Steroid addiction involves compulsive use of the drug and associated behaviors despite negative consequences. Learn more about the characteristics of this type of drug addiction.
Steroid abuse and addiction are commonly spurred on by media depictions of the ideal physique. Steroid use can rapidly become an addiction if the individual is never satisfied and continues to escalate use despite obvious, negative physical, social, financial, mental and vocational effects.
Steroid addiction shares some characteristics with other substance addictions. Similar characteristics include:
- Tolerance developing through escalating use
- Continued use despite obvious negative consequences
- The inability to control the use of the substance
- Withdrawal symptoms occurring when the substance is not consumed
- The obsession with the substance takes a great deal of time, money and effort
Steroid addiction is highly associated with other kinds of substance abuse, particularly other hormone performance-enhancing drugs (such as human growth hormone and insulin), sedatives (especially benzodiazepines), stimulants (especially amphetamines and ecstasy), opioids (including heroin) and high amounts of alcohol.
What Are Steroids?
Steroids are formally referred to as anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS). They are a group of natural and synthetic drugs that are derived from the male hormone testosterone. Athletes and weightlifters abuse them because of their performance-enhancing properties:
- Increasing muscle mass well beyond the limits of natural growth
- Reducing body-fat, allowing for a leaner physique
- Improving athletic performance in sports
What Are Steroids Used For?
People take steroids at doses much higher (10 to 100 times higher) than what the body naturally produces, which enables them to gain muscle mass and become leaner beyond what would be possible naturally.
A survey of steroid users revealed the most common reasons for using steroids:
- Improve health and fitness (a mistaken belief)
- Enhance athletic ability for sports
- Overcome a negative body image, low self-esteem or negative self-image
- Desire to look more like models seen in media
- For attention and respect
Are Steroids Addictive?
Steroids are highly addictive, with about 35% of steroid users becoming addicted to the drug. A recent study found that about 6% of individuals with exercise addiction also used steroids and it appears that most steroid users meet the criteria for exercise addiction.
There are a couple of ways that anabolic steroid use can turn into an addiction:
- The drug acts on the brain’s reward system and provides a feeling of well-being, similar to other drugs of abuse, such as opioids
- Steroid users often get trapped in a spiraling cycle of using increasing amounts of the drug due to an obsession with perceived defects in their body muscularity, a condition known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)
Types of Steroids
Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) should not be confused with corticosteroids, which are also commonly referred to as steroids. Corticosteroids are prescription drugs that have a variety of uses (such as treating rashes, injuries, and asthma) and are not anabolic nor androgenic and therefore have no role in muscle building.
Steroids can be taken in pill form or by intramuscular (IM) injection. They are not used intravenously (IV). They also come as a patch or a gel that is applied topically to the skin, but these are not often abused. Steroids are not well absorbed into the body when taken orally, so most abusers will resort to IM injections, although they may stack (take more than one steroid at a time) with pills as well.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the most common steroids circulating on the street are testosterone, trenbolone, methandrostenolone, and stanozolol.
Steroids are a Schedule III controlled substance, as classified by the DEA, and the ones sold on the street are mostly poor-quality and produced in uncontrolled labs, mostly smuggled from other countries. There is no way to know what these products contain or how much of a substance is in them. As with other illegal drugs, dealers may “cut” (dilute) the product using vegetable oils as a way of increasing profits.
Steroid use has many physical, mental and emotional side effects that can persist permanently, even after discontinuing use. Steroids are also known to shorten users’ lives.
The possession or sale of steroids without a prescription is a felony offense in the United States. First-time offenders for possession face a minimum fine of $1,000 and a maximum of one year in prison. For first-time traffickers, there is a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. These penalties double for second-time offenders.
Steroids Addiction Statistics
Data on steroid use in the United States is somewhat lacking. There have been no recent national surveys looking at steroid use, and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) did not include data on steroid use.
However, a review of published research studies provides some useful statistics:
- Most steroid abusers are male recreational weightlifters in their 20s or 30s; 85% are under age 35
- Most people first use steroids in their 20s
- About 22% of steroid users started before age 20
- Between 1% and 2% of Americans between the ages of 19 and 28 use or have used steroids
- Between 0.1% and 1% of high school boys use or will use steroids
- About 35% of steroid users are addicted to steroid use
- The male to female ratio of steroid use is about 50 to 1
- The United States appears to have more steroid users than any other country
- 56% of steroid users never tell their doctor about it
If you or a loved one live with an addiction to steroids, contact The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative about how individualized addiction treatment can address addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorder. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
Steroid Side Effects
Bardick A, Bernes K, Nixon G. “In pursuit of physical perfection: Weight lifting and steroid use in men.” Journal of Excellence, 2006. Accessed May 15, 2019.
Corazza O, Simonato P, Demetrovics Z, Mooney R, van de Ven K, Roman-Urrestatazu A. “The emergence of Exercise Addiction, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and other image-related psychopathological correlates in fitness settings: A cross sectional study.” PlosOne, April 3, 2019. Accessed May 15, 2019.
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Anabolic steroids.” October 2018. Accessed May 19, 2019.
Frati P, Busardò F, Cipolloni L, Dominicis E, Fineschi V. “Anabolic androgenic steroid (AAS) related deaths: Autoptic, histopathological and toxicological findings.” Current Neuropharmacology, January 2015. Accessed May 19, 2019.
Kanayama, G, Brower K, Wood R, Hudson J, Pope H. “Anabolic-androgenic steroid dependence: An emerging disorder.” Addiction, December 2009. Accessed May 15, 2019.
Pope H, Kanayama G, Athey A, Ryan E, Hudson J, Baggish A. “The lifetime prevalence of anabolic-androgenic steroid use and dependence in Americans: Current best estimates.” American Journal of Addiction, July 2014. Accessed May 19, 2019.
Pope C, Pope H, Menard W, Fay C, Olivardia R, Phillips K. “Clinical features of muscle dysmorphia among males with body dysmorphic disorder.” Body Image, December 2005. Accessed May 15, 2019.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Reports and detailed tables from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).” 2017. Accessed May 19, 2019.
United States Department of Justice. “A dangerous and illegal way to seek athletic dominance and better appearance – A guide for understanding the dangers of anabolic steroids.” March 2004. Accessed May 19, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.