Anabolic Steroid Addiction and Abuse

Even though steroids do not provide the usual high as other addictive substances, it is still as addictive as any other drug.

Anabolic steroid addiction

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Anabolic steroid addiction | Table of Contents

What are Anabolic Steroids?

Anabolic steroids, short for “Anabolic-androgenic steroids,” are synthetic drugs that are very similar to testosterone. The word “anabolic” refers to its muscle-building characteristics, and “androgenic” refers to its masculinizing effects.

Anabolic steroids should not be confused with Corticosteroids, such as Prednisone, that is used in the treatment of allergic reactions. These drugs don’t have the same impact as anabolic steroids, as they don’t mimic the male testosterones or contribute to muscle growth. Anabolic steroids are available with a prescription for medical applications.

Physicians prescribe anabolic steroids to treat several medical conditions, such as:

  • Delayed puberty
  • Hormone imbalances in men
  • Hypogonadism
  • Impotence
  • Breast cancer
  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle loss due to disease
  • Certain types of anemia
  • Weight loss in individuals with HIV
  • Endometriosis
  • Other hormonal conditions

These steroids activate components of the DNA in muscle cells that boost the production of proteins that build muscle tissues and fibers, resulting in the rapid increase of muscle growth and body mass in a short period. These components increase bone minerals and impact the function of the immune system, central nervous system, reproductive system, and other major organs. Anabolic steroids come in many forms, such as pills, injectable liquids, and topical gels or creams. Juice, stackers, hype, and roids are some of the most common street names for these drugs.

A few of the most common steroid brands are:

  • Anadrol-50
  • Oxandrin
  • Winstrol
  • Anavar
  • Dianabol

Reports show that some of those who abuse steroids use veterinary steroids like Equipoise as they are generally cheaper, more accessible, and produce similar results.


What are the 3 types of steroids?

The three types of steroids are Anabolic Androgenic Steroids, Glucocorticosteroids, and Minerocorticosteroids.

Is steroids allowed in bodybuilding?

Anabolic steroid use is banned in professional sports, and the competitors are tested for steroid use before each competition.

Is cortisol a steroid?

Cortisol is a steroid hormome synthesized from cholesterol in the adrenal cortex.

What is the function of steroids in the human body?

Steroid hormones play a main function in controlling metabolism, immune functions, inflammation, development of sexual characteristics, salt and water balance. They also aid in withstanding illness and injury.

Addiction to Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids can be obtained through prescriptions or purchased illegally. They are generally used to enhance strong physical appearance and develop muscle mass in a short period. This often results in a boost of confidence and self-esteem in the user. Many types of anabolic steroids are currently available in the US, but only a fraction has been approved for medical use.

These steroids don’t produce euphoria or a “high” typical of other addictive substances. However, users who regularly abuse these drugs have a high chance of developing a serious addiction. The urge to feel good about oneself and achieve the desired physical appearance can quickly take over, pushing them to want more of the drug. When someone uses a medication without a doctor’s prescription or beyond its medical scope, by increasing dosage and frequency of consumption, it is considered drug abuse.

Anabolic steroids are addictive due to two primary factors. The first being the general characteristic trait of many individuals with substance use disorders, including the intense desire to seek out and use anabolic steroids. The second is developing withdrawal symptoms when the user lowers their dose or stops using the substance. The obsessive-compulsive need to consume anabolic steroids generally begins as users start to notice the appearance of rapid growth within a short period. This may eventually result in an addiction.

Users with co-occurring disorders are at a higher risk of abusing anabolic steroids. This is more likely in the case of body dysmorphia. Users may find themselves continuously wanting to use steroids to “keep improving” their appearance even after they reach their primary goal. Individuals with a substance use disorder history also have a higher chance of abusing anabolic steroids.

Those who consume steroids may also develop a tolerance to the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms, including loss of appetite, low sex drive, mood swings, fatigue, insomnia, and depression when they stop taking them. Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms are clear signs of an underlying addiction.

Other signs of addiction are:

  • Spending more time/money on consuming steroids.
  • Ignoring responsibilities at work or at home.
  • Continuous use of steroids despite physical side effects like hair loss.
  • Having issues with friends and family.
  • Experiencing severe depression due to symptoms of withdrawal.

Taking steroids for a long time can disrupt the natural hormonal balance of the human body. Therefore, when a user suddenly stops taking the drug, they may get depressed or even suicidal due to the hormonal imbalances. There are many treatments available for steroid addiction. It is highly advisable to seek out medical guidance to quit steroids safely.

Youth and Adolescents

Steroid use in youngsters has gradually decreased over the recent years compared to the high rates seen in the early 2000s. According to a 2016 study, only 1% of 12th grade students, 0.7% of 10th grade students, and 0.5% of 8th grade students reported taking anabolic steroids in the last year.

