Steroids Addiction and Abuse

There are over one million Brits abusing steroids and other Image and Performance Enhancing Drugs (IEPDs). Those include athletes, young adults, elderly men, as well as youngsters and adolescents. The primary reasons why they use anabolic steroids are to change their looks and improve sporting performance.

Boys as young as 13 years old (who have body image issues) desire to replicate the ‘ripped’ and ‘shredded’ looks of celebrities in magazines. According to the Children’s Commissioner in England and Wales, the number of children abusing anabolic steroids for cosmetic reasons has increased. Social Media , celebrities and magazines that flaunt the perfect body using photo editing software have led young adults to believe that ‘perfection’ is what they see on their screens and subsequently, nothing less will suffice for them.

A survey of over 10,000 women aged 10-64 (by the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report) found that women in the UK have the lowest self-esteem in the world. Only 20% of participants liked the way they looked and most stopped using Social Media because they hated the way they looked. Seven out of ten girls and nine out of ten women admitted that they stopped eating and risked their lives to achieve the perfect body.

The quest for the picture-perfect body has led to young men and women increasing their risk of fatality from steroid abuse. Misusing steroids increases the risk of stroke, infertility, hormonal imbalances and heart attack.

There is growing concern that the pressure to conform to the perfect male image (as advertised in magazines, Social Media and on TV screens) is causing thousands of young Brits to risk their long-term health for vain goals, by taking a cocktail of IEPDs. Steroid abuse in the UK had increased to 400% by the end of 2017. In one UK study to determine the exact side effects of steroid abuse in the body, a participant found that the wall of his heart had thickened, increasing the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

Steroids are legal to use, but illegal to supply. Selling steroids carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years in the UK. They are a Class C substance that mimics the effects of testosterone in the body to improve body mass and athletic performance. Some people take IEPDs as hormone replacement therapy; to increase confidence; and to prepare for bodybuilding competitions.

Steroid abuse is essentially a cover-up for deeper issues, such as body image concerns and low- self-esteem. While Government officials put the official statistics of UK users at 60,000, clinicians believe the real numbers are almost as high as those who use cocaine. You can buy a shot of anabolic steroid for £2 at some gyms. Individuals who are addicted to steroids need psychotherapy to treat the underlying symptoms and help them learn to love their body and accept themselves.

What are Steroids? An Overview

Appearance and Performance Enhancing Drugs have gained a bad reputation for abuse amongst young men who want to build muscle mass and improve athletic performance. They do not produce a euphoric ‘high’ like opioids and cannabis, but affect mood and can be habit-forming.

Steroids are not all bad though. In a medical setting, corticosteroids allow for increased breathing during asthma attacks by opening up the lungs. Steroids also help people suffering from wasting disease to build muscle mass. Anabolic steroids are the most commonly abused subset of steroids and can improve strength and boost confidence. However, this comes at a high price, as it leads to severe and sometimes life-threatening side effects in the long-term.

Most individuals who use steroids inject the substance directly into their muscle. A 2016 study revealed that roughly 13% of steroid users share vials or needles. This increases the risk of contracting and transmitting infectious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis.

Various Forms of Steroids

There are many types of steroids (over a hundred different variations), but the major group are anabolic-androgenic steroids and corticosteroids. The popular understanding is that steroids are drug supplements that help you enhance performance and build muscle, but in reality, different steroids have their own unique functions.

Corticosteroids: These are either naturally produced steroid hormones (in the adrenal cortex of vertebrates) or synthetically produced. Systemic corticosteroids are administered via injection or orally, but don’t include corticosteroids given in the nose, eyes, ears or skin. Naturally occurring corticosteroids are produced in the cortex and are classified as:

Glucocorticoids: Suppress immunity, inflammation and help in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Mineralocorticoids: Regulates the balance of water and salt in the body.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS): These are synthesised compounds that mirror the effects of the male hormone, testosterone, in the body. Anabolic means ‘muscle building’, while androgenic means ‘male sex characteristics’. The result in the body comprises enhanced muscle build and increased protein production. The most commonly used anabolic steroids include testosterone, nandrolone and dihydrotestosterone.

