What are Anabolic Steroids?
Anabolic steroids is the familiar term for synthetically developed or man-made variations of the naturally occurring male hormone, testosterone. The proper term for these compounds is anabolic-androgenic steroids (abbreviated AAS) – anabolic referring to muscle-building, and androgenic referring to the development of male characteristics, including body hair, genital organs and muscle mass.
Anabolic Steroid Use
Anabolic steroids are generally – and sometimes illegally – used to promote muscle growth, enhance athletic or other physical performance, and improve physical appearance.
Doctors occasionally legally prescribe anabolic steroids to treat certain conditions in men that are caused by hormone deficiencies, such as delayed puberty, as well as diseases that result in the loss of lean muscle mass, such as cancer and AIDS.
Anabolic Steroid Abuse
The dose of anabolic steroids taken by steroid abusers may be ten to one hundred times higher than that prescribed by doctors to treat medical issues. Typically, the steroid is either injected directly into the muscle or taken orally. Steroids are also available in the form of a cream or gel and are simply massaged into the skin.
Generally, anabolic steroids are not taken continuously, but intermittently. This method is done in an attempt to avoid side effects and to give the body’s endocrine system time to recover. Constant use of anabolic steroids may reduce the body’s ability to utilize the drug effectively. Additionally, the body may also stop producing its own testosterone.
Steroid Cycling is a pattern of use in which steroids are taken for period of time, stopped and restarted again. Steroid Stacking involves combining several types of steroids in an attempt to improve its effectiveness.
Steroids Can Cause the Development of Gynecomastia
Development of gynecomastia, or gyno, a common nickname, usually occurs when the steroid cycle is stopped. The orally or injected anabolic steroid signals the endocrine system that there is enough testosterone in the body, prompting a reduction in testosterone production.
When the steroid cycle is discontinued, it takes the body some time to begin to produce normal levels of testosterone again. Meanwhile, the level of the female hormone, estrogen is high relative to the testosterone level.
At this time the steroid user may see and feel the development of male breasts, which are sometimes referred to as bitches tits. While the testosterone and estrogen levels will gradually normalize, the gyno-male breast gland has already formed and seldom goes away on its own.
Some of the most frequently abused anabolic steroids include:
Steroid Use and Side Effects
Bodybuilders, both professional and amateur, and athletes often use anabolic steroids to improve athletic performance and build muscles to improve strength. This type of use is neither legal nor safe. In fact, anabolic steroids have been linked with numerous negative side effects, including:
- Acne – both facial and body
- Gynecomastia, which may become painful
- Reduction of testicle size in men
- Voice change
- High blood pressure
- Heart problems, including heart attack
- Liver disease, including cancer
- Kidney damage
- Aggressive behavior
Aromatization: The Side Effect Every Bodybuilder Fears
Whether ingesting or injecting anabolic steroids, a variety of processes occur in the body, including aromatization. This is a process whereby the anabolic steroids convert to an estrogen-like or female-like compound. The conversion causes a shift in the ratio of testosterone to estrogen, resulting in an abundance of the female hormone, estrogen.
Anabolic steroids may also cause a type of negative feedback mechanism, in the body, which reduces the normal production of testosterone in the testes. These imbalances can stimulate the development of female-like breast tissue.
With continued use of anabolic steroids, glandular breast tissue will slowly accumulate. Unfortunately, once this tissue forms, the breast will not return to normal proportions, even if the steroid is discontinued.
At present, there are no drugs available to treat the resulting gynecomastia, or gyno. The only solution is male breast reduction surgery.
Estrogen blockers: A Common Misperception
As the estrogen-blood levels increase, estrogen blockers are sometimes taken in an attempt to block the effects of the estrogen. If the timing is right, it is said that taking an estrogen blocker may help reduce the development of gynecomastia. However, the effectiveness and safety of these estrogen blockers has not been rigorously studied.
The Effect of Anabolic Steroids on the Brain
Anabolic steroids are vastly differently from other illegal drugs in that they do not create a high. However, long-term use of steroids can affect several of the same brain pathways and chemicals as other drugs – including serotonin, dopamine, and opioid systems – that can have a significant impact on behavior or mood.
Anabolic steroid use may cause aggression and other psychiatric issues. Even though many men report feeling positive about themselves while taking steroids, extreme mood changes can also occur. Manic-like symptoms and extreme bouts of anger sometimes termed roid rage are not uncommon and may even lead to violence.
Signs of Steroid Addiction
While anabolic steroids can be addictive, they do not cause the same type of addiction as other illicit drugs. Common signs of addiction include:
Continuing to take steroids regardless of the physical issues and negative effects on social relationships
Spending significant amounts of time and money to obtain the drugs
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon ceasing, such as fatigue, reduced sex drive, emotional mood swings, loss of appetite, insomnia, and steroid cravings
Depression, which left untreated may lead to suicide
Important Facts About Steroid Abuse and How to Prevent it
- The Centers for Disease Control 2011 Research and Survey found that almost 4 percent of high school students in the U.S. abused anabolic steroid injections or pills without a doctor’s prescription. It’s important to note that young people can easily find these drugs on the internet, in gyms, or in training centers.
- Anabolic steroids are present in over-the-counter supplements, but may not appear on the label
- Online articles and recipes for “stacking” and “cycling” are available
- Mail order catalogs and advertisements provide tips and techniques for purchasing anabolic steroids
- Young people have been known to abuse anabolic steroids meant for animals by getting access to veterinary steroids. These steroids are often less expensive and easier to obtain than anabolic steroids designed for human consumption.
- Reports show that 25% of steroid users share needles, which can spread dangerous infections, such as HIV
- To achieve their athletic goals, adult males and young men need to be steered away from anabolic steroids and toward proper nutrition and physical training
- The Atlas and Athens Program (Athletes Training & Learning to Avoid Steroids and Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise & Nutrition Alternatives) is an excellent resource for achieving these goals. The National Institute on Drug Abuse supports this research-based program, and the NFL has assisted with it in over 45 states.
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