In both the medical and fitness communities, anabolic steroids are a frequently discussed but controversial topic. It can be hard to cut through all the noise to what you really need to know:
- What anabolic steroids are
- Why athletes and others take them
- What the health risks and potential complications are
- The medical benefits of anabolic steroids
This article is here to cut through the harsh opinions from both sides of the steroid issue, and provide an honest, scientific look on what these drugs do and how they are used.
WHAT ARE ANABOLIC STEROIDS?
Anabolic steroids are drugs primarily used to increase strength, stamina, and muscle size. However, they can also be used to treat other issues under medical supervision.
The effects of anabolic steroids are caused by their behavior in the body. These drugs have a similar effect to the hormone testosterone, which is what leads to both their benefits and their side effects. In fact, testosterone itself can be used as an anabolic steroid.
Testosterone is naturally produced by the body. Though it is produced in much larger quantities in men, and the amount varies from person to person, the amount in the body is always very small. With testosterone, a little goes a long way.
Steroids are like a concentrated, powerful, sustained testosterone boost. While this sudden input of a testosterone like drug into the body can provide a lot of powerful positive effects, too much can be a very bad thing.
WHY ATHLETES TAKE THEM
Many athletes take anabolic steroids to increase their physical strength and stamina.
This can have benefits in virtually all sports, from running to baseball. The same technique is often used by bodybuilders to enhance muscle growth and appearance.
In some areas where this is legal, athletes can use anabolic steroids as performance enhancing drugs under the supervision of a medical professional.
However, use of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs is banned in virtually every major sporting league worldwide because it provides the user with an unfair advantage over other players.
The penalties for anabolic steroids use in sporting leagues are severe, involving the stripping of titles and monetary fines. There are also legal repercussions in many countries. Use of anabolic steroids to improve performance in sport is often called “doping.”
While detractors of anabolic steroid use in sport often criticize both the health risks to players who choose to use them and the fact that this makes competition unfair, there are also supporters.
Supporters of steroid use in sport believe increased strength and stamina can make for more entertaining games for fans and greater personal growth and achievement for athletes.
Amateur athletes and fitness enthusiasts also take steroids to help themselves develop their strength faster.
Of course, steroids aren’t just for growing muscles. They’re also used to repair muscles. One of the most beneficial effects of anabolic steroids is the efficiency with which they boost recovery time. However, because of their potential for abuse, they often aren’t used in this way except in cases of serious injury.
HOW ANABOLIC STEROIDS ARE TAKEN
Anabolic steroids can be taken in all of the following forms:
For performance enhancement, the faster methods of swallowing pills and injecting steroids directly are usually the preferred ways to take anabolic steroids. Using them in this way increases their effectiveness, though it can also increase the likelihood that an athlete will take too much or become addicted.
Creams and patches are more often used in medical settings where the effects of anabolic steroids are used to correct hormone imbalances. When people experience symptoms like late puberty, anabolic steroids can often correct the problem.
While pills and injections increase the drugs’ potential for abuse because they are faster ways of getting the drugs into your system, these drugs can be used safely with any method, and also abused with any method.
HOW DO ANABOLIC STEROIDS MAKE YOU STRONGER?
Anabolic steroids make you stronger by increasing the amount of protein in your body’s cells. Although this happens all over your body, it is particularly concentrated in skeletal muscle.
Skeletal muscle is the type of muscle you use to move, lift, run, and do other activities (as opposed to muscles like the heart, which move involuntarily and are not tied to the skeleton).
Increasing Protein Has Two Major Effects:
- Because protein is required to grow muscle, having extra protein means your muscles can grow faster.
- Just as protein is used to grow new muscle, it is used to repair damaged muscle. That means that recovery times are much faster when using anabolic steroids.
Both of these help increase strength. Growing muscle obviously helps increase strength directly, whereas reduced recovery times have a more indirect effect: if you don’t have to spend as much time resting, you can spend more time working out.
HOW DO PEOPLE ABUSE ANABOLIC STEROIDS?
