The Effects of Steroids

Anabolic steroid use can have detrimental effects on behavior. Particularly in high doses, steroids have been shown to increase irritability and aggression. Some steroid abusers report committing the following aggressive acts:

  • Physical fighting
  • Armed robbery
  • Using force to obtain something
  • Property crimes, such as stealing, damaging others' property, or breaking into a house or building

Steroid abusers who have committed aggressive acts or property crimes typically engage in these behaviors more often when they take steroids than when they are steroid-free.

What is the reason for these aggressive acts? One theory some researchers have suggested is that steroid abusers commit aggressive acts not because of steroids' direct effects on the brain but because theyhave heard about the link between steroids and aggression in the media. According to this theory, individuals use steroid abuse as an excuse to commit crimes and harm others.

Studies differentiate between these two scenarios by administering either high steroid doses or placebo to people and then asking them to report on their behavioral symptoms. In three studies of this kind, high steroid doses did produce stronger feelings of irritability and aggression than did placebo. In fact, a minority of the volunteers developed behavioral symptoms that were so extreme as to disrupt their daily functioning. In a few cases, the volunteers' behavior presented a threat to themselves and others. Yet in another study, the drugs did not have that effect. One possible explanation, according to researchers, is that some but not all anabolic steroids increase irritability and aggression.

Other effects of anabolic steroid use may include:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased energy
  • Sexual arousal
  • Mood swings
  • Distractibility
  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion


There are still no definitive answers about the extent to which steroid abuse contributes to violence and behavioral disorders. Although the prevalence of extreme cases of violence and behavioral disorders as a result of steroid abuse seems to be low, it may be underreported or go unrecognized.

Anabolic Steroids May Be Addictive

Steroid abusers may become addicted to the drugs. Common symptoms of steroid addiction include:

  • Continuing to take steroids in spite of health problems, adverse effects on relationships, or nervousness and irritability.
  • Spending significant amounts of time and money obtaining steroids
  • When trying to quit steroids, experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, and drug cravings

One of the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms is depression, because it may lead to suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts. Untreated, some depressive symptoms associated with anabolic steroid withdrawal could persist for a year or more after the individual quits taking steroids.

Preventing Steroid Abuse

One of the first steps in preventing steroid abuse is education about the risks of drug use. In addition, some organizations and school districts have begun testing for abuse of illicit drugs, including steroids.

However, studies suggest that simply teaching people about  the adverse effects of steroid abuse does not convince teens that they personally can be harmed. Apparently, education alone doesn't discourage young people from taking steroids in the future. Presenting both the risks and benefits of anabolic steroid use tends to be more effective in convincing teens to stay away from steroid use. Teens find this balanced approach more credible and less biased, according to the researchers.

But there is a better way to discourage teen steroid abuse, particularly among players on high school sports teams. In the ATLAS program, which was developed for football players, coaches and team leaders discuss the potential effects of anabolic steroids and other illicit drugs on sports performance, and then teach how to "just say no" to offers of drugs. They also discuss ways to improve their health and athletic performance without using steroids, such as strength training and eating a balanced diet. Finally, fitness trainers teach the players proper weightlifting techniques.

Studies have shown that this multicomponent, team-centered approach reduces teen steroid abuse by 50 percent. Experts are testing similar programs for teen girls on sports teams.

Treating Steroid Abuse

Doctors helping people undergoing steroid withdrawal have identified effective  treatments for anabolic steroid abuse. Therapy that educates patients about steroid withdrawal symptoms and supports them through the process is sufficient for some steroid abusers, whereas others may benefit from medication for treating steroid withdrawal or hospitalization. Those who require more intensive steroid abuse treatment may participate in behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

 

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