Steroid Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Effects and Treatment

Anabolic Steroid Addiction Atlanta, GA
Picture of Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Joshua Yager M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Joshua Yager M.D.

Dr. Joshua Yager is an Atlanta native, board-certified family practice physician who is dedicated to the health and wellbeing of his community.

Table of Contents

Anabolic steroid addiction affects a significant portion of those who use steroids, with approximately 32% of users becoming dependent. This type of addiction can disrupt many aspects of life, including physical and mental health, relationships, and financial stability.

Individuals often misuse steroids to enhance fitness, build muscle quickly, and boost athletic performance. However, this can lead to a strong addiction, making it difficult for them to stop using steroids on their own.

Are Anabolic Steroids Addictive?

Yes, contrary to common misconceptions, anabolic steroids can indeed be addictive. While they do not induce a conventional “high” or “buzz” like many drugs, users can become both psychologically and physically dependent on them.

What is Steroid Addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), steroid addiction differs from mere abuse in several critical ways:

  • Continued use despite adverse effects: Individuals may continue using steroids despite experiencing negative physical or psychological effects such as:
    • Breast growth in men
    • Sexual dysfunction
    • High blood pressure
    • Elevated blood fats
    • Heart disease
    • Mood swings
    • Severe irritability
    • Aggressiveness
  • Neglect of daily responsibilities: Users may skip important daily activities that they believe could interfere with their workout routines, diet, or steroid use.
  • Excessive spending: Considerable amounts of time and money are spent obtaining steroids.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit: Efforts to reduce or cease steroid use repeatedly fail.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: If usage stops even briefly, users may experience withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, and cravings.

What Are Anabolic Steroids?

Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances that mimic testosterone, the male sex hormone. The term “Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids” (AAS) refers to the muscle-building (anabolic) and masculinizing (androgenic) effects of these drugs.

It’s important to distinguish anabolic steroids from corticosteroids, like Prednisone, which are used to treat allergic reactions and do not have muscle-building effects or mimic testosterone.

Medically, anabolic steroids are prescribed for:

  • Delayed puberty in boys
  • Hormonal imbalances in men
  • Conditions like hypogonadism and impotence
  • Breast cancer
  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle loss from disease
  • Certain types of anemia
  • Weight loss in HIV patients
  • Endometriosis

Anabolic steroids work by activating DNA components in muscle cells to increase protein production, thereby enhancing muscle growth and body mass rapidly. They also affect bone mineralization and impact the immune, reproductive, and central nervous systems.

Available in pills, injectable liquids, topical gels, and creams, anabolic steroids have several street names such as Juice, Stackers, Hype, and Roids. Common brands include Anadrol-50, Oxandrin, Winstrol, Anavar, Dianabol, and Equipoise—the latter being a veterinary steroid but still misused by some due to its lower cost and greater accessibility.

Signs of Steroid Addiction

Signs and Symptoms of Steroid Addiction

Steroids are classified as Schedule III substances in the U.S., indicating legitimate medical uses but a risk for physical or mental dependence. Recognizing early signs of addiction is crucial for prevention and treatment.

Behavioral, physical, and psychological indicators to watch for include:

  • Misusing the medication: Taking more than prescribed, combining with other substances, or alcohol, which can lead to liver damage and other health issues. Misuse patterns include cycling, stacking, pyramiding, and plateauing.
  • Physical changes: Noticeable changes might include increased facial hair, severe acne, dramatic changes in appetite or energy levels, rapid weight gain or muscle growth, and excessive breast development in men.
  • Behavioral changes: Secretive behavior, financial difficulties, stealing, or selling possessions to fund steroid purchases. Increased dosage without medical guidance and engaging in risky behaviors are common.
  • Psychological effects: Long-term use can disrupt hormonal balance leading to depression or suicidal tendencies post-cessation. Other adverse effects may include paranoia, mania, irritability, “roid rage,” delusions, and impaired judgment.

If you suspect you or a loved one is struggling with steroid addiction, it is crucial to seek help immediately. Early intervention can prevent the progression of addiction and mitigate the severe consequences associated with steroid misuse.

Recognizing Anabolic Steroid Addiction in Loved Ones

Anabolic steroid misuse involves problematic use that significantly disrupts the user’s life. Unlike many illicit substances, steroids do not result in intoxication or euphoria. The reward for users often lies in enhanced muscle growth and improved physical appearance. While the DSM-5 does not currently offer specific criteria for diagnosing steroid addiction, researchers have adapted existing criteria to better fit steroid abuse disorders.

Signs that someone may be addicted to steroids include:

  • Tolerance: Needing increasingly larger amounts of steroids to achieve the same physical results.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Experiencing issues like depressive moods, fatigue, insomnia, reduced appetite, and decreased libido.
  • Usage Despite Withdrawal: Taking steroids to prevent or reduce withdrawal symptoms.
  • Reduced Off Periods: Shortening or skipping the steroid-free periods.
  • Continued Use Despite Problems: Using steroids despite experiencing serious health issues such as sexual dysfunction, testicular shrinkage, heart complications, acne, breast enlargement, high blood pressure, aggression, and mood swings.
  • Neglected Responsibilities: Foregoing hobbies and other activities in favor of steroid use and muscle-related activities like weightlifting and diet planning.

