When you think of steroids, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Sports? Baseball? Weightlifting? Bodybuilding? Maybe you think of the kinds of steroids you take to fight allergies.
What you probably don’t think about is an addiction. But you should. Steroids, particularly the anabolic steroids associated with sports, muscle development and bodybuilding, are extremely addictive, and their use is more common than you might think.
In fact, a huge percentage of needles taken to needle exchange programs are used hypodermic needles associated with steroid use. Perhaps even more than the usage of other drugs, steroid use is often considered to be a choice, and their users are often viewed with disdain, if not outright ridicule.
But steroid use is a serious problem that should not be taken lightly. It is just as damaging and addictive as any other substance, even if the circumstances for use are a little different.
First, let’s talk about what steroid use actually looks like, and what the symptoms and effects are. The best way to beat any addiction is the first to understand how it works.
What Are Anabolic Steroids, and How Do They Affect the Body?
Anabolic steroids, or more scientifically, anabolic-androgenic steroids, is a broad term for a set of synthetic substances that have to do with testosterone, the male sex hormone.
These substances are known to generate masculine features, even in women, and are linked to rapid development in skeletal muscle. Because these steroids are known to develop muscle, they have become very popular among bodybuilders, athletes and anyone else looking to build a lot of muscle in a short amount of time.
It is true that anabolic steroids are effective in building muscle, and they’re frequently sold illicitly in gyms around the country. They’re even good at cutting body fat. But those supposed benefits come with a pretty severe set of trade-offs.
One of the better-known side-effects of steroid usage in men is testicular atrophy. It’s true, steroid use causes sperm production to drop and the testicles to shrink. This is in addition to male-pattern baldness and breast development in men.
In women, a rise in masculine features may occur such as deepening of the voice, an increase in body hair, decreasing scalp hair, a reduction in breast size and other body fat, and tougher, coarser skin.
But these are largely cosmetic effects, and while they may be undesirable, they’re little more than inconveniences.
The effects to really worry about are the negative effects on health. Anabolic steroids are closely linked with a number of cardiovascular diseases and have been known to cause heart attacks and strokes even in people under the age of 30. Steroids are also known to cause blood clots in other parts of the body.
In addition to cardiovascular complications, steroids are also linked with liver tumors and cancer, as well as skin conditions such as acne and cysts. When taken by young athletes in the middle of puberty, the hormonal imbalance can potentially stunt growth by incorrectly signaling the body to halt bone growth and development prematurely.
And these are just physical effects. Steroids also famously cause “roid rage.” This isn’t just a stereotype. Steroid use is known to cause irritability and heightened aggression. The link between steroid use and behavioral changes is still being studied, but there is a clear correlation between the two.
Why Are Steroids Addictive, and Who is Affected?
These questions are very closely related. There are certainly some people out there who think to take steroids just as a way to lose weight. But the vast majority of those taking steroids are athletes looking for a performance boost.
Of course, steroids and other performance-enhancing substances are banned from almost every professional sports organization. Major League Baseball has an ongoing problem with performance-enhancing drugs, and world-famous cyclist Lance Armstrong has had his legacy tarnished forever by his drug usage.
But even knowing that their careers and their legacies are at risk, they continue to use steroids, simply trying to skirt the rules and beat the system. Why is that?
Simply put, these athletes are addicted. It may be that they are hooked on the performance boost they get from the steroids, or that they feel inadequate without them. Indeed, many people start using steroids because of insecurity about their abilities or their body image.
In many cases, the use becomes like a runaway train. They know it’s out of control, but they still feel the need to go faster. The last thing they want to do is jump out in front of it and try to stop it.
There may also be concerns that they will no longer be able to compete at the same level without the use of steroids. The pressure athletes face can frequently drive them into drug use looking for an edge, and steroids are certainly proven to offer that, though usually, they’re not within the rules.
Regardless of the reasons why people may start using steroids, the reality is it’s one of many sources of addiction. And addiction doesn’t particularly care who you are, or why you’ve found it. It’s going to compel you to keep using no matter what.
Steroids are no different in this respect. They’re even known to cause withdrawal symptoms for those who stop using, such as:
- decreased appetite
- weight loss
- abdominal pain
In addition, it is not generally a good idea to stop using steroids cold turkey. Steroid use should be tapered over time in order to give your body time to return to normal hormone production.
Does a Steroid Addiction Require Professional Treatment?
It doesn’t matter what the addiction is to. Addiction is a ruthless disease that affects the brain and forces you to make decisions you ordinarily wouldn’t.
Chief among those is the decision to continue using the substance that got you addicted in the first place. Your brain has not only convinced you that continuing to use is a good idea, but it has bumped it way up your list of priorities, putting it past concerns like your health and relationships.
So the short answer is yes, professional help is the best way to overcome a steroid addiction, just the same as it’s the best way to overcome any other kind of addiction.
Most rehab facilities today are going to prepare a personalized treatment plan that speaks directly to your personal experience with addiction. Steroid addiction isn’t one of the more common forms of substance abuse and addiction, but you don’t have to worry about whether they’ll be trained to deal with your specific ailment.
Most of the features of steroid addiction are common to addiction in general. Addiction is the disease you’re getting treated. Steroids, drugs, alcohol, or behaviors are just the catalysts that set it on you in the first place.
Getting professional help for your addiction means learning to deal with the root causes of it and thus learning how to manage it. It’s not just about “quitting” steroids. It’s about discovering why you started using in the first place and dealing with that problem.
This is a process that is proven to help drug addicts of all kinds, and it can help you as well. You may not think of yourself as a “drug addict,” being someone who just works out a lot and uses a substance to help you gain some extra muscle. But steroids pose a serious health risk and are known to be addictive. If you find yourself using them regularly and can’t seem to stop, seek help.