Men who have hypogonadism (a condition that affects the natural production of testosterone and the development of sexual and reproductive organs in the body) might be prescribed AAS. Women who are dealing with the loss of libido after menopause could also receive prescriptions.

What Causes Steroids Addiction and Abuse?

Most recreational users abuse steroids by injecting them into the muscles or taking them orally. As a recreational user, your dose would be up to 100 times higher than the recommended dose. Ways in which people abuse anabolic steroids include cycling, stacking and pyramiding.

People who abuse steroids might feel under pressure to look a certain way and maintain an idealistic body image. Sometimes, this could be due to peer pressure from friends to ‘bulk up’ if you want to be competitive. There’s a general perception that athletes in contact sports such as baseball, American football, hockey and wrestling use steroids, whilst not using steroids would give your opponents an advantage.

If you are small-bodied or lanky, you might use anabolic steroids to increase mass muscle and reduce fat. You could be suffering from the abnormal perception of dysmorphia of your body. The right treatment would therefore be therapy to address underlying issues, though most individuals self-medicate with steroids. Apart from contact sports, athletes in other sports such as track and field and speed skating use steroids to complement efforts in training sessions.

Are steroids addictive?

Bodybuilders and athletes use steroids to achieve high-performance goals that they’ve set for themselves. Anabolic steroid abuse is difficult to overcome, because you’ll feel good when working out, with the effects coursing through your body. You’ll receive praise from gym allies and enjoy the standout performances your produce whilst taking steroids. Therefore, it’s difficult to admit you have a substance abuse problem or seek help.

Steroids stimulate the production of extra hormones in your body that lead to cravings at specific intervals throughout the day. If you discover that you crave the drug or need higher doses to feel the original effects, this is a sign that you might be dependent on steroids.

How Steroids Addiction and Abuse Affect the Brain and Body

While anabolic steroids might make you look stronger and more muscular on the outside, they only make you weak on the inside. Steroids affect your heart by increasing fat deposits in your blood vessels, leading to strokes and heart attacks. Anabolic steroids also disrupt regular hormone production by altering messages sent by the hypothalamus to the body. Men experience lower sperm count when taking steroids, because it affects the production of testosterone, causing the testes to shrink.

When you stop taking anabolic steroids, your body takes time to resume normal production of testosterone and the longer you abused steroids, the longer it will take for production to stabilise. Doctors say that it takes longer than two years in some patients. You can also experience erectile dysfunction when you stop using steroids, due to low testosterone levels.

While scientists continue to study the effects of anabolic steroids on the brain, current research findings show that excessive steroid use might trigger aggressive behaviour. In some cases, ‘roid rage’ occurs, which is an extremely violent reaction to a given situation, fuelled by steroids. The effects of steroids on the brain are just as dangerous as those on the body. One such danger is the risk of psychosis. Here, you’ll feel disconnected from reality and believe you exist in another universe. ‘Roid rage’ usually occurs when you’re disconnected from reality and will do anything to defend your ‘honour’ without fully understanding your actions.

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Who Becomes Addicted to Steroids?

‘Gym junkies’: In most gyms, you’ll most likely find someone who sells steroids for a small fee. Under pressure to perform at the same levels as your friends, you might choose to use steroids to accelerate the timeline it takes to achieve the ‘shredded look’. It is often encouraged by gym instructors and workout partners alike.

Athletes: Many sportspeople use steroids to improve performance and gain an edge over the competition. These drugs might help you run faster, stay stronger and perform at peak conditions.

Young people: The average British teenager follows several celebrities on Social Media . They see images on their phones, magazine covers and reality TV shows and subsequently want to look like their celebrity heroes. For instance, there is mounting pressure on teenage boys to attain a ‘ripped’ body if they want to be accepted by their peers.

