by anabolic steroid use; those with a dependency and/or addiction to them will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the substance.
While a person is taking anabolic steroids, their own body attempts to adjust the levels of testosterone to a normal level. Thus withdrawal symptoms are exacerbated because the use of anabolic steroids results in the production of low levels of natural testosterone in the body.
“Although the physical effects of anabolic steroid withdrawal are rarely dangerous, many users suffer major depressive episodes and have suicidal thoughts.”
Coming off anabolic steroids suddenly should be carefully managed and monitored for suicidal behaviour by a qualified medical practitioner Those with a history of mental illness or depression should consider being admitted into hospital or a rehabilitation centre where Doctors can prescribe medication to lessen the withdrawal symptoms and monitor physical/ psychological symptoms.
“There’s an increased risk of suicide, particularly associated with coming off steroids too rapidly and not reducing them gradually”
Essentially, withdrawal symptoms are the opposite of the drug’s effect. Some common withdrawal symptoms include:
- depression and anxiety
- lack of concentration
- muscle cramps and aches
- nausea and vomiting
- joint pain
- decreased libido
The time it takes for an individual to be free of withdrawal symptoms varies from user to user. The length of withdrawal is also very much dependent on the dosage taken and frequency of use. Usually, those who take higher doses for longer periods of time, have a longer withdrawal duration.
Other factors that impact the duration of recovery are the types of anabolic steroids the user has taken; some stay in the body longer than others. Each type of steroid also has a different half life; thus those with a greater half-life stay in the body longer!
“When you completely stop (taking steroids), you might find yourself prone to mood swings, sleeplessness. And then, I found myself emotionally sensitive. But it only lasted two weeks. And then it was sort of back to normal.” – Former Body Builder Eugene Robinson