Research shows that about two-thirds of young individuals are not happy with their body appearance because either they believe that they have to lose weight or add more muscle mass. Boys who were unhappy with their body image were much more likely to have a lenient outlook towards testosterone use. Although there is a comparable level of body image dissatisfaction present between boys and girls alike, high-school-aged boys in the US use testosterone at a higher rate than girls (4% vs. 2.7%.) Body dissatisfaction may be attributable to a disorder known as body dysmorphia, making people have a distorted view of their bodies and making them see defects that may not exist.

Young adults who have experienced physical or sexual abuse may also resort to anabolic abuse as they tend to believe that being muscular and tougher can prevent potential attacks by others.

Steroid Effects and Abuse

Using anabolic steroids without a prescription is considered abuse and illegal. Users who abuse anabolic steroids consume much larger doses than recommended. Anabolic steroids are usually abused by athletes for increased performance in their respective sport. However, the general population that consumes steroids simply uses it to enhance their appearance.

During physical exercise, small tears occur in the muscles. When these tears heal, stronger muscle tissue develops. Anabolic steroids modify how the body builds muscle and speeds up the healing process, enabling people to exercise harder, more often, and with greater results.

Some users who continuously abuse anabolic steroids for a longer period eventually develop a tolerance to the drug, resulting in the overconsumption or mixing of other types of steroids at the same time. This phenomenon is called “stacking.” And stacking places users at a higher chance of experiencing adverse side effects and health risks.

Most individuals abuse anabolic steroids to change their physical appearance and abilities. Some athletes and bodybuilders use steroids to gain an advantage over their competitors. Though it is illegal and contradicts the professional code of conduct in sports, it is known for some football players to use steroids before a match to feel more aggressive, or by major league baseball players to gain more power to bat.

Given below are three common ways people abuse anabolic steroids:


Stacking is taking various types of steroids at once or mixing oral and injectable formulations together. Though scientifically not proven, many steroid abusers believe that stacking increases results.


The process of taking steroids during predetermined periods is cycling (usually 6-12 weeks.) Users who get involved in cycling consume multiple doses for several weeks, then pause for a certain time, and then continue again with the consumption of the substance. Steroid users implement this strategy to help the body produce its own testosterone and minimize internal organ damage.


This is a method of taking steroids during a cycle. At the beginning of the cycle, individuals start with a lower dose and gradually increase to a maximum dose. In the second half of the cycle, the user slowly lowers their steroid dose once more.

According to research, none of these methods have been verified, nor do they reduce the chances of side effects of anabolic steroid use.

The Food and Drug Administration has reported that an estimated 375,000 young men and 175,000 young women in high school abuse anabolic steroids annually. Though most users abusing steroids are males, it is reported that females also turn to these drugs for a better physique.

Although overdose from steroids is a rare occurrence, it is still a possibility. Steroid overdose can lead to coma, heart attack, and even stroke.

What is Estrogen Rebound?

When an individual stops his steroid cycle, a condition called estrogen rebound may develop. This condition results in the production and release of the female hormone estrogen at elevated levels. If the dosage and period of anabolic steroid use increase, estrogen rebound symptoms may worsen.

Dangerous Drug Combinations

Anabolic steroids reduce the pleasurable effects of certain other drugs. The reduced high feeling caused by steroids may lead many individuals to consume larger doses of other drugs, increasing their chances of fatal overdose.

Here are some drugs commonly abused by steroid users:

Cocaine and Adderall are some of the stimulants that steroid users abuse to decrease appetite and boost energy. However, many individuals are unaware that mixing stimulants and steroids can amplify aggression and stress the heart. Abusing alcohol while consuming steroids often leads to excessive aggression. Consuming these substances together may have a long-term impact on a person’s behavior and worsen their addiction. Individuals who abuse alcohol and steroids together are more likely to commit violent crimes.

In an attempt to self-medicate the adverse side effects of anabolic steroids like insomnia and aggression, some users turn towards other addictive substances like alcohol. A study of men with heroin addiction found that 9% of them started taking the drug because of steroid use.

Steroid Abuse Statistics

  • 0.5 percent: Approximately 1 in 50 students in the 12th grade used steroids in 2014. This seemingly low percentage accounts for tens of thousands of high school seniors.
  • 77 percent: A 2007 study found that 77% of college students who admitted to using steroids also abused at least one other drug.
  • 9.1 percent: In a survey of retired National Football League (NFL) players, 9.1% of players admitted to using anabolic steroids during their careers.

Signs of Steroid Use

Many people link steroid misuse with professional athletes and bodybuilders. However, the highest percentage of steroid users take this drug for the sole purpose of enhancing their appearance as most do not acquire the natural physique to do so on their own.

Prolonged steroid misuse can cause rage, extreme mood swings, and dramatic personality changes.