Signs and symptoms of Steroids Abuse and Addiction

According to NIDA, steroids alone are not addictive or intoxicating, but trigger dopamine receptors like other addictive substances, because of the feelings of pleasure you receive whilst taking steroids. Most recreational users abuse steroids alongside other stimulants, as part of their cycle to improve performance. Symptoms include:

  • Rapid lean muscle gain within a period of eight to ten weeks
  • Unusually oily skin or greasy hair
  • Acne breakouts on the back and shoulders
  • Bad breath
  • Abnormally excess development of breast tissues in men
  • Hair loss or receding hairline on the head
  • Rapid appetite changes
  • Joint pain
  • Track marks from injections
  • Jaundice from live damage
  • Blood in urine or trouble urinating
  • Dizziness and trembling
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • The increased thickness of hair in other parts of the body (excluding the head)

Short-Term Effects of Steroids on the Body

Increased pressure: Abusing steroids (even when taken for less than a month) will lead to glaucoma and increased blood pressure.

Weight gain: You’ll quickly gain weight when taking steroids. Your body appears bloated and you retain more fluid. Fat retention is noticeable around the stomach, neck and facial areas.

Other short-term effects include:

  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Paranoia
  • Impaired judgment
  • Delusions
  • Extreme irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Impotence
  • Low sperm count
  • Fatigue
  • Acne

Long-Term Effects of Using Steroids

Behavioural changes: Both recreational and medical use of steroids lead to behavioural changes such as depression, aggression, irritability and hostility.

Diabetes: Steroids might increase your blood sugar levels, which leads to diabetes. This condition prevents your body from properly regulating blood sugar levels.

Heart and liver damage: Some individuals might experience heart and liver damage. The latter is characterised by jaundice and a yellowing of the skin. Steroids tighten the walls of your heart and increase the risk of heart attack, liver cancer and high cholesterol levels.

Reproductive disorders: You might experience a loss of libido, prostate and breast enlargement, low sperm count and sterility. Women who abuse steroids have an irregular menstrual cycle and in some cases are infertile.

Physical Signs and symptoms of Steroids Abuse and Addiction

Anabolic steroids are performance enhancers that increase your ability to exercise by stimulation power, muscle growth and aerobic capacity. Sadly, this comes at a high cost of severe side effects. For instance, men experience low sperm count, baldness and breast development, while women appear masculine with deep voices. Their clitoris swells and they lose breast size and body fat.

Steroids increase bone production in the face and skull, causing overgrowth in your forehead. Teenagers might have short stature, as their bodies are still growing when they take steroids. Other physical signs include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Headaches
  • Poor sexual performance
  • Oily hair
  • Infertility
  • Heart attack
  • Seizures

Psychological signs and symptoms of Steroids Abuse and Addiction

You might suffer from a condition called muscle dysmorphia, whereby you’ll have a distorted view of yourself. Women who are toned and lean believe they are fat, while men who are huge and muscular believe they are weak and small. Other psychological signs include:

  • Psychosis
  • Mania
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Aggression (‘roid rage’)
  • Depression
  • Obsession with body image
  • Paranoia
  • Impatience
  • Violent outbursts
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Steroid withdrawal

When you stop using steroids, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. These begin to manifest within two days after your last dose and will include irritability, headaches and nausea. Most of the withdrawal symptoms occur during the acute stage, which lasts up to the fifth day after your last drug use. Symptoms include fatigue, loss of energy, depression, anxiety, hallucinations and delusions.

Withdrawal symptoms peak on the sixth and seventh day. You’ll experience abdominal pains, nausea, weight loss, vomiting, depression and insomnia. Symptoms fade during the second week, but some psychological symptoms such as depression, insomnia and cravings might last a few weeks or even months.

Do not attempt to quit steroid use on your own, especially if you’re a long-term user or you combine steroids with stimulants. You’ll need detoxification to ensure you remain safe. Doctors might provide medication to treat specific symptoms such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants and over the counter medications for headache and nausea.

