Whenever the topic of anabolic steroids comes to the fore, the phenomenon of steroid abuse cannot be left behind. It is very difficult to define what steroid abuse actually is because you are likely to come across diverse opinions from different individuals. For decades now, people have disregarded logic when it comes to openly discussing anabolic steroids and hysteria continues to ensue over their usage. Since this is the general occurrence, it is quite difficult to unearth the truth behind steroid abuse. Concentrating on pure facts and judging in an unbiased way can help understand as well as reveal the factual truth behind steroid abuse – a truth which is simple and has been staring right into our eyes.
Ask the average person what steroid abuse is and you are likely to get a biased opinion stating that any use of steroids is in fact steroid abuse. Since the 1980’s anabolic steroids have carried the reputation of being substances developed with an unfavorable intention. We can refer to the case of Lyle Alzado who expired in the early 1990’s.
Alzado, the once outstanding NFL star, appeared on National TV shortly before his demise and looked a poor shadow of his former self. He blamed the usage of steroids for his condition, which was refuted by his doctors later on. But the media locked on to the news and so did the public. Chris Benoit, the hugely popular WWE star inexplicably murdered his family and committed suicide in 2007. It is undeniable that he was a steroid user as has been confirmed by medical reports but there were traces of other prescription and recreational drugs in his body. Steroids meanwhile were blamed ultimately for his homicidal behavior.
Whenever such cases have come to light, there has been no focus as to what was the level of steroid abuse the individual had undergone. The mere presence of steroids in their bloodstream creates instant sensation and adds plenty of fuel to the raging fire the critics have managed to stir up against steroid use. There has never been any direct evidence that has linked steroids to a person’s death.
Although several side effects like cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and AIDS have been reported, doctors have not been able to state with certainty the direct influence of steroids with a person’s death. Make no mistakes, indirect deaths relating to steroid usage are reported all the time. For instance, people inject steroids with a dirty needle and dies of subsequent infection. Ask yourselves this, are steroids to be blamed for such instances?
Defining steroid abuse
The unlawful consumption of anabolic steroids either as oil or water-based injectable solutions, oral consumption in the form of tablets and capsules, sub-dermal implant pellets, creams, as well as transdermal patches or gels applied on the skin in order to gain muscle mass and improve athletic performance can be defined as steroid abuse. The consumption of steroids for the aforementioned reasons can have serious psychological and physical implications for the users. This may be eventually followed by addiction.
The United States law classifies any consumption of steroids without a prescription to be steroid abuse regardless of the obvious harm this definition by the law can bring during certain cases. In the United States of America steroids have been prescribed to treat several medical conditions with low levels of testosterone being one of the most common.
The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990, later reinforced in 2004, classifies steroids as Schedule III controlled substances. This legislation defines any usage of steroids, even if it was for treating a case of low testosterone, to be steroid abuse if the user fails to present a prescription. Prescription users who continue to use the steroids in the same dose after their prescription has expired are also steroid abusers under this legislation.
This law is the bureaucrat’s way of condemning steroids. The administration feels the need to protect the user from the negative effects of steroids and the subsequent danger steroid users seem to bring to people around them. Particular focus has always been to preserve the purity of sports and protect the impressionable young minds from getting attracted to steroid use.
The US Government’s stand on steroids has faced a lot of criticism. Some see steroid regulation as a violation of the liberty of an individual. Others seem to point out that if steroids can be classified as a controlled substance, why leave out tobacco and alcohol. Some feel junk food, desserts, as well as fast food should be regulated since they too cause harm to an individual’s health.
When it comes to protection of the impressionable minds of children, shouldn’t their parents be left with that responsibility? Why is the government so eager to interfere? If the government does find children so impressionable then maybe they should consider scheduling reality TV and video games as well as children spending hours in front of them.
Why do people abuse steroids?
One of the primary reasons why people tend to abuse steroids is to foster improvement to their athletic performance or for various other needs. Surveys have shown steroid abuse to be below 6 percent in athletes, but information derived from anecdotal records point directly toward a larger widespread abuse.
