Anabolic steroids are generally associated with professional athletes, who use the drugs as a way to boost performance and even set new records. Scandals in sports like baseball and cycling have brought steroids to the national conversation and have dashed many a sports hero from his pedestal.
But some high school athletes also use steroids as well. Many athletes use the drugs as a way to edge out the competition and to deal with the pressure they experience from coaches and parents to perform well in their sport.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are legitimate reasons for using anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are the synthetic version of testosterone, the male sex hormone. The muscle-building chemical is often used to treat delayed puberty, as well as certain cancers and AIDS.
Anabolic steroids can be administered through injection or by taking an oral dose. When the substance is used to promote athletic performance, the dose is generally 10 to 100 times higher than that used for medical purposes.
Steroids are not taken continually. Athletes use a process called “cycling” to take the steroids for a period of time and then take a break for several months. This pattern of use is designed to prevent the body from ceasing testosterone production and to maximize the body’s responsiveness to anabolic steroids.
Another popular practice is called “stacking,” in which users combine various types of steroids and supplements in order to maximize the effectiveness of the drugs on his or her physique.
Anabolic steroids bear some similarities to other types of drugs, but they are notably missing the “high” that users report with other drugs like heroin or cocaine. The difference is in the way that the drug affects the brain. Steroids do not trigger an increase in dopamine production, which is the source of the pleasurable feelings experienced with other types of drugs.
While the user may not experience a high, there are some other brain effects that are similar to that seen with other drugs. For instance, the use of steroids over a long period of time can make significant changes in brain pathways associated with both mood and behaviors.
A pattern of behavior called “roid rage” is a high level of anger that may result in violence. It occurs because the abuse of anabolic steroids can lead to high levels of aggression. While users may say that steroid use makes them feel good about themselves, there are also reports of mood swings and descriptions of mania. Researchers have also documented steroid users as suffering from extreme irritability, impaired judgment, paranoid jealousy and delusions.
While steroids do not produce a high like other drugs, they do bear some other dangerous similarities. Steroids, like other illegal drugs, are addictive. Animal studies show that subjects will self-administer steroids when they have the opportunity. In addition, users often go to increasingly greater lengths to pursue the use of the drug, a sign that problematic use is occurring and addiction may be the problem. Users may spend a large amount of time and money on obtaining steroids.
Withdrawal symptoms tend to occur for those who discontinue steroid use. Withdrawal symptoms may include restlessness, fatigue, loss of appetite, reduced sex drive and mood swings. Depression is a serious withdrawal symptom that may lead to suicide attempts. Another danger is that users often use opioids, which are highly addictive, to combat the negative effects of steroids.
There are additional health problems that can plague the users of anabolic steroids. One of the most dangerous is kidney impairment or failure, along with damage to the liver and cardiovascular problems. There is an increased risk of stroke and heart attack for users of anabolic steroids.
Anabolic steroid use can also lead to severe acne and fluid retention. Among males, there may be shrinkage of the testicles, baldness and the development of breasts, along with an increased risk of prostate cancer. For women, there may facial hair growth, male-pattern baldness and cessation of the menstrual cycle, among other risks.