Dangerous Effects of Steroids Abuse and Addiction

Injecting steroids: The common route of abuse is by injecting steroids. Most people share needles at the gym; this is a dangerous and reckless habit that increases the risk of HIV and Hepatitis. Most of the infections are permanent and require lifelong treatment.

Effects on men: There is an artificial excess of testosterone in the body when you abuse steroids – more than naturally produced in the testicles. This leads to smaller testicles, low sperm count, infertility and impotence. Some men might have larger foreheads, causing an appearance almost similar to the ‘Incredible Hulk’.

Effects on women: Women experience irregular menstrual cycle, enlarged clitoris, smaller breasts, deeper voice, masculine appearance and lower body fat.

Therapy, Treatment and Rehab for Steroids Abuse and Addiction

Anabolic steroid treatment follows the same procedure as other addictions. Treatment involves medically-supervised detox, pharmacology and behavioural therapy. The goal of detox is to remove all harmful toxins from your body and physically stabilise you for rehab. Doctors are on hand 24/7 to supervise the process and ensure you remain comfortable for the duration of detox and withdrawal.

After you’re stabilised, you will transition to an inpatient facility, where psychotherapists use a range of innovative therapy techniques to help you understand your addiction, identify all triggers that led to substance abuse and develop coping skills for dealing with triggers. Treatment also includes education, relapse prevention planning, aftercare, nutrition planning and skills classes.

Steroids Addiction: Treatment Prices

Inpatient treatment costs more than outpatient programmes. Standard rehabs cost £1,000 a week and up to £5,000 a month. Luxury/executive rehab programmes cost up to £10,000 a week and £50,000 a month. This might seem exorbitant, but remember that you can’t put a price on health. Potential options to help reduce the burden of payment include insurance cover (where valid); scholarships from rehab centres; government aids via the NHS; loan facilities from your bank; crowdfunding; and financial support from loved ones.

Staying off Steroids

The first step to ensure you don’t relapse is to identify your triggers. Some common triggers include:

Visiting gyms, supplement stores and workout areas, where steroid use is common. You’ll need to change your gym or alternatively workout from home. There are online gyms that are just as effective when you’re motivated.

Hanging out with the same friends who abuse steroids might trigger a relapse. You can make new friends whilst in rehab or during support group meetings.

Avoid mood-altering substances such as ecstasy, marijuana and alcohol, as they reduce inhibitions.

Strong cravings for steroids might lead to relapse. Ensure you’ve addressed all underlying mood disorders and mental health issues that might fuel addiction. Stay active and call your ‘sober support friend’ when you feel any cravings.

Individual counselling

Individual therapy is a psychotherapy approach, whereby you’ll work with a therapist in one-on-one sessions to understand your addiction. During sessions, you’ll identify all triggers that led to substance abuse, address deeply-rooted issues and learn coping skills that will help you avoid triggers and stay abstinent. Types of individual therapy include Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Motivational Interviewing.

Support groups

Steroid addiction has a negative impact on your life and could destroy everything you’ve worked hard to build if you don’t receive treatment in time. Support groups are an integral part of treatment. Here, you’ll receive support by listening to the addiction stories of others and learn practical coping skills that will help you maintain abstinence.  You’ll admit to your own role in your addiction, work on shortcomings and use coping skills such as mindful meditation to improve healing.

Family therapy

The effect of addiction extends to your immediate family. Addiction treatment usually includes loved ones to ensure you all have the opportunity to heal as a unit and address any role the family might have played in your addiction (where applicable).

It is suitable for both teenagers and adults with substance abuse problems and includes issues such as employment, family problems, depression and conflict within the family.

Family members learn to improve communication and acquire skills that equip them to help you on your abstinence journey.