Despite the presence of several anti-doping programs aimed at preserving the purity of sports and keeping them free from steroid abuse, professional and Olympic athletes continue to get through testing procedures because of the availability of new designer drugs in the black market.
These drugs remain undetected in the dope tests and allow the users to cheat and be one step ahead of the competition. There has been an appeal by doping agencies around the world to make saving of urine and blood samples for retesting purposes the standard. Once the technology is developed, it will be easier to identify athletes who are abusing steroids as even the newer designer drugs will fail to escape detection.
Another common reason for people abusing steroids is to increase their muscle size or to reduce their body fat. People who tend to use steroids for such reasons are known to suffer from a behavioral condition called as muscle dysmorphia that causes them to have distorted misconceptions about their bodies. Men suffering from this condition seem to think that they look smaller and weaker than they ought to while women with this condition seem to think they look fat and chubby, whereas in reality they are lean and muscular.
Some people who indulge in steroid abuse to increase their muscle size have experienced physical or sexual abuse in the past. A series of interviews conducted with different male weightlifters brought out this revelation. 25 percent of bodybuilders indulging in steroid abuse reported to have encountered physical or sexual abuse during their childhood.
In females, rape victims were twice as likely to abuse anabolic steroids or other muscle building drugs in comparison to females who have no history of suffering from sexual abuse in any form. Almost all these women who had been raped increased their bodybuilding activities after the attack. They seem to believe that looking bigger and being stronger will deter further attacks because their physical presence would intimidate men or repel them.
How are steroids abused?
Anabolic steroids are generally injected directly into the muscle, but can also be consumed as tablets, as a gel, or as a cream applied on the skin. Many steroid abusers are well aware of the risks of taking the drugs and have certain methods of getting the best out of these drugs and at the same time managing to avoid the harmful side effects of these drugs. There are three ways in which steroids are being taken:
Cycling involves injecting a steroid over a certain period of time, allowing the body to rest for a certain period of time and then starting afresh after the rest period is over. Users tend to believe in the notion that using two steroids at once increases their individual benefits. Stacking is the extremely dangerous procedure involving the use of more than one steroid at a time in the quest for aggressive and quicker results.
Pyramiding is a procedure that combines both cycling as well as stacking. Users begin with low doses of one or more steroids initially in the cycle, gradually increasing the dosage. Halfway through the cycle the dosage is maximized and then it is again gradually reduced to zero by the end of the cycle.
Athletes design their exercise programs to get the most out of these programs. They schedule more exercises when the effects of steroids are likely to be at the highest possible level. Steroid use cycles are usually between six to 12 weeks long. After the exercise routine is over a recuperation program of 6-12 weeks is often undergone by the bodybuilders.
Signs of steroid abuse
The side effects that anabolic steroids are known to have on the human body can be devastating. Side effects can be a minor case of acne to a major long-term health condition. They are also known to be indirectly related to the death of a person. There are quite a few side effects or changes experienced by the user associated with steroid abuse. Let’s look into them in more detail. These side effects or changes can be classified under:
- Internal changes – These can range from high blood pressure to a damaged liver.
- Private or Personal changes – An example of such a change is testicular atrophy (vivid shrinking of the testicles)
- Vivid external changes – These can range from appearance of acne to heightened aggression.
- Steroid abusers cannot escape the informed eye for as long as the changes become noticeable every passing day. A little bit of research on the side effects of steroids will help a person understand and identify symptoms associated with steroid abuse.
Physical changes in steroid abusers
It is well known that steroid abuse leads to several physical changes in a user. Physical changes are the best indicators of steroid abuse by a person and if you suspect a friend or child to have abused steroids you should be on the lookout for visible signs. Listed below are a few of the physical changes you are bound to notice:
Unusually fast muscle growth – Fast muscle growth is one of the main attractions of steroids. Users who have consumed steroids will start showing rapid muscle growth within days of steroid administration. The results could be extraordinary if the user works on an effective training regime designed to get the best out of steroid usage.
