Do you hit the gym regularly with friends and compare who has developed bulkier biceps in a short time?
There is no shortage of fitness freaks, but the problem arises when people don’t know when to stop. Suppose one of your friends has bulked up more than others, and everyone is crowding around him to get workout tips.
All that attention feels great, doesn’t it? So, you decide to find out how he managed to get bigger during the same period while you were progressing gradually. When it comes to light that he has been taking steroids, you might be tempted to try the same. But hold on!
Read this guide on steroid abuse and take note of the side effects people suffer from. Is it really worth it to wreck your body for bigger muscles? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: We don’t recommend steroids try the alternatives below instead.
Table of Contents
What Are Anabolic Steroids?
Steroids are synthetic substances with properties similar to testosterone – the male hormone. They mimic the actions of testosterone for increasing muscles, improving sex drive, and enhancing other male characteristics.
That’s why professional bodybuilders and weightlifters use anabolic steroids, along with hitting the gym and following a proper diet, to bulk up quickly. So, why doesn’t everybody use steroids?
While anabolic steroids have advantages, you aren’t allowed to use them without a doctor’s prescription. This is because they can have serious side effects, and we will discuss some of them briefly.
For now, know that corticosteroid is another option that doctors recommend since they don’t cause harmful reactions and can reduce swelling. As for anabolic steroids, the US Food & Drug Administration took the help of Youth Risks and Behavior Surveillance System studies to find some startling facts.
The data shows that 2.4% of females and 4.9% of males in US High Schools have used steroids at least once. But is it that bad? Yes, because crunching the numbers reveals that it amounts to 1,75,000 women and 3,75,000 men.
How Do People Use Steroids?
Two common ways of using steroids are taking pills or injecting yourself with hypodermic needles, so it goes directly into the muscles. The problem arises when people constantly take drugs for anxiety, pain relief, or muscle building and turn into abusers. Such people take 10 to 100 times more than the prescribed safe dosage by a doctor, which can prove fatal.
Another technique weight builders often use is stacking, which involves taking multiple steroids together. Their goal is to get bigger and bulk up faster, so trainers will ask athletes to take doses in a pyramid method over 6-12 weeks.
They start with a small dose while gradually increasing the dosage over the next few weeks. Then they again decrease the dosage toward the latter half of the cycle, hoping to build muscles during this phase.
However, none of these methods are scientific, and there’s no guarantee of getting definitive results. One thing’s for sure – it’s harmful to the body, and now we will tell you why.
Shocking Results Of Steroid Abuse
We will discuss the mild symptoms first before moving on to more serious problems.
1. Common Symptoms
Some of the prevalent symptoms of steroid abuse include pimple breakouts and hair loss. In fact, overuse can result in girls growing beards and guys growing breasts, while more serious problems, such as liver tumors and heart clogs, can’t be ignored.
In the following sections, we will explain the correlation between substance abuse and mood swings but know that violent fits of rage or anger aren’t uncommon. The body undergoes big changes internally, even though you may have bulging biceps and rock-hard abs on the outside.
Steroid abuse can shorten your lifespan, and the evidence so far suggests that they aren’t worth the risk.
2. Hormonal Imbalance
We mentioned steroid abuse leads to internal changes but what kind of changes? For one, teens experience hormonal imbalance, which affects the development of male and female traits. As explained earlier, this leads to gender mix-ups, but even more serious problems include reduced sperm count and shrunken testicles in men.
In some cases, men are afflicted with gynecomastia, and end up with enlarged breasts, while women grow body hair, deeper voices, become masculine, or have small breasts.
3. Stunted Growth
Since many high school students in the US take steroids, there are many cases of stunted growth among teenagers. Taking steroids before adolescence brings a premature stop to the growth spurt and individuals fail to reach their full height.
This happens because the body usually stops growing after puberty, and when substance abuse increases the testosterone levels in the body, it thinks you have hit puberty. This also affects bone health in the long run.
4. Mood Changes
People regularly exposed to steroids can become moody and even develop streaks of homicidal rage. Steroids act on the brain and affect thinking or other cognitive functions, which can lead to people inflicting harm on those around them.
The limbic system in the brain is responsible for your moods and emotions, and steroids hamper its normal functioning. This leads to depression and anxiety among individuals, accompanied by irritability, mania, roid rage, and delusions. Even non-violent people can commit murder under the influence of anabolic steroids, so moderation is the key.
5. Steroids Can Prove Fatal
Even though you might be consuming steroids to grow muscles and increase T levels, these compounds reach various organs through the bloodstream. When steroids override the normal functioning of individual cells and increase protein production, they spell danger.
Increased protein levels in organs like the liver result in tumors or cancer. Abusers are also prone to peliosis hepatis, which leads to blood-filled cyst formations within the liver. And if the tumor or cysts rupture, they cause internal bleeding.
Similarly, the risk of strokes and heart attacks increases considerably in young athletes who are encouraged to take steroids. It causes atherosclerosis, which results in fat deposition within arteries to reduce blood flow. As the blood flow to the heart goes down, it leads to a blockage and can ultimately result in a brain stroke.