What Causes a Steroid Addiction?

Steroid addiction typically starts from misuse, predominantly among males in their 20s and 30s who are not professional athletes but are regular weightlifters.

Factors contributing to steroid abuse include:

  • Low Self-Esteem: Feeling inadequate or underconfident about one’s body.
  • Mental Health Issues: Experiences with depression or suicidal tendencies.
  • Poor Health Attitudes: Limited understanding or careless attitudes towards health.
  • Sports Participation: Engagement in sports where emphasis is placed on physical appearance.
  • Family Influence: Pressure from family to maintain a certain weight.
  • Eating Disorders and Other Substance Use: Existing eating disorders or use of other substances.

Many steroid users suffer from muscle dysmorphia, a condition where individuals perceive themselves as small and weak despite being large and muscular. According to research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), this distorted body image drives the obsession to become even larger and more muscular. This pursuit often begins with legal supplements but may escalate to using performance-enhancing drugs like erythropoietin, human growth hormones, or anabolic steroids. As results become visible, the temptation to continue enhancing through just “one more cycle” can perpetuate a cycle of addiction.

Steroid Addiction vs. Drug Addiction

While both steroid and drug addictions disrupt lives, there are distinct differences between the two. Steroid addiction involves chemical dependency on synthetic hormones, whereas drug addiction typically pertains to the abuse of illicit or prescription drugs. Drug addiction is often associated with more severe physical health risks, such as organ damage due to the toxicity of many drugs.

However, chronic steroid abuse can lead to serious health issues like cardiovascular problems, testicular atrophy, hormonal imbalances, and mental health challenges such as aggression and depression, which all necessitate professional intervention.

Common drugs combined with steroid abuse include:

The risk of adverse effects and intensified addiction potential increases when these substances are used alongside anabolic steroids. For instance, studies have shown a significant number of men admitted for heroin treatment reported starting heroin due to their steroid use.

Risks of Mixing Anabolic Steroids with Other Substances

Anabolic steroids can diminish the pleasurable effects of certain drugs, leading users to consume higher doses of these substances than usual, thus increasing the risk of overdose.

Common drugs that are often abused along with steroids include:

Steroid users might use stimulants such as cocaine and Adderall to gain an energy boost and suppress appetite. However, mixing stimulants and steroids can increase aggression and put additional stress on the heart. Concurrent abuse of alcohol and steroids often results in heightened aggression. Such combinations may have long-term effects on behavior and can exacerbate addiction issues. Users of both alcohol and steroids may be more prone to engage in violent behavior.

Many individuals turn to alcohol or other drugs to self-medicate the undesirable side effects of anabolic steroids, such as insomnia and aggression. Research indicates that a percentage of men with heroin addiction began using the drug as a direct result of steroid use.

Effects of Steroid Abuse

Side Effects of Anabolic Steroid Use

Anabolic steroids impact males and females differently, often causing gender-specific side effects due to hormonal imbalances.

Side Effects in Females

  • Deeper voice
  • Male-pattern baldness
  • Increased facial and body hair growth
  • Clitoral enlargement
  • Breast shrinkage
  • Changes in menstrual cycle

Side Effects in Males

  • Baldness
  • Development of breasts
  • Infertility
  • Testicular shrinkage

Gender-Neutral Side Effects

  • Acne and oily skin
  • Fluid retention and swelling
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Infection at injection sites

Long-Term Physical and Psychological Effects

Prolonged use of anabolic steroids can lead to severe and life-threatening conditions, as well as mental health issues:

  • Heart complications such as attacks and enlarged heart muscle
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver disorders, including cancer and peliosis hepatis (blood-filled cysts)
  • Viral infections like HIV and hepatitis from needle sharing
  • Endocarditis, an infection of the heart lining
  • Altered cholesterol levels

Psychological Effects

  • Increased aggression and irritability
  • Manic behaviors
  • Delusional thoughts
  • Proneness to violent outbursts
  • Co-occurring alcohol use disorder
  • Depression

Anabolic steroids can also cause permanent physiological changes, such as ceasing natural testosterone production in men and potentially stunting growth if used in adolescence.

Recognizing these side effects can be crucial for identifying steroid misuse in a loved one. If you notice any of these changes, it may be a sign of anabolic steroid abuse. Early intervention is key to preventing more severe health consequences and addressing any underlying issues, including substance abuse disorders.

What is Estrogen Rebound?

Steroids act similarly to antidepressants by elevating mood. However, when men particularly stop a steroid cycle, they may experience “estrogen rebound,” which leads to the rapid production and release of estrogen. Symptoms of this rebound can include significant mood swings and depression. The severity of these symptoms generally correlates with the steroid dosage and the duration of abuse.

