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The mental health effects of anabolic steroid addiction

Exercise is essential for physical, mental and emotional health. Unfortunately the practice of daily exercise can turn into an obsession for many different types of people and some of these people end up using steroids (testosterone supplements) in order to build their muscles, as well as for the ‘energy boost’ effect it has.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 25 percent of males who abused steroids reported memories of childhood physical or sexual abuse. Likewise, female weightlifters who had been raped were found to be twice as likely to report use of anabolic steroids or another type of muscle-building drug. Female bodybuilders that were interviewed reported that their muscle building activities started after their attack and they believed that their bigger stature would help protect them.

There is a small percentage of young people with addictions to steroids. Young people who try steroids do so usually as part of a pattern of high-risk behaviors with other things. Studies show that adolescents who try steroids are also among those who take part in drinking and driving, carrying a gun, abusing other illicit drugs and driving a motorcycle without a helmet. (NIDA 2014)

The doses of steroids taken by abusers can be 10 to 100 times higher than the doses used for medical conditions. Many times, abusers of steroids will “stack”, which means take multiple different types of steroids in the effort to maximize their muscle strength and size. There are several different types of anabolic steroids a person can use and these steroids can be administered through different means including orally, through regular injection or intramuscular injection, through a gel or cream.

As can be expected though, the use of anabolic steroids has its consequences. These can range to include infertility, ruptured tendons, liver cancer, cardiovascular disease and rising levels of testosterone and other hormones. Specifically in men, it can also lead to shrinking of the testicales, male-pattern baldness and breast development while in women it can cause a deepening of the voice and other negative effects.

Warning signs of steroid abuse

Possible signs of steroid use to watch for can include:

  • Increased irritability and aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Secretiveness and social isolation

Comorbidity of steroid use with other drug abuse

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a study was done on 227 men who were admitted in 1999 to a private treatment center for addiction to heroin or other opioids and it was found that 9.3 percent had abused anabolic steroids before trying any other illicit drug. It was also revealed that 9.3 percent of these individuals first used opioids to counteract insomnia and irritability resulting from anabolic steroids.
Anxiety, mood disorders and psychosis

Mood disturbance and mania-like tendencies are typical in personality and behavior traits of steroid abusers. Like many other types of medications and drugs, steroids can induce characteristics and traits recognized in certain mental health disorders. Hyper-aggressive tendencies, elation or severe depression can result from abusing steroids for too long. Some people have reported having committed aggressive acts or property crimes when on steroids. (NIMH) It’s not hard to find stories of rage filled incidents that happen during or after steroid use. In 1993, a bodybuilder known as “a chemical machine” killed his girlfriend, and the community pointed to his steroid use as a possible cause of the rage that drove him to kill.

Similarly, a particular study was done where out of 41 individuals being surveyed, 12.2 percent of them had psychotic symptoms and 10 percent had sub-threshold psychotic symptoms while taking steroids. Also, none of them had any psychotic symptoms when not taking them. A subsequent larger study found similar results, with psychotic symptoms diagnosed in 3 percent of the 88 users ‘on-cycle’, but in none ‘off-cycle’. The conclusion of this study shows that the risk of developing psychotic symptoms may be related to high-dose testosterone (Pope; Katz 1994; Hall 2005).

Treatment for steroid abuse

Pharmacological treatment of steroid use is beneficial in restoring the body’s hormone levels back to normal, as well as antidepressants to treat the withdrawal effects of the drug. Analgesics may be prescribed to treat headache, muscle and joint pains as well.

If you or a loved one is battling an addiction to anabolic steroids and would like more information on treatment, you can call the Recovery Helpline at 855-441-4405.

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