You naturally produces a variety of steroid hormones, which act as chemical messengers to trigger changes in your body. However, steroids are also commercially produced, many of which are used to treat medical conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. As the University of Rochester explains, one group of steroids, known as the sex hormones includes testosterone, which is an androgen. These are not only responsible for male sexual characteristics, but also stimulate protein synthesis to create new muscle fibers. This creation of new tissue is why testosterone and related steroids are known as anabolic hormones. According to UIC College of Pharmacy, manmade anabolic steroids are typically used to manage muscle wasting associated with ill-health and can also promote wound healing, including the repair of burns. However, anabolic steroids are also abused by athletes to enhance their muscle mass and teens sometimes turn to drugs that contain testosterone to enhance their physical appearance. While steroids are licensed for medical applications, like any treatment they aren’t without their risks, so abusing anabolic steroids can have a negative impact on short and long-term health.
Short Term Effects of Steroids
When anabolic steroids are used alongside physical activity, this increases muscle mass while decreasing fat mass, leading to a more sculpted appearance and stronger muscles. This change in body composition isn’t the only short-term effect of steroid abuse, as whether you ingest, inject or use a steroid based cream, you risk several unwanted problems. The chance of these problems is even greater than when used for medical purposes, as typically the doses used are tens if not hundreds of times higher than when prescribed.
Although men naturally produce testosterone, high doses of anabolic steroids can play havoc with their body. It isn’t just men that abuse steroids though, as Vanderbilt University discusses that women may also take steroids for non-medical purposes if they want to enhance their physical performance or if they have a distorted view of their appearance, but women who have suffered violent attacks may additionally take steroids to enhance their strength. When women take part in steroid abuse, this can lead to masularization, as their body only usually produces androgens in very small quantities.
Some of the initial effects of anabolic steroid abuse highlighted by the University of Maryland include:
- Erectile dysfunction, low sperm count and reduced fertility in men
- Excess hair growth and breast shrinkage in women
- Hair loss in both sexes
- Fluid retention
- Mood swings and roid rage may lead to aggressive outbursts
Long Term Effects of Steroids
If steroid misuse continues in the longer-term, both men and women will experience more serious side-effects, some of which are irreversible. These not only relate to reproductive health, but impact on a range of organ systems and some are potentially life-threatening. Among the lasting consequences of steroid abuse are:
- Testicular shrinkage and an increased risk of prostate cancer in men
- Irregular menstrual cycles in women, which may impact on fertility
- Stunted growth in adolescents
- Damage to the liver and kidneys
- Increased blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Hepatitis and HIV if sharing needles to inject steroids
Steroids do not have the same impact on the brain as other drugs that are commonly abused. As a result they don’t stimulate a rapid rise in the feel-good chemical dopamine, so steroid users do not report the same high as other substances offer. However, people who use anabolic steroids often report feeling positive while they are taking them and in the longer-term artificial androgens can lead to changes in the brain. For instance, they impact on levels of dopamine, serotonin and natural opioids when used in the long-term, which promotes brighter mood and may reinforce their use.
While the effects of steroids on the brain are different from the likes of cocaine, heroin and amphetamines, there is still evidence that anabolic steroids are addictive. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse describes how in animal studies there is evidence of the same self-administering behavior shown with other addictive substances. Other indications that it is possible to develop an addiction to steroids are that people continue to abuse them even when the negative impact they are having is clear and much time, effort and money is spent on this habit. Additionally, the fact that users become dependent on the effects of steroids is supported by the withdrawal symptoms that chronic users experience such as cravings, low sex drive, insomnia, tiredness, poor appetite and restlessness. In some cases, severely low mood can develop, which can be sufficient to encourage suicidal thoughts. If you are concerned you may have an addiction to anabolic steroids, it is safest to seek help with your habit so that you can take part in a supervised withdrawal program and rehab.
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