Effects of Steroids on Women

While men are more frequently recognized as steroid users, women also face risks from steroid abuse. Both genders can suffer from muscle dysmorphia—a condition where they perceive themselves as smaller or weaker than they are, despite being muscular. For women, additional side effects may include a deeper voice, increased facial hair growth, and disrupted menstrual cycles. Increased masculine characteristics and ongoing body dysmorphia are significant challenges for women misusing steroids.

Benefits of Seeking Treatment for Steroid Addiction

Seeking treatment for steroid addiction is a vital step towards recovery, and it’s one that doesn’t have to be taken alone. Treatment centers provide structured support, helping individuals achieve sobriety while maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Here’s how a steroid addiction treatment program can help:

  • Social Support: Treatment centers offer a community environment where patients can forge new friendships and engage in support groups, enhancing their recovery journey.
  • Structure: A structured treatment plan helps individuals stabilize their lives, focusing on recovery and healthy living, which can reduce the likelihood of relapse.
  • Accountability: Being in a supervised, substance-free environment helps individuals stay committed to their recovery goals, with support from counselors and peer groups.
  • Improved Quality of Life: Treatment programs emphasize overall well-being, promoting activities and diets that support physical and mental health, thereby enhancing the quality of life and aiding long-term recovery.

Treatment centers not only help patients overcome addiction but also support them in rebuilding their lives, making recovery a transformative experience. Whether through therapy, structured activities, or nutritional guidance, these programs provide the tools needed for a sustainable return to health and happiness.

Anabolic Steroid Addiction Treatment Atlanta, GA

Treatment for Steroid Addiction

Treating anabolic steroid addiction requires a comprehensive approach, similar to other drug addictions, despite steroids not producing a traditional euphoric high. Steroid addiction can still lead to dependency and severe withdrawal symptoms.

Here are the key components of effective treatment for steroid addiction:

  • Supervised Detox and Medication: Medical detox helps manage withdrawal symptoms safely, with professionals monitoring for depression and suicidal tendencies.
  • Behavioral Therapy: Therapy sessions address mood swings and help patients relearn how to live without steroids. It is crucial to seek treatment from experienced counselors and physicians who often work together to tailor the best treatment strategy.
  • Psychological and Endocrine Therapies: Treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) address underlying psychological issues like muscle dysmorphia and depression. Endocrine therapies may be used to correct hormonal imbalances caused by chronic steroid use, improving symptoms like low sex drive.
  • Antidepressants: For patients whose depression is not alleviated by other therapies, SSRIs may be prescribed to reduce depressive symptoms associated with steroid withdrawal and addiction.
  • Hospital-Based and Residential Treatment: These programs offer structured care and are suited for severe cases of addiction. They provide a stable environment with access to medical detox and therapeutic services, promoting a focused recovery.
  • Support Groups and Outpatient Treatment: Group therapy and support groups provide social support crucial for recovery, allowing individuals to share experiences and gain peer encouragement. Outpatient treatment facilities offer flexibility, allowing patients to maintain daily responsibilities while receiving treatment.

Effective steroid addiction treatment centers offer a blend of medical and therapeutic interventions to address both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction. This multifaceted approach ensures a holistic recovery, helping individuals regain a healthy lifestyle and manage any co-occurring mental health conditions.

Anabolic Steroid Addiction Treatment at Hope Harbor Wellness

If you’re grappling with an addiction to steroids, it’s essential to consider treatment to cease usage and regain control over your life. Concerns about muscle loss may deter you from quitting, but the short-term gains from steroid use are far outweighed by the dangerous and often irreversible long-term effects. At Hope Harbor Wellness we offer specialized outpatient treatment programs, designed to address anabolic steroid addiction in Atlanta, GA:

  • Outpatient Rehab: A flexible program tailored to fit into your daily life.
  • PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program): Offers a structured yet non-residential approach to treatment.
  • IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program): Provides more intensive care while allowing you to maintain daily responsibilities.
  • Dual Diagnosis Treatment Program: Caters to those with co-occurring mental health disorders.

Our anabolic steroid addiction treatment programs incorporate a variety of interventions:

  • MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment): Utilizes medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Psychotherapy: Addresses underlying psychological aspects of addiction.
  • Group Therapy: Offers peer support and shared learning experiences.
  • Individual Counseling: Provides personalized guidance and support.
  • Family Therapy: Helps heal and strengthen family relationships.
  • Holistic Therapies: Focuses on overall well-being, including physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
  • Aftercare: Ensures ongoing support post-treatment.

Our dedicated team is committed to supporting you through every step of your recovery from anabolic steroid addiction. For more information or to start your anabolic steroid addiction treatment in Atlanta, GA, contact our admissions team at 678-605-9725 or complete our online contact form. Trust us to help you navigate your path to a healthier, steroid-free life.

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