Anabolic Steroid Abuse
Anabolic steroids are a group of synthetic substances that closely mimic the chemical structure of testosterone, the hormone produced in the bodies of both males and females after puberty. In legitimate medical settings, doctors use these substances to correct the effects of unusually low natural testosterone production, as well as the effects of aplastic anemia and other related ailments that reduce the oxygen content in blood. Professional and recreational athletes also sometimes abuse anabolic steroids in an attempt to improve their athletic performances or hasten their recovery from various injuries or routine exertion. Anabolic steroid abuse is both illegal and potentially addictive. In addition, steroid abusers can develop a number of serious side effects, or even die as a result of their steroid use.
Human Steroid Basics
All naturally occurring steroids in the human body belong to a group of substances called hormones. In turn, most hormones come from a group of glands (glandular organs) known collectively as the endocrine system. Each of these organs-including the ovaries, testes, pancreas and the pituitary, adrenal, hypothalamus, thyroid, parathyroid and pineal glands-pulls chemical resources from the bloodstream and uses those resources to produce its characteristic hormone (or hormones). Once produced, the hormones from various portions of the endocrine system enter general circulation in the bloodstream and produce a wide variety of effects that trigger or influence key functions throughout the body.
A group of natural steroid hormones, called catabolic steroids, comes from the paired adrenal glands, each of which sits on top of one of your kidneys. Loosely speaking, the term “catabolic” refers to the process of breaking things down, and the catabolic hormones play their role in human health by breaking down relatively large chemical molecules into relatively small chemical molecules. Another group of natural steroid hormones, called anabolic steroids, comes from the testes and ovaries. The term “anabolic” refers to the process of building things up, and the anabolic steroids perform tasks that include building up bone and muscle tissue. In addition, they produce sexual characteristics typically associated with post-pubescent males, including facial hair production and a deepening of the speaking voice. Chief among the body’s anabolic steroids are testosterone and a related substance called dihydrotestosterone.
Synthetic Steroid Basics
As indicated previously, synthetic anabolic steroids are designed to mimic the anabolic (building) effects of natural testosterone. In addition to manmade testosterone itself, types of these drugs include nandrolone decanoate (Deca Durabolin), stanozolol (Winstrol), oxandrolone (Oxandrine), methandrostenolone (Dianabol), and androstenedione. Some of these drugs come in the form of a pill, cream, or oral liquid, although most require injection into muscle tissue. According to current federal guidelines, it’s illegal to possess or use an anabolic steroid without a legitimate doctor’s prescription. For this reason, any use of one of these drugs outside of a medical setting constitutes a form of illegal steroid abuse.
Most steroid abusers try to take enough of their drug of choice to enhance their athletic or healing abilities, while simultaneously avoiding telltale side effects or detection by schools, sports organizations, or legal authorities. Typically, abusers also attempt to maximize the performance-related effects of steroids by using them for limited amounts of time known as cycles. During any given cycle, steroid use begins at fairly low doses, peaks at an established midpoint, then drops back down as the cycle comes to an end. While some steroid abusers use a single drug, others combine multiple steroids in a process known as stacking.
Potential Side Effects
Potential emotional or psychiatric effects of steroid abuse include an increased tendency toward aggressive behaviors, an increased tendency toward overt physical violence, a dangerous mental state known as psychosis, and an abnormally energized and agitated state commonly known as mania. In addition, people who abuse steroids may develop clinically serious depression, although compelling evidence for the link between steroids and depression is limited.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists potential side effects of steroid abuse that include testicle shrinkage, accelerated baldness, infertility, and abnormal breast growth (gynecomastia) in men, as well as altered menstruation, baldness and the acquisition of male physical attributes in women. Potential effects shared more or less equally by both genders include hypertension (high blood pressure), jaundice and other problems related to liver damage, abnormal retention of water and other fluids, and dangerously high levels of LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. In teenage males and females, abuse of anabolic steroids can lead to disfiguring acne, abnormally rapid advancement of puberty, or permanent loss of any future height increases. Deaths associated with anabolic steroid abuse can stem from causes that include heart attacks, congestive heart failure, sudden heart stoppage, heartbeat irregularities, and suicide.
Some anabolic steroid abusers develop classic signs of addiction that can include an ongoing preoccupation with steroid use, steroid use that continues in the face of legal intervention, steroid use that continues in the face of clear damage to the body, and the devotion of considerable time and resources to the acquisition of steroids. People who stop using anabolic steroids sometimes develop classic signs of withdrawal, such as ongoing cravings for the effects of steroids, sleep disturbances, appetite loss, abnormal restlessness or lethargy, and depression. In some cases, depression related to steroid withdrawal may increase an affected individual’s chances of attempting or successfully committing suicide. Some people who withdraw from anabolic steroids on their own continue to experience dangerous levels of depression for anywhere from months to more than a year.