Greasy hair or oily skin – Users under steroid influence will experience greasy hair and oily skin. There is also the possibility of stretch mark appearance on the inner joints and around other parts of the body.
Appearance of acne – Steroid users will suffer the formation of acne all over the body with them being prominent in the face and back. They are likely to be red or purplish in color and the user should immediately consult a dermatologist when they start appearing on his body.
Gynecomastia – Gynecomastia is the condition in which men develop abnormally large breasts which will eventually require surgical removal. This is a particularly embarrassing condition for men and the failure to surgically amend this condition can lead to the formation of a cancer in the user.
Bad Breath – Users have reported of having unusual bad breath after steroid administration.
Thinning hair throughout the head and receding hairline – Steroid users will find hair loss to be an immediate side effect. A receding hairline will be observed in a few months’ time with complete permanent or partial baldness the final fallout. This is more prominent in males than in females.
Jaundice or yellowing of the skin – Steroids have known to hamper the toxin filtering function of the liver resulting in toxins flowing freely in the bloodstream. This results in jaundice or yellowing of the skin.
Eruptions in the skin and infections, like abscesses and cysts – Skin eruptions and infections are a vivid physical symptom in steroid users. Abscesses or collection of pus within a tissue along with the occurrence of cysts, closed capsules, or sac like structures which are filled with liquid, gaseous or semisolid material are observed in patients.
Drastic shift in appetite pattern – Steroid users are likely to experience a profound shift in their appetite cycle. There will be episodes when the user will find themselves feeling extreme hunger while at times there will be inexplicable extended loss of appetite.
Osteoporosis – Steroids have been known to cause osteoporosis or weakening of the bones. This results in frequent joint pains and the high risk of suffering from fractures even through minor accidents. This is why doctors recommend calcium supplements to steroid users.
Disturbed sleep patterns – Steroid users are likely to have disturbed sleep patterns. At times, the users will have insomniac episodes finding it difficult to sleep for consecutive days and at times he is likely to have a stretch of days where he will consistently tend to oversleep. This abnormal sleep pattern will have adverse effects on his biological clock affecting his day to day lifestyle adversely.
Changes in fluid level (Face and body) – Steroid consumption leads to the human body retaining unnecessary fluids which will lead to a puffy face and swelling throughout other parts of the body. Swelling in the toe region has also been reported.
Night Sweating – Steroid users are likely to experience episodes of abnormal night sweating despite the temperature being low and non-conducive to sweating.
Dizziness, trembling, nausea and vomiting – Steroid users will experience dizziness and trembling. Nausea followed by vomiting has also been reported by many users. Some users have reported traces of blood in their vomit as well.
Rapid or progressive weight gain – Steroid users are bound to show prominent increase in their weight after the use of steroids making it one of the obvious physical changes. This is one of the attractions that attract bodybuilders toward steroids.
Hyperactivity or lethargy – Steroid users tend to have episodes in which they are abnormally active showcasing tremendous bursts of energy and immense euphoria. Inexplicably, they also experience episodes in which they suffer from extreme lethargy with little or no energy to perform simple tasks.
Problems while urinating, presence of blood in urine and discoloration of urine – Steroid users have reported problems while urinating. Some have even complained about the presence of blood in urine and yellowing of urine. This is a direct result of the adverse effects of steroids on the kidney.
Personality and emotional changes
Steroid administration is likely to bring severe personality as well as emotional changes. These may occur without any specific reason or triggers. Upon careful observation a pattern of symptoms comes to the fore. These symptoms can devastate the user and force him to alienate himself from the surrounding environment. Some of the personality and emotional changes that are associated with steroid use are as follows:
Extreme mood swings – Steroid users are likely to have mood swings which can be compared to bipolar disorder. Steroid users will show signs of euphoria which may be immediately followed by inexplicable episodes of melancholia or depression.