Common side effects of steroid misuse include:

  • Rapid weight/muscle gain
  • Paranoia
  • Acne
  • Enlarged breasts/Gynecomastia (in men)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Facial hair growth (in women)

Dangers of Anabolic Steroids

The world had many high-performing athletes in their peaks, collapsing and dying unexpectedly due to the immense stress exerted by steroids on their hearts. Steroid misuse is also known to cause hindrance to the adolescents’ growth by premature aging of bones.

Injecting anabolic steroids has become a trend among novice athletes and teenagers. Unsafe injecting of steroids can lead to blood-borne diseases like Hepatitis B/C, HIV/AIDS, and even bacterial infections.

Side Effects of Anabolic Steroids Include:

  • Vomiting of blood
  • Nausea
  • Yellow eyes/skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood clots
  • Baldness
  • Increased cancer risk
  • Severe acne
  • Insomnia
  • High cholesterol
  • Oily skin
  • Hair loss
  • Liver disease, cysts, and tumors
  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Depression & suicidal tendencies
  • Altered cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Gynecomastia
  • Infertility
  • Shrinking of testes
  • Excess body or facial hair (hirsutism)
  • A deeper voice in women
  • Stunted height/growth in teenagers
  • Unsafe injecting leads to blood-borne diseases
  • Menstrual anomalies in women

Steroid misuse also leads to behavioral issues and significant psychiatric problems. Violent behavior is one of the most common behavioral issues associated with long-term steroid misuse. Armed robbery, domestic violence, and even murder have also been associated with prolonged steroid misuse.

Many reports have shown that men with little or no apparent history of criminal or violent behavior before steroid misuse have committed murder or attempted homicide while on steroid cycles.

The Effects of Steroids in Men Vs. Women

The drastic increase in blood testosterone levels during steroid intake can impair the body’s own testosterone production. Extremely low testosterone levels can occur when the user stops taking steroids. Side effects of steroid use differ for men and women.

Side Effects of Steroids in Men:

  • Enlarged breasts
  • Low sperm count
  • Shrunken testicles
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Prostate cancer
  • Infertility

Side Effects of Steroids in Women:

  • Changes to the body and facial hair
  • Enlarged clitoris
  • Decreased breast size
  • Loss of hair/Baldness
  • Deepened voice
  • Unexpected weight gain
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Neurological complexities
  • Hand/body shaking
  • Infertility
  • Fetal health issues

Additional Risks to Understand

The increased demand for steroids in developing countries has resulted in the sales of low-quality dangerous drugs that act similarly to steroids being sold in the market and local gyms. Using these low-quality steroids or alternatives can lead to various health complications, such as internal organ damage and death. There is no safe steroid to use. However, products manufactured in developed countries are relatively less dangerous than what is available in developing countries.

What is Steroid Withdrawal?

The abrupt cease or rapid reduction in steroid consumption can lead to adverse withdrawal symptoms due to the unnaturally-high testosterone level that inhibits the bodys natural testosterone production.

Low testosterone symptoms and suicidal thoughts/ behavior are some of the most serious withdrawal symptoms of abruptly stopping the consumption of steroids. The male body needs this important hormone to function normally. For example, the fertility of a man highly depends on this hormone. Symptoms such as muscle weakness, fertility issues, and natural body functioning impairments may last till the body can produce testosterone on its own.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Anabolic steroids’ positive effects include increased libido, boosted energy, sense of confidence, and concentration enhancements. However, withdrawal symptoms can cause a paradoxical effect.

The most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • A decrease in blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Drug cravings
  • Decreased sex drive

Withdrawal symptoms of steroids are discomforting, but those side effects are rarely fatal. Stopping steroids at an earlier stage can prevent serious side effects.

Withdrawal Duration

There’s no “exact duration” for withdrawal symptoms; it notably varies from user to user.

Several factors determine the length of withdrawal symptoms:

  • How long has the user been taking steroids?
  • The individual’s average regular dose of steroids.
  • How frequently did they use it?
  • Did the user combine the substance with other known substances?
  • The person’s medical history & mental health (i.e., gender and body weight).

The Half-Life of Steroids and Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can last several days to weeks. The type of steroids used is another determiner of the duration of withdrawal as some steroid types stay in the body for longer, and some leave the system sooner.

The duration in which a substance loses half its potency after consumption is called a half-life.

Below is a list of half-lives of well-known steroid types:

  • Deca-Durabolin – 14 days
  • Dianabol – 4.5 – 6 hours
  • Durabolin – 4.5 days
  • Equipoise (veterinary steroid) – 14 days
  • Winstrol – 24 hour
  • Anadrol – 5 – 9 hours
  • Anavar – 9 hours

Withdrawal Timeline

Days 1-2

Initial withdrawal symptoms can start within the first five days since the last dose. The duration of these symptoms depends on the half-life of the drug. Irritability, nausea, light-headedness, headaches, and mood swings are the early withdrawal effects of steroids.

