Steroid use is associated with many short- and long-term adverse effects that people may not be aware of. Find out how to identify the signs of steroid use and addiction.

Steroids, formally referred to as anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), are natural or synthetic derivatives of the male sex hormone, testosterone. They are a common drug of abuse among male and female bodybuilders and athletes. This popularity is due to their muscle-building, fat-reducing, and performance-enhancing properties. However, the use of steroids comes at a high price that might not be immediately apparent to people using them.

Many people expose themselves to the dangerous and life-shortening side effects of steroid use without even reaping the desired effects. Many people who use steroids are beginner-level weightlifters who do not have the knowledge and experience to conduct the high-level exercise and nutritional regimens that are required for these drugs to work.

Steroid use has a reciprocal relationship with exercise addiction, where the individual’s obsession with exercise results in neglecting job, relationships and normal activities of daily living because it consumes inordinate amounts of time, money and energy. Many people with exercise addiction end up using steroids, and many people who use steroids become addicted to exercising.

Symptoms of Steroids Abuse

The abuse of steroids is fraught with physical, emotional and psychological symptoms that have visible effects. Many adverse effects are not immediately visible, and whose manifestations may not become apparent until years later.

Steroid abuse is particularly unforgiving to the body and mind and is known to reduce life expectancy. Many of the serious effects are long-lasting or permanent and cause serious disease or death. This risk is especially true of its effects on the liver, prostate, heart, and brain.

Furthermore, steroid use has been associated with criminality due to its psychiatric and rage-inducing effects. Many users ended up with criminal records.

Physical Symptoms of Steroids

While substances affect each person differently, there are some common physical side effects of steroid use. Some of those common side effects include:

  • Infertility
  • Premature heart attack and heart disease
  • Venous blood clots
  • Damage to the arteries
  • Premature stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue in males)
  • Premature baldness
  • Severe cystic and nodular acne

In addition, women who use anabolic steroids also risk experiencing virilization, which is the development of male physical characteristics, such as:

  • Growing more body hair
  • Deepening of the voice
  • Breast tissue loss
  • Acne
  • Infertility and menstrual irregularities
  • Male pattern baldness
  • Clitoral enlargement

Psychological Symptoms of Steroids

Steroids are not just active in muscle tissue, they are also psychoactive, meaning that they change the brain’s chemistry. They appear to activate the brain’s dopamine reward system, which contributes to their addictive properties. However, steroids also affect other brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) and are linked to other psychiatric disorders.

In particular, steroids have mood destabilizing and stress vulnerability effects, which predispose steroid users to experience depression and mania (such as in bipolar disorder), and likely anxiety as well. Steroids also predispose people to eating disorders and are linked to psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

Besides exercise addiction, steroid use is also heavily associated with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a psychological disorder where people are consumed by an obsession with perceived inadequacies in their appearance.

The most common and consistent psychological effect of steroids is aggression, the infamous “roid rage” emotional state that many people witnessed. These exaggerated hysterical tantrums occur in response to minimal provocation and have led to spontaneous violence, including murders. Men who use steroids are twice as likely to commit violent crime compared to men who don’t use steroids.

Other Steroids Side Effects

Steroids have unseen effects that can have serious, long-term health effects and cause premature or sudden death. Some of those unseen effects include:

  • Heart and arterial blockages that may lead to heart attack and stroke
  • Liver toxicity and cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Testicular cancer

Steroid use results in unnatural size and rapid growth of muscles. The muscles’ supporting tendons and ligaments can’t grow large enough or fast enough to properly support the muscles. As a result, steroid users are prone to injuries.

Steroids suppress the immune system. So, when the individual becomes injured, the natural inflammatory response is suppressed and the individual may not be aware of the injury. This suppression also impedes healing, making the injury more likely to be chronic and prone to re-injury.

Steroid Shot Side Effects

Steroids may be taken orally or by injection into the muscle (intramuscular [IM] injection). Steroids are not injected intravenously (IV). Steroids are not absorbed well when taken orally, so they are almost always used by IM injection. Although IM injection is less risky than IV injection, this practice still carries most of the same serious side effects including:

  • Increased risk of contracting HIV or Hepatitis B and C
  • Bacterial infections of the skin, muscles, and blood

Effects of Long-Term Steroids Abuse

The long-term use of steroids results in magnified side effects and longer-lasting manifestations. Most concerning is the fact that the risk of potentially fatal effects like heart disease, liver disease, and cancers are increased with the duration and the amounts of steroids used.

Signs of Steroids Addiction

Studies have shown that people who are addicted to steroids may exhibit some typical signs. If you suspect a steroid addiction in yourself or a loved one, look for some of the following signs that are indicative of steroid addiction:

  • Some people may experience increased use of steroids, higher doses, simultaneous use of different steroids at once, increased duration of use and escalation of dosing
  • The presence of other psychiatric disorders
  • Appearing more muscular than usual
  • Having a close relative with a substance use disorder
  • Having a history of behavioral disorders and antisocial or narcissistic personality disorder
  • Misusing opioids

Since people with steroid addiction tend to use more steroids than steroid users without an addiction, the physical and psychological symptoms of steroid use are more likely to be present. Those people are more likely to be addicted to exercise, suffer from BDD and be consumed with their obsession with exercise and body image.

Steroids Addiction Intervention

Steroid abuse has serious adverse effects that a person may not be fully aware of. Illicit street drugs don’t come with warning labels. Steroid use is frequently associated with serious psychological underpinnings, such as low self-esteem, BDD and mental health disorders.  For many people, these underlying psychological and emotional issues must be addressed to facilitate a return to healthy, drug-free functioning.

If you or a loved one struggle with steroid addiction, call The Recovery Village today. By calling and speaking with a representative, you can learn more about how substance use disorders are treated, and how The Recovery Village provides a safe and supportive environment for substance detox and therapy. Call today, you deserve a healthier future.

Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Andrew Proulx
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Andrew Proulx, MD
Andrew Proulx holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, an MD from Queen's University, and has completed post-graduate studies in medicine. He practiced as a primary care physician from 2001 to 2016 in general practice and in the ER. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

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.