It comes as no surprise that people these days are often dissatisfied with their body image, courtesy to the sham world of social media and television that portray perfect figures and have become the reason for low self-esteem among individuals and this has particularly taken a toll on the youth. People often scrutinize their bodies while they look at the mirror and they find their bodies small, insignificant; not in the shape, they had imagined them to be.
The obsession over having a perfect body image like the ones on magazine covers with a ripped body provokes males to consume steroids- a shortcut to gain muscle bulk. However, these individuals who use steroids are usually amateurs, oblivious to the effects of steroids that wreak havoc inside their bodies. It is after years when the signs and symptoms of steroid abuse manifest and their health starts deteriorating that they realize how steroids were slowly destroying their body.
Steroids are synthetic substances that mimic the action of various naturally present hormones in the body. There are different types of steroids. The commonly used ones include Corticosteroids that imitate the action of the hormone ‘cortisol’, released by the adrenal gland, which is present over the kidney. Cortisol works by controlling inflammation and infection in the body as it is also known as a ‘stress hormone’. Corticosteroids are used to treat various ailments that arise due to inflammation such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and vasculitis since corticosteroids have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Moreover, another popular class of steroids known as anabolic steroids mimics the action of the male hormone, ‘testosterone’. These anabolic steroids are often used by individuals such as bodybuilders, athletes, and younger individuals who have body image issues, to gain muscle mass rapidly as anabolic steroids tend to accentuate the ability of the body to make proteins to be incorporated into muscles.
Anabolic Steroids are considered as appearance and performance-enhancing drugs. Along with increasing muscle bulk, anabolic steroids are known to enhance and promote other male secondary sexual characteristics that were regulated by testosterone such as an increase in the deepening of the voice, elevated libido, and increase in facial hair among other effects. Apart from its use to improve physique and to attain lean body mass, anabolic steroids have certain medicinal uses for which they are often prescribed. Anabolic steroids are prescribed to people who have had low testosterone levels naturally, to treat muscle wasting due to HIV, to treat significant conditions that require gaining protein, to treat aplastic anaemia, and it is used in the treatment of breast cancer and in children with short stature to improve their growth.
Did you know that the use of anabolic steroids dates back to the 1930s when it was used to treat males with low testosterone levels? It is interesting to know that in World War II anabolic steroids were used to treat soldiers who were physically weak and malnourished. In the 1950s anabolic steroid received huge popularity after their use in the Olympics and the production of these compounds rose, making the athletes amongst the top consumers of anabolic steroids. In the Olympics of 1975, there was a change in policies, and the use of anabolic steroids was prohibited, thus making it illegal to be consumed by athletes or any individual for that matter. However, illicit means of supplying these drugs continued throughout time, and even today online sales of anabolic steroids are quite prevalent.
Many people are unaware of the fact that women also possess testosterone hormone albeit not to the degree possessed by men since women only need it for their ovarian function and bone strength. Moreover, testosterone plays a vital role in the control of mood in both males and females.
Anabolic steroids work by increasing the protein content of the body thereby making a person gain the desired muscle mass along with increasing the red blood cells which increases the oxygen-carrying capacity resulting in increased endurance and stamina.
Anabolic steroids can be taken orally in the form of tablets. They can be injected intramuscularly and can be applied topically in the form of cream or gel.
Anabolic steroid users are well aware of the plethora of side effects associated with the consumption of this synthetic product and they use innovative ways to take the drugs to mitigate the risk of side effects.
They use the following methods:
Cycling- This refers to the usage of steroids for a defined period after which the person stops taking steroids for a while to give the body a break to regulate and recover the natural release of testosterone.
Stacking- This method refers to taking multiple types of steroids with the assumption that they will maximize the output or will help one get the results faster. However, there is no scientific ground to this practice that using oral and injectable steroids or combining different forms of steroid yield better result.