Anabolic steroids are usually abused in one of two ways:
- Taking a very large amount in a relatively short span of time
- Taking a high or moderately high amount over a very long period of time
Although steroids are sometimes prescribed to treat medical issues, they are never prescribed in very large quantities to prevent either of these things from happening.
When steroids are used in this way, their damaging effects are heightened as well as their positive ones. In fact, many people who use steroids to increase their personal strength engage in techniques like cycling (taking frequent breaks from steroid use) to prevent the negative effects from becoming too prominent.
Like all drugs, anabolic steroids have a higher potential for abuse the more somebody uses them.
Anabolic steroids are more frequently abused by people who take steroid pills or injections, as these are the fastest way of getting steroids into the body. They are also often abused by professional athletes in high pressure situations, as they have an extremely high drive to perform.
ARE ANABOLIC STEROIDS ADDICTIVE?
Steroids won’t get you “high” the way that many other drugs, like opiates and cocaine, do, they can still be addictive. People can become addicted to the effects of steroids, the ritual of using steroids, and the reduced feelings of pain and fatigue.
With heavy use over long periods of time, steroids can affect brain chemistry to become physically addictive in the way that other drugs can. However, this does take quite a while, and many regular users never become physically dependent on anabolic steroids.
If you get addicted to steroids, kicking the habit can be tough, and some users even experience withdrawal symptoms.
HOW CAN PEOPLE GET TREATMENT FOR ANABOLIC STEROID ADDICTION?
As with all substance abuse problems, there is a wide variety of treatment methods for anabolic steroid addiction. Some common approaches include the following:
- Support groups and recovery programs
- Rehabilitation programs
- Behavioral therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist
- Drug replacement therapy
- Spiritual programs
Behavioral therapy is one of the most successful approaches when it comes to anabolic steroid addiction. This is because high pressure to perform and insecurity about the body are what often lead people to take steroids in the first place, and therapy can help with these issues.
Therapy can also help with some of the side effects of steroid abuse, such as changing appearance and increased aggression.
Drug replacement therapy is often used to a certain extent. For example, pain management drugs will be given to people in recovery for steroid addiction to help both with withdrawal symptoms and increased pain and fatigue from exertion.
One of the most serious withdrawal symptoms for many steroid users is depression, which can be helped with both medication (antidepressants) and behavioral therapy.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH EFFECTS OF ANABOLIC STEROIDS?
There are many health effects associated with anabolic steroid use, both positive and negative. The impact of positive effects and severity of bad ones often depends on how much you use, how often you use them, and for how long.
The health risks of anabolic steroids are a sad reality for the many people who abuse the drug. Along with addiction, which we’ve already discussed, here are some of the most common physical side effects of anabolic steroid use.
BENEFITS OF ANABOLIC STEROIDS IN MEDICINE
There are several benefits when it comes to anabolic steroid use in medicine. Some of these are most important for people battling certain illnesses, while others can be extremely beneficial for the general population.
Steroids are often used to offset late puberty in young people. However, they are also used to improve body mass and overall health in “wasting illnesses” that can take a serious physical toll on the body, such as cancer and HIV-AIDS.
Of course, it’s not just people facing late puberty or a serious wasting illness that can benefit from anabolic steroids. Some of the benefits that can help just about anyone include the following:
- Improved recovery times
- Increased strength and stamina
- Muscle growth
- Greater libido
- Higher red blood cell count
While many think of anabolic steroids as drugs solely used to increase strength or even just the appearance of muscles, responsible usage can result in greatly improved overall health. The higher red blood count associated with steroid use is a big reason for this overall health improvement.
Anabolic steroids are such a controversial subject because there truly is both a good side and a bad one when it comes to the use of these drugs. While they can be a great blessing when used responsibly, they can easily become a curse through abuse and addiction.
This is true of a wide variety of drugs. Opiate painkillers, for example, were once thought of as miracle drugs, but now are seen as gateways to addiction and early death. On the other hand, marijuana is being seriously researched as a better alternative to conventional painkillers.
Even common drugs like aspirin can do some truly amazing things, such as preventing heart attacks, yet can also result in overdoses and liver damage.
In truth, like most other drugs, anabolic steroids can be both safe and savage, depending on the user and the situation.