The Side Effects and Misuse of Anabolic Steroids
Thu, October 21, 2021

The Side Effects and Misuse of Anabolic Steroids


Anabolic steroids are man-made testosterone or the male sex hormone, according to the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA), a US federal-government research institute. Also called “anabolic-androgenic steroids,” the word “anabolic” refers to building muscles while “androgenic” refers to increased male sex characteristics.

Doctors can prescribe steroids to address hormonal issues like delayed puberty. It can also treat conditions associated with muscle loss such as cancer and AIDS. Sadly, some athletes and bodybuilders misuse steroids to boost their performance or enhance their appearance.  

Knowledge, Attitudes, and Use of AAS Among Male Gym Users in Riyadh (2019)

Fares F. Alharbi and colleagues of Science Direct, the world’s leading source for scientific, technical, and medical research, wrote that a total of 500 questionnaires were given to gym users across 20 gyms in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with 482 individuals participating in the study. The survey revealed that 53.5% had heard about AAS (Anabolic-androgenic steroids) use and of those, 24.9% had heard about it from their friends followed by public media (7.5%), a muscle magazine (4.1%), the internet (9.8%), a trainer (2.5%), and a healthcare professional (4.8%).

45.4% were aware of AAS use in bodybuilding while 42.3% said they don’t know. Only 12.3% said “no.” When asked if anabolic steroids can affect the size of their muscles, their body weight, and muscle strength, 53.2%, 51,1%, and 45.5% of participants answered “Yes, it will increase,” respectively. When asked if they think that using anabolic steroids can cause acne, 20.8% said “yes,” 12.7% said “no,” and 66.5% answered “I don’t know.”

The participants also thought that using anabolic steroids can cause aggression (27.5%) and improve their mood (4.6%). 12.9% said it will not have an effect while 55% didn’t know if anabolic steroids can affect behavior. When asked if using anabolic steroids can make their muscles bigger, 29% answered “strongly agree,” 35.35 said “agree,” 18.2% disagreed, and 16% strongly disagreed. 40.9% agreed that anabolic steroids can make the respondents look better. Meanwhile, a smaller percentage of participants answered “strongly disagree” (14.2%) and “disagree” (19.2%).  

35.2% agreed (versus 29.6% of “strongly agree”) that health authorities should be informed about people who use anabolic steroids for non-medical purposes while 25.3% disagreed (versus 9.9% of “strongly disagree”). 49.1% said they have ever used supplementary vitamins, minerals, or a special diet compared to 49.4% of respondents who have not used them.

29.3% have used anabolic steroids (versus 70.7% of those who answered “no”), obtaining them from their coach (10.2%), doctor (7.1%), friend (35.7%), and fitness store (12.7%). On the other hand, 48.5% had known someone using anabolic steroids (versus 47.7% of those who answered “No”). The anabolic steroids were obtained from a coach (17.6%), doctor (6.7%), friend (33.7%), fitness store (8.2%), and trainer (10.6%).

9.9% had admitted to using narcotics or psychiatric drugs (versus 90.1% who have not used them) such as opioids (23.9%), amphetamine (23.9%), cocaine (13%), cannabis or marijuana (4.6%), and benzodiazepine (17.4%). The authors concluded that limiting access to AAS, launching public health awareness campaigns, and improving knowledge about the health impacts of AAS could be great starting points to mitigate its use in Saudi Arabia.



How Are AAS Used?

People can engage in “cycling” in which they take AAS for a period of time and stop (rest period) before using them again, according to the National Health Service, the UK’s healthcare system. Known as “stacking,” users can take more than one type of AAS at a time, believing that it is more effective.

Those who combine stacking and cycling are known to start taking a low dose of one or more AAS and increase the dose gradually up to a maximum dose. They stop using AAS for a time period to give their body a break before starting again. This is called “pyramiding.” As of this writing, there is no evidence that shows that any of the above-mentioned methods minimize the side effects of using AAS.

How Does AAS Affect the Brain and the Body?

Those who misuse these drugs take them orally, inject them into muscles, and apply them on their skin if the steroids are in a form a gel or cream. Doses may be 10 to 100 times higher than doses prescribed to address health conditions.

AAS function differently from other drugs of abuse, as they do not have the same short-term effects on the brain. AAS do not trigger your reward system to cause a “high,” as well as rapid increases in dopamine that reinforces most behaviors associated with taking drugs. Misuse of AAS may cause paranoid, extreme, or unreasonable jealousy, extreme irritability and aggression, delusions, impaired judgment, and mania.

Moreover, AAS might also cause serious or permanent health problems including kidney problems or failure, liver damage and tumors, enlarged heart, high blood pressure, changes in blood cholesterol, and increased risk of blood clots. In men, AAs might shrink testicles, decrease sperm count, and cause baldness. For women, the effects of AAS include growth of facial hair or excess body hair, decreased breast size, male-pattern baldness, and deepened voice.



Why Do Individuals Misuse AAS?

AAS can improve your performance or make your body buff, but adolescent boys may also be prone to misusing AAS— including those that have body dysmorphic disorder. Those who have this condition spend an extended period of time worrying about their look’s flaws, which are often unnoticeable to other people.

Boys and men who have this condition may consume anabolic steroids because they don’t see themselves as big enough or strong enough. Further, some individuals believe that using AAS will aid in their health and fitness. This is not true because AAS is deemed as a dangerous drug habit.



How to Get Help

It is strongly recommended to consult your doctor if you think you are addicted to anabolic steroids. A person addicted to AAS may want to keep taking them despite suffering from the drug’s side effects, including the high cost of drugs, and its negative impacts on their relationships. 

Treating an addiction to AAS will be similar to other types of addiction. Your doctor may refer you to a drug counselor. A specially trained drug counselor will discuss your addiction with you, as well as steps on how to stop taking AAS and strategies to overcome obstacles that hinder your recovery.

AAS can be used to enhance an athlete’s performance and appearance. However, misuse of AAS can cause side effects like paranoia and can even lead to addiction. If an individual thinks they are addicted to AAS, they have to consult a doctor as soon as possible.