“It seemed like a good idea at the time.” We hear this a lot from those who abuse anabolic steroids. The steroids are laboratory-manufactured versions of testosterone. When taken, steroid help increase muscle mass, which is why they are sometimes prescribed to patients suffering from diseases that cause muscle deterioration, such as HIV and cancer. It is also why steroids are abused by athletes or bodybuilders who will do anything to gain an edge above the competition.
Most steroid addicts tend to believe that since doctors prescribe it, it will be safe so long as they use it in a controlled manner. However, they often do not take into account that patients are medically monitored and are given a host of other prescriptions to offset its negative effects. Left to one’s own devices, steroid users often take these drugs too much, too often. This, in turn, leads to an addiction followed by cravings when their use is stopped. To satiate one’s cravings and ward off the dramatic withdrawal symptoms and aftereffects, people generally end up abusing the steroids again.
Steroids are illegal to possess without a legitimate, personal prescription. It is likely that an underlying mental disorder instigates most cases of steroid abuse. It is also pretty clear the negatives outweigh the positives for nonmedical and unsupervised consumption. Someone would have to be desperate to take such a great risk for aesthetic results. A dual diagnosis of muscle dysmorphia could be one such instance. Muscle dysmorphia is a body image disorder that warps one’s perception of one’s body. Both females and males with the disorder identify as small, weak, or fat, regardless of how they actually look. Previous physical or sexual trauma can also drive some to experiment with steroid use as a kind of subconscious compensation for being taken advantage of. Steroids are used by direct injection into the muscles, taken orally in pill form, and are used topically in gels and creams.
Like added layers when stitching a garment, muscles are naturally built up by repairing small tears to muscle fibers that occur during athletic physical activity. As the tiny fibers heal, they’re rebuilt stronger over a period of time, which, in turn, results in dense muscular layers – or as we see it, muscle growth. Steroids activate cells and accelerate this ripping and rending process, thus, resulting in larger muscles in a condensed time frame.
Short-term steroid use can stir a person’s emotions and create unpredictable and aggressive mood swings, also known as roid rage. Long-term steroid abuse can lead to stroke and heart attack – even in young people. Some steroid abusers self-medicate with other drugs to try and counter sleep and emotional problems brought on by abuse of anabolic steroids. Since steroid addiction is both physical and mental, we believe that treatment must also address detox and rehabilitation as well as mental health therapy. Each person needs to seek help for their own situation in a host of sad, traumatic, or genetically pre-dispositioned circumstances. So the treatment should be equally personal.
An undetermined percentage of steroid users may develop a steroid use disorder. Substance use disorders are defined by continued use despite adverse consequences; for steroid users, these may include physical or psychological problems such as breast growth (in men), sexual dysfunction, high blood pressure, excessive fats in the blood, heart disease, mood swings, severe irritability, or aggressiveness. Anabolic steroid users also may give up other important activities for fear that they will miss workouts, violate their dietary restrictions, or be prevented from using steroids. Steroid users also typically spend large amounts of time and money obtaining the drugs, and they may try to reduce or stop anabolic steroid use without success—possibly due to depression, anxiety about losing muscle mass, or and other unpleasant effects of withdrawal.110
Withdrawal from steroids occurs when an individual develops dependence. A review of the research suggests that about 32 percent of people who misuse anabolic steroids become dependent. Symptoms of dependence can include tolerance, which is needing to take more steroids to achieve the same effects. Another indicator of dependence is withdrawal once anabolic steroid use stops. Withdrawal symptoms can include fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, and steroid cravings. The most dangerous of the withdrawal symptoms is depression, because it sometimes leads to suicide attempts.