It’s well established by now that steroids weaken the immune system and put teens at risk of serious illnesses. That’s why steroid abusers fall sick often, and it doesn’t take long for the situation to spiral out of control.
Along with the deterioration in physical health, injecting steroids through needles increases the chances of HIV, Hepatitis C, and B. Abusers have been known to pass around drug injection kits that aren’t properly sterilized and result in life-threatening infections.
6. Muscle Dysmorphia
This is a type of disorder in which an individual is concerned that they aren’t sufficiently muscular. In reality, such individuals are quite bulked up, but constant worrying causes them to regularly inspect their body size and muscle growth in the mirror.
Over the years, muscle dysmorphia has increased, with people looking to bulk up quickly through easy means. The problem is serious because individuals with muscle dysmorphia feel that people will judge them for being “too small.” That’s why they lift more weights, opt for high-protein and low-fat diets, and inject steroids.
A study between weightlifters who have muscle dysmorphia and those who don’t found that 46% of the former group took steroids. Their dissatisfaction with their bodies was comparable to people who had eating disorders.
What’s especially worrying is that even after taking steroids, the perception that they are not building enough muscles pushes people toward substance abuse. The only ray of hope is to consult a mental health counselor or opt for cognitive behavioral therapy and serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
As of now, there aren’t enough studies to suggest that therapeutic interventions would be successful against muscle dysmorphia.
Risks Associated With Certain Steroids
1. Designer Steroids
A type of anabolic steroid is designer steroids, synthetic drugs created to remain undetected during drug tests. Athletes mostly use them to enhance performance, but these haven’t been approved by the US Food & Drug Administration and could pose a health risk.
Some of the common symptoms and side effects of overuse include:
- Enlarged prostate
- Irregular periods and enlarged clitoris in women
- Risk of tendon rupture and tendonitis
- Increase in “bad cholesterol,” known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
- Decrease in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good cholesterol”
- Issues with blood circulation
- High blood pressure
- Dependence on drugs
This hormone is mostly secreted by the adrenal glands and is further converted into testosterone and estrogen. However, bodybuilders, athletes, and gym enthusiasts believe it helps the body recover faster and train better. But you can only use it if legally prescribed by a doctor and not as a performance-enhancing drug.
Since there are no studies to back up the lofty claims made by athletes, you may suffer from one or more of the following symptoms –
- Reduced sperm count
- Damaged blood vessels
- Higher chances of stroke and heart attack
- Male-pattern baldness
- Shrinkage of testicles and enlarged breasts in men
We have added the human growth hormone to this list because it has anabolic properties; that’s why athletes use it to build muscle and possibly enhance performance. And though it’s administered by injection, you will need a prescription to use it.
Research hasn’t conclusively shown whether HGH enhances strength or endurance, but there are plenty of risks involved:
- Fluid retention
- Joint pain
- Enlarged heart
- Muscle weakness
- High blood pressure
- Impaired glucose regulation
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Problems with eyesight
You may have heard about erythropoietin because it helps people suffering from anemia, which is the result of severe kidney disease. It increases hemoglobin and RBC production in the blood to increase the oxygen supply to the muscles.
So, all good so far, right? This is what led cyclists to take erythropoietin in the 1990s until it was found that nearly 18 deaths among athletes were due to improper use of this hormone. Some prevalent risks that endurance athletes should consider before taking this hormone include –
- Heart attack
- Pulmonary embolism
Are Anabolic Steroids Addictive?
It all boils down to the question – are anabolic steroids addictive? When a person fails to control steroid intake despite the harmful impact of these compounds, they become addicted and move towards overuse.
Such people live extreme lives and refuse to participate in activities that prevent them from going to the gym, affect dietary restrictions, or cause them to miss their daily dose. They spend enormous amounts just to obtain a tiny portion of the drugs and fail to reduce steroid use, owing to depression, anxiety, or fear of muscle loss.
These individuals depend on steroids, and since the body becomes tolerant to the initial dose, they have to inject more steroids to get the same results. Other signs of dependence after withdrawal are –
- Steroid cravings
- Low sex drive
- Reduced appetite
- Suicidal tendencies
Are There Any Treatments For Steroid Abuse?
There’s no conclusive way to determine what can help people who suffer from steroid abuse, but we have listed some techniques that may work.
- Professional counseling
- Physical therapies
- Endocrine therapies for people suffering from hypogonadism and depression
- Antidepressants after consulting a doctor
- Psychosocial and pharmacological treatments
The best thing you can do when you find someone addicted to steroids is listen to them.
Don’t try to reason with them because that may not work initially since they have been following a particular lifestyle, and deviating from their routine is bound to be unnerving. Be comforting and spend some time understanding whether they want to get over steroid abuse and consult a doctor for a health checkup.
Under professional guidance, you can stop steroid use for a while to see the outcome. The key is to remain patient and ensure gradual improvement in physical and mental health every day.
So, think twice before taking steroids and consult your gym trainer to bulk up the right way. You will not only look good but also feel great!