Increased aggression or irritability – Steroid users around the world have reported severe anger as well as temperament issues after being exposed to steroids. There have been claims of steroid users turning violent and attacking close ones and random strangers inexplicably. This is one of the side effects of steroids which has been criticized worldwide and adds fuel to the initiated anti-steroid factions.
Becoming disrespectful and abusive – Steroid users are known to have shown lesser respect toward those around him after being administered steroids. This is probably because of the new found physical prowess steroids have blessed them with. They also tend to be increasingly abusive both verbally as well as physically and there are no reasonable triggers to such behavior.
Poor decision making abilities – Steroid users have the reputation of making stupid decisions which have no valid reasonable support. This directly stems from their increased false air of superiority post steroid administration. Steroid users have a belief that they are invincible post exposure to steroids.
Starts being secretive and tends to lie – Steroid users tend to keep a lot of secrets after steroid administration and they also tend to lie a lot. After steroid administration they find it increasingly difficult to trust a person which is why their entire behavior towards people changes.
Withdraws from family members – Post steroid administration users tend to drift away from family members and seemingly distance themselves from their closed ones too. This becomes a matter of deep concern for family members as they find the user increasingly non-responsive and condescending.
Depression – Post steroid administration, steroid users are likely to suffer from depression which will increasingly start increasing with every dosage cycle. Post steroid withdrawal, the user’s depression in all likelihood will reach its peak.
Hallucinations – Steroid users face hallucinations when under the influence of steroids. This causes paranoia in them and gives others the impression that the user is mentally unstable. Several drug abusers tend to abuse steroids because of this characteristic.
Paranoia – Steroid users have exhibited extreme feelings of mistrust as well as inexplicable fear at times. Because of the emergence of such traits, it is recommended for the user to seek psychological help before things get out of hand.
Steroid users are also likely to display certain changes in social behavior post steroid administration. These will greatly affect the individual’s social reputation and his peers will start to neglect him because of new unpleasing developments in his character. Close ones will find the individual increasingly distant and hard to rely on as he appears to be disinterested in social interactions as well as activities. Some of the obvious social changes which can be seen in steroid users are:
Sudden urges to visit the gym – The steroid user may exhibit a disturbing passion towards working out in the gym. He may cancel out other ‘to-do’s’ in his schedule to get to the gym and just workout. This behavior will not sit well with his peers or close ones who expect him to be a part of certain social interactions.
Attempt to cover up acne with a towel – When around the house, the steroid user may develop a habit of always keeping a towel over his shoulders to keep hiding his acne formations.
Closes or locks the bedroom door more often – This social change is more observed in teen users who have just started using steroids. They increasingly start confining themselves to their bedroom and often argue with their parents to leave them alone. This happens because the steroid user is personally overwhelmed with the changes happening in their body and does not feel comfortable with the idea about their parents finding out about the developments.
Changes in personal relationships with friends and family – The steroid user will not likely be showcasing the social skills he was previously known for. This will tend to disappoint his family members and friends. His previously pleasant behavior may be replaced with an aggressive personality which may create a rift between him and others.
Spends unusually long time in the shower – This social change is an indicator for parents who suspect their child to be abusing steroids. When the child showcases several other changes and takes longer times than usual in the shower that could mean he is taking his steroid dosages through injections inside the bathroom.
Phone conversations become more discreet – The steroid user tends to be extremely discreet on the phone post steroid administration as he may be communicating with his dealer or fellow steroid abusers. He does not want others to find out about his relationship with these people and makes every effort to conceal his tracks.
Receiving more packages in the mail – The steroid user is likely to receive more packages in the mail after he has started taking steroids. These are most probably follow-up dosages to his previous dosage. The parents can successfully confront the teenager abuser if they successfully intercept the package received.
Increased financial need – Steroid users tend to be in the need of money and will constantly tend to ask for loans from their friends. They will also try to make up some excuse and request for sums of money from their parents too. This money is probably being spent to acquire steroids.
Is stealing or losing belongings – This is a particularly disturbing sign for close ones of the steroid users. Things may start to disappear around the house and family members will always report missing things. It is most likely that the steroid user is selling off personal belongings for financial help in order to buy steroids.