Pyramiding- In this cycle individuals may use one or more anabolic steroids starting at the lowest dose and then gradually increasing their dose of steroid to the maximum after which they start tapering their dose to the lowest. In this way, a pyramiding cycle consists of two parts; during the first half, the individual increases the dose of steroids, while during the second half, the individual decreases their dose of steroids.
Unfortunately, none of these methods has proved to lower the potential side effects associated with long-term steroid use.
Steroids are classified as class C controlled substances in the UK, similar to benzodiazepines which means that you can get the drug only through prescription from a general physician (GP). Manufacturing steroids and supplying them illegally that is without a license is an offense in the UK that has a penalty of 14 years imprisonment or a massive sum of fine or both. Having possession of steroids for personal use as advised by the physician is acceptable but illicit consumption of these drugs is not legal in the UK.
There are many different types of steroids used for bodybuilding. These include:
- Anadrol- It is the brand name for Oxymetholone which is a synthetic anabolic steroid medication used for the treatment of anaemias such as aplastic anaemia. It is also used to gain muscle mass. The side effects associated with Anadrol include liver disease, heart disease, stroke, and mental health issues.
- Daca-Durabolin- It is also known by its generic name Nandrolone. It is used to increase muscle bulk and to enhance physique overall. Daca-Durabolin is an injectable steroid and is taken thrice a week. Side effects include nausea, alteration in blood lipid levels, and abnormal liver function tests along with fluid retention in the body.
- Equipoise- It is used to gain lean body mass and muscle bulk. It is also injected through the intramuscular route however, it causes acne and excessive hair growth.
- Oxandrin- It was formulated to treat bone pain due to osteoarthritis. However, it is now widely used to gain body mass and to build up muscles. It comes with serious side effects which include heart attacks and even death.
- Winstrol- It is used to treat various hereditary ailments such as angioedema. It can cause various side effects along with causing an increase in muscle bulk which is the reason it is so oft used.
- Dianabol- It is also known as D-bol and it is taken orally. It works by increasing testosterone production in the body thus resulting in increased muscle bulk. It is taken orally.
The use of anabolic steroids comes at a cost of a multitude of potential side effects. These side effects depend on the route of administration of the drug since oral steroids are damaging to the liver, whereas, injectable steroids carry the risk of acquiring transmissible diseases through needles. A study conducted in 2016, revealed that 13% of anabolic steroid users share needles and are at risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis.
Some characteristic side effects of anabolic steroids are as follows:
- Hormonal imbalances
- Mood swings
- Increased blood pressure
- Decreased sperm count
- Excessive hair growth
Anabolic steroids can be addictive but this nature of addiction is quite different from the addiction of opioids, benzodiazepines, or alcohol. It is observed that addiction to steroids is prevalent in people who are struggling with body dysmorphia- a psychological condition also known as Bigorexia. When a person is dealing with body dysmorphia they find their physique inadequate and not as per standard as they have set for themselves. This leads them to use anabolic steroids as these individuals are looking for a quick fix to gain muscle mass. These bodybuilding steroids come to the rescue of these individuals albeit at a very hefty cost as these individuals risk their health when they use steroids for the long term.
Younger individuals, those individuals who are gym freaks which may include coaches and top athletes, and people who have gone through sexual abuse are at a greater risk of developing an addiction to steroids apart from individuals facing complexes about their body image due to psychological issues as seen in bigorexia.
There is impulsiveness and an urge to use steroids to feel fit, strong, and muscular. Such individuals due to increase use of steroids do excessive gyming. If these individuals fail to consume their regular steroid doses they feel their self-confidence shattering and their body image crumbling such that they are compelled to take steroids despite experiencing the negative effects associated with steroid use.
Research has highlighted that 32% of steroid users develop a dependence on the drug. One of the surest signs of dependence is the presence of tolerance to that certain drug which means that the individual feels the need to take higher doses of steroids to achieve the desired effect. As a result, the person would take higher doses of steroids. It is observed that when addiction develops individuals tend to take steroids in doses 1000 times higher than what was prescribed to them for a legitimate medical reason.
