Anabolic Steroid Symptoms and Warning Signs

Steroids cause hormonal imbalances in the body that can lead to physical changes. Men can develop breasts and shrunken testicles. In women, sexual organs can enlarge and their voices often deepen.

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Signs of Steroid Use

MusclesMany people associate steroid use with athletes and competitive bodybuilders; however, the majority of users are not. The majority of steroid users take steroids to either enhance athletic performance or enhance their personal appearance. Most steroid users take the drugs as a shortcut to become leaner, more muscular, and generally look better. Many steroid users do not have the stereotypical bodybuilder physique.

Of all the people I’ve seen who admit using steroids, I’d say 90 percent don’t even look like bodybuilders…they’re just using steroids to try to get in shape faster.

- Michael Scally, M.D., Men’s Health, 2015

Drastic mood swings and “roid rage” are common red flags of prolonged steroid abuse. Steroid abuse can also result in dramatic personality changes over time.

Other common side effects and signs of anabolic steroid abuse include:

  • Acne
  • Rapid muscle/weight gain
  • Enlarged breasts (in men)
  • Paranoia
  • Hyperactivity
  • Facial hair growth (in women)
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Dangers of Anabolic Steroids

Many who abuse anabolic steroids will use them in “cycles.” They go on and off anabolic steroids to try to avoid negative side effects from the drugs. Despite these “off” cycles, there are still long-term risks from taking steroids.

Studies have linked steroid abuse to liver cancer, kidney disease, high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks.

There have even been reports of athletes who were in seemingly peak condition collapsing and suddenly dying from the stress steroids had put on their hearts. Abusing anabolic steroids can also stunt adolescents’ growth. Steroids can cause premature aging of the bones. If a teen hasn’t progressed fully through puberty but is taking steroids, he or she may become stuck at their current height. Injecting anabolic steroids increases the risk of contracting blood-borne diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Possible side effects of anabolic steroids include:

  • Vomiting blood
  • Yellow eyes and skin
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Baldness
  • Increased cancer risk
  • Insomnia
  • Blood clots
  • High cholesterol
  • Severe acne,
  • Oily skin
  • Hair loss
  • Liver disease, tumors, and cysts
  • Heart disease and attacks
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Mood-swings
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Depression and suicidal tendencies
  • Altered cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Gynecomastia (male breast enlargement)
  • Infertility
  • Shrinking of testicles
  • Excess facial or body hair (hirsutism)
  • Deeper voice in women
  • Stunted growth and height in teenagers
  • Risk of viral or bacterial infections due to unsterile injections
  • Menstrual irregularities in women

Steroid abuse can also lead to significant psychiatric and behavioral issues. One of the most common issues documented in long-term steroid users is violent behavior. Domestic violence, armed robbery and even murder have been linked to steroid use.

Several reports have described men with little or no apparent history of violence or criminal behavior prior to [steroid] use who committed murder or attempted murder while using [steroids].

- Gen Kanayama, M.D., PhD., et. al., Hormones and Behavior, 2010
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The Effects of Steroids in Men Vs. Women

Anabolic steroids cause hormonal imbalances in the body. Steroid use can result in an unnatural increase of testosterone levels, which, in turn reduces the body’s ability to produce testosterone on its own. Some of the side effects of steroid abuse occur when a user stops taking the drug because the body has unusually low levels of testosterone. The effects of hormonal imbalances caused by steroids often have the opposite effect on men and women but women also face many of the same health issues and risks that men do when using steroids.

Side Effects of Steroids in Males:

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

Side Effects of Steroids in Females:

  • Changes to body and facial hair
  • Decreased breast size
  • Enlarged clitoris
  • Loss of hair and Baldness
  • Deepened voice
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Weight gain
  • Neurological complications
  • Hand and body shaking

The most common side-effects of steroid use in women involve a decrease in feminine aspects, including the appearance of male characteristics, due to the increase in testosterone. Women are at higher risk of health risks related to fertility and fetal health.

The hair on your head begins falling out, your body cuts production of natural testosterone and converts what it makes to estrogen instead, and eventually your pecs turn squishy-soft…all the while, your endocrine system chases its tail to adjust for the [steroids] you’re shooting, and your testicles shrink from obsolescence until the day they cease working altogether.

- Former steroid user Paul Solotaroff, Men’s Journal, 2010

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Recognizing an Addiction to Steroids

Many users overlook the addictive potential of anabolic steroids. Yet, as a schedule III controlled substance, steroids have a similar addictive potential as drugs like codeine and ketamine. People that are addicted to steroids exhibit certain behaviors that cause them to put their drug use above all else.

Common behaviors linked to steroid addiction may include:

  • Prioritizing steroid use over potential health risks
  • Having cravings for steroids
  • Experiencing issues with family and friends due to drug use
  • Going to great lengths to find and get steroids

Intervention and Next Steps

Many steroid users are reluctant to enter treatment for their problem. Staging an intervention may inspire a moment of clarity for those who are hesitant to get help. Hiring a professional interventionist is highly recommended because violent behavior is a common symptom of steroid abuse. Professionals can maintain order during the intervention and help prepare loved ones for potential problems.

If staging an intervention without the help of a professional, it is important to plan ahead before the intervention. Family and friends should research where they want to send their loved one for treatment. They should also have an exit strategy if that person refuses treatment.

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Withdrawal and Treatment

Even those who aren’t addicted to steroids may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drugs. After taking steroids for a 6-12 week cycle, the body becomes physically and emotionally dependent on the drugs. The hormonal imbalances caused by steroids make quitting “cold turkey” dangerous for the user. Headaches and muscle cramps are common physical withdrawal symptoms, but the most dangerous part is the psychological withdrawal.

Coming off steroids causes many users to experience an intense depression that may lead to attempted suicide.

The first step of treating a steroid addiction is guiding users through the withdrawal period. Doctors may prescribe medications to help with depression and balance the user’s hormones. Those who are severely depressed from withdrawal may require inpatient rehab or hospitalization. Ongoing therapy can help recovering steroid addicts overcome their desire to use. Therapy can also treat any underlying issues that may contribute to steroid use. Contact a dedicated treatment provider today to explore treatment options for a steroid addiction.

 

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