Facts and Statistics

  • Roughly one million Brits use steroids to improve their body appearance.
  • Use of anabolic steroids amongst young people aged 16-24 increased from 0.1% to 0.4% of the population. This represents an addition of 19,000 youths.
  • 1% of the US population are steroid users.
  • The average demographic is a heterosexual male within the 25-35 year old age bracket.
  • 74% of anabolic users have a post-secondary or college degree.
  • A 2006 study of 500 steroid users revealed that 80% were not bodybuilders or athletes, but active males looking to improve physical appearance.
  • 1% of ex-NFL players abused steroids during their careers.
  • 77% of college students abused steroids in 2007.


What are Steroids?

Steroids are synthetic compounds that mirror testosterone effects in the body. Types of steroids include corticosteroids and anabolic-androgenic steroids.

What are Steroids Usually Prescribed for?

When prescribed by a doctor, they are used to improve muscle mass in individuals with wasting diseases, induce puberty and improve breathing during an asthma attack.

How Do Steroids Interact with Other Drugs?

Products that might interact with steroids include mifepristone, aldesleukin, dopidogrel, aspirin, ibuprofen and warfarin.

Are Steroids Addictive?

While they don’t contain addictive properties, steroids are habit-forming drugs. You might become addicted to the way you feel when you’re on steroids. Users experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms when they stop using steroids.

How are Steroids Abuse Diagnosed?

Most users are not randomly tested, but abuse could be detected with a failed test. A diagnosis is made when a side effect of steroid abuse is present.

Does Steroids Addiction Cause Any Permanent Damage?

Permanent damage includes: breast development, baldness, low-density lipoprotein, heart attack, liver tumours, Hepatitis, cysts, Hepatitis and HIV.

Steroid addiction symptoms: Can they be treated?

Steroid addiction can be treated at a rehab centre, where doctors and psychotherapists use pharmacology and behavioural therapies to address all underlying symptoms that initially led you to abuse steroids.

How many Steroids does it take to overdose?

You can overdose immediately when you take a large dose of corticosteroids. However, anabolic steroid overdose symptoms manifest differently via an accumulation of several long-term effects (chronic overdose). Signs of overdose include enlarged heart, liver and kidney damage, low cholesterol levels and delusions.

How Do People Abuse Steroids?

You abuse steroids when you take them for non-medical purposes. The most common route of abuse is to inject the drug directly into the muscles.

How Long Does It Take to Withdraw from Steroids?

The duration of withdrawal from steroids depends on the length of steroid abuse, as well as the frequency and amount you’ve consumed. Usually, withdrawal and detox take a week, but this could last longer in some users.

What Types of Co-occurring Disorders Exist with Steroids?

Low self-esteem, bipolar disorder, depression, mania, eating disorders and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).

Who Becomes Addicted to Steroids?

Bodybuilders, athletes in high-contact sports, gym goers and young people who desire to change the way they look.

What are Steroid withdrawal symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms include nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and weight loss.

How Do You Safely Detox from Steroids?

The safest way to detox from steroids is to enrol for medical-supervised detox. During your stay, medical professionals will help you remain comfortable and reduce most of the painful withdrawal symptoms using the tapering process.

What Do Steroids Do to the Brain?

Steroid abuse affects brain pathways and the natural production of dopamine and serotonin. This leads to mood and behavioural changes.

What are the effects of Steroid Abuse and Addiction?

Effects include impaired judgement, irritability, low sperm count, loss of libido, delusion, increased risk of heart attack, paranoia, extreme aggression and delusions.

Is there a normal level of Steroid use?

While it’s not illegal to use steroids, the Class C classification shows that there are risks involved. ‘Normal use’ is only when prescribed for a medical condition by a doctor.

Can Steroids Be Abused?

Steroids are abused by recreational users such as athletes, young adults and performers who want to improve their physical appearance.

How Does someone taking Steroids behave?

Someone who is taking steroids looks like they have lots of energy reserves. Sometimes, when you use excess steroids, you might experience ‘roid rage’, where you become extremely violent and aggressive.

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