Starts falling asleep at work – Steroid users have a disturbed sleep pattern. They do not have any control over their biological clock and there may be instances when the individual just tends to fall asleep during work to compensate for a night of sleeplessness. This may affect the steroid user’s relationship with his boss as well as fellow colleagues.
Looses focus and concentration – Steroid users are likely to gradually lose focus and concentration, be it any of the social environments like school, home, or work. This results in him being unable to complete his tasks effectively and fallout with the people around him. He consistently tends to disappoint his peers who are depending on him to deliver because he is not up to the task at all.
Inability to perform – Steroid users because of the several changes occurring around them will be incapable to complete any of the tasks being allotted to them. Their performance is likely to suffer in all the challenging environments especially at work where his consistent underperformance may not be tolerated.
Forgetfulness – Steroid users will constantly forget scheduled appointments and will disappoint people both in the professional as well as personal spheres. His consistent failure to live up to commitments can be disastrous for his relationships with people. Partners of steroid users have often reported how difficult it can be to adjust to the user’s flaws post steroid administration.
Spending hours on the internet discreetly – Steroid users tend to spend hours on the internet probably trying to research more on steroids, workout schedules, or any other things. These topics will disturb them a lot and steroids may eventually become an obsession for the user.
Steroid users tend to hesitate when suggested to visit a doctor when they are faced with Anabolic Androgenic Steroid (AAS) abuse. This is understandable since AAS abuse is an illegal practice according to the law and the knowledge of that makes it hard for steroid users to face a doctor. However, this is the first challenge on the path to recovery and the sooner the steroid user realizes and accepts it, the better it will be for him.
First and foremost the steroid user needs to gather all necessary information about steroid use and take an appointment with the doctor. The steroid user should not withhold any information regarding his history of exposure with steroids and should be honest with the doctor about every minute detail of his steroid history. These details would include: all the drugs taken (ancillaries and steroids), the length of usage, the dosage and schedule cycle, as well as all mental and physical side effects which may have been experienced.
AAS are sold under a variety of names in different nations and on the black market. This is why it is highly recommended that the patient carries a list of all the products taken and if possible locates all the purchased containers and takes them to the doctor for observation. The user should understand that if he discloses more information there will be more chances of the doctor understanding the case and suggesting appropriate treatment.
A big mistake steroid users make when they decide to stop their steroid cycle is to discontinue steroid usage abruptly. Steroids are potent compositions meant to supplement hormones in our system and simply discontinuing them abruptly can lead to complications much similar to using them in the first place.
The time from when AAS is being expelled from your body until the body resumes natural production of testosterone is known as the ‘bridge’. During this period, there are considerable hormonal changes experienced by our system. Estrogen levels are elevated while testosterone levels are low or non-existent. This is where medical assistance comes in. With the right medication, this transition can be made easier for the steroid user. Medication helps in elimination or significant shortening of the timeframe effectively neutralizing the various side effects that steroid users are exposed to when they are in the steroid withdrawal process.
The doctor will conduct frequent blood tests to determine the right dosage of medicine and assess further internal damage that may have been suffered by the steroid user. After the doctor has thoroughly evaluated your situation, he will recommend an effective plan of rehabilitation. The rehabilitation plan may include instant discontinuation of the steroids, or gradual reduction of the drugs to help the body come back to normalcy slowly.
Once the steroid user is completely off steroids he should not stop himself from indulging in physical activities. Good consistent physical training will help keep the endorphins high and eradicate any depression relapses in the user. Physical training also helps maintain cardiovascular health and contributes in the maintenance of general good well-being.
The steroid user needs to concentrate on consuming an adequate diet which includes plenty of water as water helps eliminate residual toxins from the system. The steroid user should also follow the doctor’s suggestions relating to dietary enhancements such as anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Just like some psychology altering drugs, getting hooked to AAS is a genuine possibility. The steroid user should not alienate oneself when faced with such massive emotional complications and should take the help of his doctor. The doctor will definitely recommend him to a counselor who can guide the steroid user in this critical step to end steroid abuse.
The family of the steroid user also has a critical role to play during the individual’s rehabilitation program. They should offer the user moral support at the doctor’s clinic and create a positive, nurturing environment at home. There should be enough positive energy for the user to feed off on his way to recovery and his close ones and family should be there to help him take the necessary steps on the road to rehabilitation. The family members should take turns in looking after the user and helping him with his medications.
Whenever the user shows signs of a complication, they should rush him to the doctor immediately. They should ensure the user never misses any of the scheduled appointments with the doctor and keeps an eye on a possible relapse. The family members need to identify the elements responsible for the user turning to steroids and eliminate them as soon as possible since there is always the possibility that they may try and entice the user again. The family should encourage the user to participate in family activities to restore the balance of the family ties which may have been affected when the user was under the influence of steroids.
What’s next after steroid withdrawal?
Once the user is off steroids, he should take all measures possible to avoid a possible relapse. First and foremost, he should snap all ties between him and the dealers as well as the persons involved in getting him hooked to steroids in the first place. He should also dispose any remaining dosages and equipment like needles safely. Under the influence of steroids he may have caused immense displeasure to some people at work or at home and he should apologize to all such parties to make amends.
He should continue to visit the doctor every once in a while to monitor his development and general recovery. Post steroid abuse therapy, users tend to lose a lot of weight as their muscle mass starts diminishing all of a sudden. The user should let things take its course and once it has passed he should resume training after consulting the doctor. With a proper training regime in hand and the right amount of dedication the user will be able to salvage a considerable amount of muscle mass he recently lost post therapy.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the adverse effects steroid abuse can have on an individual’s body. But it has also been proved by research that steroids have never been directly linked with any person’s death. Athletes consistently abuse oral steroids to enhance their performance. Athletes tend to do so because they are often insecure about their potential and they have this notion that everyone else is doing it.
They also abuse steroids to vastly improve the results from their training programs. They remain oblivious to the fact that these steroids can have major mental as well as physical side effects. Bodybuilders are the other fraternity actively indulging in steroid abuse for the same gains as athletes wish to have from these drugs.
Drug addicts around the world abuse steroids because AAS are known to be addictive. Athletes, bodybuilders, and addicts often procure steroids from the black market where oral steroids are available without prescription in exchange for inflated sums of money. Lab tests have time and again proven that steroids found in the black market are adulterated and extremely unsafe but abusers do not pay heed to the warnings and purchase these steroids anyway.
The black market sellers are shrewd businessmen and their network of sellers is well spread out throughout a wide network. They have infiltrated chemist shops and gyms scouting for potential customers at all times and generating immensely profitable business on a regular basis. Although the US Law does state that any usage of steroids without prescription is illegal, its implementation in the mainstream society remains a challenge. It is very important for the authorities to crack down on the steroid black market and help prevent unauthorized steroid abuse.
This is easier said than done because the steroid black market sources steroids from markets all over the world under so many different brand names that it is difficult for authorities to trace the transactions which could lead to some concrete headway. To effectively crackdown the sophisticated network of the black market there is the need for governments across countries to come together and participate in a joint exercise to identify and put an end to the smuggling ring operating for the black market.
The authorities also need to take a tougher stand against all perpetrators who indulge in the illegal practice of buying as well as selling of steroids in the black market and strict sanctions should be posted against them. Also, there needs to be greater emphasis on the development of fool-proof dope tests which are going to be extremely critical in identifying and classifying new designer drugs flooding the black market.
A major awareness drive aimed at informing the severe complications associated with consistent steroid abuse should be initiated by the Government. The US law governing steroid use should also be looked into because the Schedule III classification of steroids has actually given steroids that elusive status which the black market is exposing to their advantage. The government law makers should probably reconsider the Schedule III classification and amend the Steroid Control Act to suit the current scenario. The Government should work closely with medical organizations to improve the overall quality of the steroids available and work towards eradication of all the side effects associated with steroids.