Ask An Expert: Are Anabolic Steroids Safe To Use If You Are A Recovering Addict?
Anabolic steroids are synthetic, man-made versions of the hormone testosterone and certainly have legitimate uses. For example, they can be used to induce puberty and to treat with serious diseases such as cancer.
However, they are often abused for non-medical purposes to increase muscle mass or to improve physical performance. Unfortunately, the use of steroids may result in very serious long-term consequences, just like drugs and alcohol. And also like other substances, steroids can cause dependence – moreover, a substance can be addictive even if it does not induce a euphoric high.
When someone becomes dependent on steroids, that person may continue to use them even when use negatively impacts his or her life and health. And just like addicts and alcoholics, anabolic steroid users will often spend excessively on their habit, and go to great lengths to both acquire the substances and hide their addiction.
Some people believe that steroids are safe to use when recovering from other addictions, but this could not be further from the truth. A person who has already exhibited the propensity for addiction to one substance is at a heightened risk for dependency to another.
Clearly, the answer is no – steroids are never safe to use especially if you are an addict or alcoholic in recovery.
Furthermore, many people who have addictions to anabolic steroids enter rehab facilities for treatment just as if they were addicted to drug or alcohol. Anabolic steroids are never safe for non-medical use and should not be used for any other purposes than those prescribed by a doctor.
Short-Term Side Effects of Steroids
In addition to perceived positive effects of steroids, there are many side effects that may occur even after using steroids for just a short time. These include:
- Decreased appetite
- Sleep disturbances
- Decreased sperm count
Additionally, since anabolic steroids usually come in the form an injectable liquid, users may incur swelling or infection around injection sites, sometimes not dissimilar to track marks seen in heroin users.
Approximately 13 % of steroids users admit to sharing needles or vials, a dangerous practice that could result in HIV and hepatitis infections.
More Possible Side Effects
Since anabolic steroids are a form of testosterone, they will influence gender characteristics. Some people have been known to use steroids at incredibly high doses, 100 times or more the level of what is medically appropriate.
The following side effects may also occur:
- Testicle shrinkage
- Growth of breast tissue in men
- Fertility problems
- Heart problems
- High blood pressure
- Severe mood swings, depression, and mania
- Menstrual irregularities in women
- Excessive hair growth in women
- Deepening of the voice in women
Long-Term Effects of Steroids
Although the use of anabolic steroids does not invoke the same intense, short-term psychological reaction that drugs such as cocaine and heroin do, use does alter the brain over the long-term, including impaired production of neurotransmitters. This often results in mood and behavior changes, and may cause the following:
- Acceleration of balding in men
- Anger and aggression (“roid rage”)
- Paranoia and delusions.
- Cardiac arrest
- Increased cholesterol
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Kidney failure
- Liver tumors
- Blood-borne diseases from injecting
Can You Overdose on Steroids?
Yes, you can overdose on steroids. The most serious overdoses most occur after a cumulative effect of long-term use, but taking a very large amount can also cause the following:
- Tremor and convulsions
- High blood pressure and body temperature
- Cardiac arrest
Anabolic Steroids Dependence and Withdrawals
As noted, anabolic steroid use can result in dependence, generally described as the feeling that one cannot function normally without using the substance. The longer and more frequent a substance is used, the more severe the dependence, and the more difficult it may be to overcome it.
Fortunately, steroid withdrawal may be done by using a tapering schedule. This helps mitigate withdrawal symptoms and lessen the risk of relapse. Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Apathy and depression
- Concentration difficulties
- Sleep disturbances and fatigue
- Decreased libido
- Joint and muscle pain
Depression is a very dangerous side effect of withdrawal and may result in suicidal thoughts. Treatment for anabolic steroid dependency is critical to both ensure safety during the withdrawal period and to decrease the likelihood of negative consequences and relapse.
Finally, there is often very concerning mental health issues surrounding anabolic steroid use. These include body dysmorphia (distorted body image.) These false beliefs can be very debilitating, and keep someone using in an effort to keep these feelings at bay.
People with these feelings should also be treated with psychotherapy to understand their intrinsic motivations behind use, and why they are so counterproductive.
Anabolic steroids have a high potential for overuse and dependency. The truth is that no one should use steroids for any reason that is not medically-approved. Recovering addicts and alcoholics may be especially vulnerable because they have already exhibited tendencies toward addiction.
If you believe you may have a dependency on anabolic steroids, please seek the help of a professional as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to recover.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology