What are Steroids and What are the Side Effects of Steroid Abuse

Anabolic-androgenic steroids are synthetic versions of the natural male sex hormone testosterone. They direct the body to enhance male characteristics such as facial hair, deepened voice and greater muscle mass. Because of these effects, doctors may prescribe certain steroid drugs to treat hormone deficiencies and diseases that result in loss of lean muscle, such as AIDS and cancer.

People may also illegally abuse steroids to build muscle, improve appearance or enhance athletic performance. Steroids are either swallowed or injected, and are often taken in different combinations for “cycles” of weeks or months.

Addicted to Steroids?

Unlike other drugs, steroids are not abused to produce a “high.” However, they do influence patterns of gene expression and if used long-term can impact the same parts of the brain as other drugs. Steroid abusers display many of the same behaviors as addicts, such as:

  • Spending large amounts of time and money getting steroids
  • Continuing to abuse steroids despite negative consequences
  • Withdrawal symptoms when stopping steroid abuse, such as depression, insomnia, steroid cravings, mood swings and fatigue

Side Effects of Steroid Abuse

Steroids can adversely impact physical and psychological health in significant ways. Side effects of steroid abuse may include:

  • Aggression
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Impaired judgment

Studies show that people who abuse steroids may be more likely to use other drugs, especially those drugs that counter the negative effects of steroid abuse.

Although it may take years to observe the full effects of steroid abuse, more serious health complications can also result, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney failure
  • Enlargement of heart muscles and heart disease
  • Muscle aches
  • Severe acne
  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Infertility, reduced sperm count and testicle size, baldness, increased risk of prostate cancer and development of breasts (for men)
  • Baldness, deepened voice, changes in menstrual cycle, infertility and growth of facial hair (for women)
  • Stunted growth (for teens)

Treatment for Steroid Abuse

Depending on the individual’s history of steroid abuse, treatment typically includes:

  • Counseling
  • Education about steroid abuse and withdrawal symptoms
  • Medication