Steroid addiction is at an all-time high in the UK since a study revealed that by the end of 2017 there had been a 400% increase in the cases of steroid abuse in the UK. This trend is quite worrisome as it signifies that the underlying problems are very well-rooted hence the causes and risk factors leading to steroid abuse should be targeted to eliminate steroid addiction.
According to the Image and Performance Enhancing Drug Survey (IPED), 900,000 individuals use steroids, however, doctors believe that this number is roughly equal to 1 million which is quite an alarming figure. Moreover, what needs to come to attention is the fact that 56% of these individuals were abusing steroids due to cosmetic reasons and to enhance their body image.
Since steroids are prescription-only drugs in the UK, therefore, their sales have been strictly regulated so as an alternate, individuals turn to illicit means to obtain the drug, this includes sourcing the drug through the black-market not knowing that the street form of the drug is contaminated with other harmful substances. The street name for various steroid hormones in the UK includes ‘stackers’, ‘juice’, ‘roids’, and ‘hype’.
Certain findings are red flags and indicate the symptoms of steroids abuse. These include:
- Being forgetful about events
- Being secretive and attending private phone calls
- Having sudden urges to work out
- Experiencing hair loss
- Having a bad breath
- Having skin marks due to administration of steroid injections
- Being poor in decision making and having frequent mood swings
- Being irritable and aggressive
- The rapid development of muscle bulk
- Having unusually greasy skin or hair
- Having outbreaks of acne
Anabolic steroid abuse side effects are often irreversible. The damage caused by steroids is rather permanent and even though a person may look stronger on the surface the truth is that the body becomes quite weak internally due to the continued use of steroids.
The side effects of steroid abuse affect various parts of the body. Cardiac problems associated with steroid abuse include atherosclerosis and cardiomyopathy. Fatty deposits block the vessels which result in atherosclerosis- a risk factor for myocardial infarction (heart attack) and strokes. For instance, steroids are known to increase the thickness of the muscular wall of the heart known as cardiomyopathy thereby increasing the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
Moreover, steroids alter the hormonal balance as the natural release of testosterone is largely affected hence steroid abuse results in low sperm counts and the testes shrink in size. It is also noticed that discontinuing steroids lead to erectile dysfunction due to low levels of testosterone. Steroid abuse causes a lot of other problems which include liver problems, acne, sexual dysfunction, mood swings, and enlarged breast tissue in males. Baldness, stomach pain, and acne are side effects associated with anabolic steroids. There is also an increased risk of the development of prostate cancer.
The effect of anabolic steroids in females is slightly different as it reduces the breast tissue, causes menstrual irregularities, causes swelling of the clitoris, results in deepening of the voice like in males, and an increase in sex drive.
The effect of steroids on the brain is still under study but from current data, it is clear that steroids alter brain functioning in certain ways. There’s aggressiveness in behaviour following steroid use. ‘Roid’s rage’ is a condition in which an individual gives an outrageously furious response to a condition after steroid use. Often this condition is associated with psychosis in which an individual thinks of themselves from another universe and act differently. Steroid abuse is also known to cause depression and mania.
The effect of steroid use in a younger individual who has not yet achieved puberty is very devastating since it restricts their growth resulting in premature aging of the bones which results in short stature of such individuals.
Can steroids kill you?
There are multiple ways through which steroids can be deadly. One such way is to acquire blood-borne infections such as HIV, Hepatitis B, and C through sharing needles while injecting steroids. Apart from this, several other long-term side effects of steroids that involve the cardiovascular system can be potentially dangerous.
How to spot a steroid user?
There are certain characteristic features attributed to a steroid user such as enlarged breasts in males, acne, oily and greasy skin and hair, and rapid gain of muscle mass.
What are steroids used for?
Steroids such as corticosteroids are used to treat various inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc. Whereas, anabolic steroids are used to treat low testosterone levels, muscle wasting conditions as seen in HIV and other diseases.
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