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Risks And Side Effects Of Using Anabolic Steroids

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Side Effects Of Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids mimic the effects of male sex hormone testosterone and help build muscle. Yet, their adverse effects are innumerable and should have you concerned. Side effects range from prominent male characteristics and issues with menstruation in women to loss of fertility and sexual dysfunction in men. Short-term side effects include insomnia, swelling and fluid retention, and headaches. They can even cause long-term damage to your heart, liver, and kidneys.

Anabolic steroids might seem like a clever shortcut to build that body you crave or to improve your timing or performance in a sport. Many people also make the mistake of treating them as anabolic “supplements” or protein powder taken to increase muscle mass. As you’ll see, anabolic steroids aren’t harmless protein supplements – rather, they are hormonal medication. If abused, they come with a slew of side effects that could cause irreparable harm to your body.

What Are Anabolic Steroids?

Anabolic steroids are synthetic hormonal substances that behave like testosterone. They help build skeletal muscles (anabolic effect) and develop male characteristics (the androgenic effect). In fact, the exact name for these is anabolic-androgenic steroids. Doctors prescribe these for people with testosterone deficiency or with low red blood cell count. They are also used to treat adolescents experiencing delayed puberty or patients with breast cancer, aside from treating tissue wasting among people AIDS.1 They must also not be confused with corticosteroids, a cortisone-like steroidal medication that controls inflammation and is used to treat a range of health problems.

How Much Is Too Much?

Anabolic steroids are prescription medication meant to be taken only for specific medical reasons, as prescribed by your doctor. However, those who abuse the drugs may take as much as 10 to 100 times the advised therapeutic dosage. What’s more, some may mix two to three different anabolic steroids, taking them cyclically in the hope of improving its effectiveness and to sidestep adverse effects. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true.2

The use of these anabolic steroids is banned in professional competitive sports because they give the user an unfair, artificially induced advantage over the others. While they do help build muscle and improve athletic performance fast, this isn’t legal and, more importantly, isn’t good for your health either. You only need to see some of the short- and long-term side effects of anabolic steroid use to understand why.3

Short-Term Side Effects Of Anabolic Steroid Use

Some of the more immediate effects of anabolic steroids will crop up quite easily and obviously. You may notice that you:

  • Develop acne
  • Gain weight rapidly
  • Have increased muscle size
  • Have trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Have a tendency for fluid retention
  • Have swollen ankles and feet
  • Experience more headaches
  • See raised blood pressure
  • Have higher cholesterol levels
  • See diminished sexual function, such as impotence or erectile issues in men4

Anabolic Steroid Side Effects In Females

Women using anabolic steroids may notice that certain male characteristics become more dominant. There is also a reduction or alteration of traditionally female body features due to the testosterone-like action of the drugs. Side effects for women include:

  • Increased facial hair
  • Increased body hair growth
  • Deepening of the voice
  • Boost to sex drive
  • Issues with menstrual cycle/periods
  • Decreased breast size
  • Clitoris swelling
  • Severe form of acne
  • Hair loss
  • Difficulty or pain when urinating5 6

Anabolic Steroid Side Effects In Males

What becomes of men or teenage boys who try using these drugs? While anabolic steroids may seem to boost the appearance of “manliness,” with a bulkier look and increased muscle, they actually hamper some of the features normal, healthy males should have. The hormonal imbalance can also strangely cause some female features, like prominent breasts, to appear. Here are some of the side effects to watch out for:

  • Decline in sperm count
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Shrinking of testicles
  • Infertility issues
  • Severe form of acne
  • Raised risk of prostate cancer
  • Baldness
  • Development of breasts
  • Stomach pain7

Long-Term Side Effects Of Anabolic Steroid Use

If you continue to abuse these drugs over time, it could take its toll on your health in more ways than one. Some of the health issues and organ damage you may experience include:

  • Stunted growth in adolescents
  • Problems with blood clotting and associated disorders
  • Rise in risk of injuring muscles, tendons, or ligaments
  • Cardiovascular health issues stemming from an enlarged heart, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure
  • Premature heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Liver damage
  • Damage to reproductive organs
  • Diminished sexual functioning
  • Kidney problems8

Side Effects Of Injecting Anabolic Steroids

In addition to oral anabolic steroid side effects, you could develop a separate set of health issues if you choose to inject these steroids. Main effects include:

  • Bacterial infections and even endocarditis, an inflammation of your heart lining that is potentially fatal
  • Abscesses (pus buildup in the tissue) at injection site
  • Cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection that can potentially spread to your lymph and blood
  • HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C from sharing needles with an infected person9

Mental Effects Of Anabolic Steroids

While the physical side effects of anabolic steroid use are visible and easy to notice, the mental side effects don’t come to your attention immediately. What you should know, however, is that anabolic steroid use can and will negatively impact your brain and, consequently, your mood. The National Institute on Drug Abuse cautions about these effects:

  • You may show signs of extreme and unreasonable paranoia
  • You could become delusional
  • Your judgment may become impaired
  • You may become jealous of other people
  • You may find yourself extremely irritable
  • You may even have extreme mood swings
  • You could experience hypomania, where you become hyperactive and elated
  • You may also experience depression10

The extent or intensity of your side effects will depend on the dose you take as well as the type of anabolic steroids you’re using.

Understanding Mental Side Effects: Roid Rage

Researchers believe that your behavior as well as psyche is influenced very strongly by anabolic steroids, increasing your hostility and aggression. An infamous condition, known as roid rage, manifests when you use and abuse anabolic steroids. Besides extreme mood swings, you could find yourself becoming extremely angry and acting out on this anger. People with roid rage have been known to get violent as well. This unprovoked anger and indiscriminate aggression is the hallmark of the problem.11

References   [ + ]

1, 2. Drugs of Abuse. U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.
3. Anabolic Steroids. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
4, 5. Anabolic Steroids. Center for Substance Abuse Research.
6, 7. Anabolic steroid misuse. National Health Service.
8, 10. Anabolic Steroids. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
9. Drugs of Abuse. U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.
11. Hartgens, Fred, and Harm Kuipers. “Effects of androgenic-anabolic steroids in athletes.” Sports medicine 34, no. 8 (2004): 513-554.