Days 3-5

This is the period of peak withdrawal symptoms. The individual may start to feel the rapid loss of alertness and energy.

Days 6-7

Withdrawal symptoms will remain severe within this period. Nausea, weight loss, and abdominal pain are the most common side effects during this period. The person also may experience depression and insomnia.

Week 2

Minor symptoms may still bother the user during the second week. However, the second weeks withdrawal symptoms are less severe compared to that in the first week. Most of the symptoms soon fade away after the second week.

Treatment for Steroid Addiction

Anabolic steroid abuse and addiction require comprehensive medical treatment, just like any other drug issue. Outpatient and inpatient rehab facilities can help steroid abusers resolve their addiction and develop a safer, more sustainable lifestyle. Treating steroid dependence involves supervised detoxification, comfort medicine, and behavioral therapy.

Health practitioners track people with steroid addiction to protect them from depression and suicidal behavior during detoxification. Mental wellbeing therapy helps treat and deal with mood swings throughout drug withdrawal. It’s critical to get help for steroid addiction from counselors and physicians specializing in this form of addiction. These practitioners will collaborate closely with their patients to create the most appropriate care strategy necessary for that individual.

Inpatient Rehab and Detox

Inpatient rehabilitation is one of the most comprehensive measures available to help patients with severe steroid addictions. It’s an ideal choice for people with a history of depression, anxiety, or rage. This treatment method separates steroid users from the outside world to successfully detoxify and overcome their abusive behavior. Many inpatient rehabs follow a comprehensive schedule, consisting of one-on-one counseling, support groups, mealtime, family meetings, outings, etc.

Inpatient treatment programs continuously monitor their patient’s medical needs during detox by evaluating the patient’s hormone balance. Medically-aided detox programs help ease steroid withdrawal effects and prevent complications. Medical detox often includes a tapering down strategy, where patients slowly reduce their steroid dosage until the substance completely leaves the user’s body. Doctors can also administer medication during detox. These medications may include:

Synthetic Hormones

A doctor or an endocrinologist (a doctor specializing in hormone therapy) can prescribe this medication to regulate testosterone levels.


A doctor may recommend an antidepressant, such as Prozac or Effexor. This may be necessary to continue with therapy during severe withdrawal symptoms. Antidepressants usually take 2-6 weeks to show results.


This medication can help alleviate symptoms of withdrawal, such as nausea, muscle aches, and cramping. It can also decrease the elevated blood pressure caused by steroid use.

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

Aspirin or ibuprofen (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are highly effective in pain management.

Treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy are fast-acting solutions to treat conditions like depression, compared to other medications that may take weeks or longer to show solid results. Therapists help the client make improvements to living without steroids. Behavioral therapy may also assist in the diagnosis of co-occurring mental health problems that contributed to steroid use.

Ongoing Treatment and Strategies to Prevent Relapse

Individuals with mild to moderate steroid addiction often prefer outpatient therapy. It is an ideal solution for those who wish to continue living at home, attend work or school, and take care of their children while receiving the treatment they need. Outpatient treatment programs may vary from rehab to rehab, as some may provide more comprehensive treatments than others. Many outpatient rehab services require patients to attend treatment for at least two or three days per week for a few hour sessions. This treatment program normally includes group counseling, cognitive therapy, and family therapy. Therefore outpatient therapy may also be an ideal aftercare choice for those who complete their treatment at an inpatient rehab. This may help support the recovered patient’s gradual adjustment back to everyday life and preserve their rehabilitation.

Unlike inpatient rehab services, outpatient services do not provide any form of monitored medical care. The right type of treatment for an individual must be decided by a behavioral health professional.

The biggest challenge during outpatient therapy is the prevention of relapse. As patients are allowed to return to their day-to-day life after each session, they are constantly faced with distractions and triggers that led them towards their addiction. Hence this may not be the right choice for those struggling with severe addiction.

Tips to Prevent a Steroid Relapse

Continuing with Therapy

Former steroid users must continue visiting a psychiatrist even after completing treatment. Maintaining with therapy provides the patient with the necessary tools and strategies to help them maintain their recovery. It also helps patients overcome any unexpected challenges or impulses in life.

Continuing with Prescription Medication

Individuals who’ve been prescribed medications must continue taking them until their doctor decides otherwise. Discontinuing prescriptions given for steroid addiction treatment without their doctor’s approval may induce the recurrence of hormone problems or withdrawal symptoms that can trigger a sudden relapse.

Avoiding Triggers

Triggers may include; individuals, locations, and even events connected with their previous habit of steroid abuse. Taking notes of emotional stimuli and making an attempt to eliminate them can deter a sudden urge to reuse steroids.

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