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Anabolic steroids refer to a group of drugs that are similar to male hormones such as testosterone. Anabolic steroids can also be referred to as synthetic hormones that mimic the natural hormones present in our body.

What are anabolic steroids and how do they work?

What are anabolic steroids?

Testosterone plays a vital role in the development of male characteristics and also of the muscles in our body. Anabolic steroids are commonly consumed for these effects as it is believed to enhance the muscle growth.

Athletes and other sports persons are commonly noted to abuse anabolic steroids to improve their performance and to add up muscle mass. The anabolic steroids are available as injections, patches, creams and tablets or capsules.

How does anabolic steroid work?

Testosterone is commonly referred to as the male sex hormone that is mainly associated with the development of physical and sexual features in men. This is because of the ‘building’ or anabolic effect of this hormone. Anabolic steroids are generally synthetic forms of testosterone and mimic the action of testosterone.

Male hormones such as testosterone is associated with muscle building, bone growth and increased production of red blood cells. Anabolic steroids work in a similar fashion to induce muscle growth. However, along with the muscle building effect, other influences on the body in general are also observed. These include changes in the physical appearance, increased oiliness in the skin and other associated effects.

How are anabolic steroids abused?

Anabolic steroids were initially developed to treat a condition known as hypogonadism wherein the production of testosterone hormone in the testes (testicles) is reduced. Further when some animal tests revealed that testosterone could build muscle mass, the abuse of anabolic steroids began.

The anabolic steroids are commonly abused by body builders, weight lifters and also by other athletes involved in different kinds of sports. The steroids are commonly sold without prescription at gyms, sports events and even through mail. The anabolic steroids are generally used as oral products while some are used as injections. In both the forms, steroid abusers tend to take 10 to 100 times higher dosages of these steroids than the normally prescribed doses.

The terms ‘stacking’, ‘cycling’ and ‘pyramiding’ are commonly used by the steroid abusers and these terms signify the dosage pattern of consumption of anabolic steroids. Cycling refers to the periodic use of high doses of steroids while stacking refers to mixing two or more type of steroids for a single dose. Pyramiding refers to the consumption pattern of steroids wherein they are taken initially at low doses and gradually increased over a period of few days or weeks. Steroid abusers follow different patterns for different purposes and may mix these patterns of steroid consumption to suit their specific purpose.

What is the scope of anabolic steroid abuse?

Anabolic steroid abuse is noted in individuals of different ages. In a survey in the United States it was reported that steroid abuse was highest in the 12th grade among school children wherein almost 3.5% of the 12th graders were abusing anabolic steroids. However, the trend of steroid abuse among school children was on the decline. Among athletes it has been estimated that about one to six percent may be involved in the abuse of anabolic steroids.    

What are the effects of anabolic steroid abuse?

The abuse of anabolic steroids is associated with a wide number of adverse effects on the body and ranges from simple acne to severe life-threatening events. While many of these effects are reversible some of the effects may be permanent. The severity of the adverse effects is based on the dosages of steroids consumed and duration of the steroid abuse. Higher dosages and longer durations are more commonly associated with severe adverse effects.

General changes

In case of men, anabolic steroid abuse is associated commonly with decreased sperm production, decrease in the size and function of the testicles, occurrence of baldness, increased development of the breast (gynecomastia), and infertility. Women commonly develop male features such as change in voice (becomes deeper), decrease in the body fat and breast size, excessive hair growth on the body, and male pattern baldness (increased hair loss in the scalp region). Many of these changes may become irreversible on prolonged abuse of anabolic steroids. In both men and women the skin changes that can be noted include oily skin, and acne.

Effect on children

Increased consumption of anabolic steroids in children results in early maturation and stunted growth. The bone ends tends to mature faster and stop growing thereby restricting the height.

Effect on heart

It has been noted that the risk of heart attack increases in athletes who consume high doses of anabolic steroids for long durations. The steroids in high doses tend to increase the level of ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol while decreasing the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in the body. This leads to increased deposition of fatty substances in the blood vessels and thereby reduces the amount of blood flowing through them. Also there are high chances of clots being formed in these blood vessels. All these result in heart failure that can lead to life threatening situations.

Effect on liver

Increased anabolic steroid abuse can often result in liver failure due to formation of tumors or cysts (fluid filled cavities) in the liver. These can often rupture leading to a significant amount of bleeding.

Risk of infections

Regular use of anabolic steroids tends to suppress the body’s immune system indirectly and thereby increases the risk of certain common conditions such as cold and flu. Athletes and sportsmen/women who use injectable forms of anabolic steroids often tend to reuse the syringes or share them. Also the syringes available with the steroid doses may not be sterile. These factors increase the risk of developing several infections such as AIDS, hepatitis and other similar infections.

Read More: Anabolic Steroid Profile: Anavar (Oxandrolone)

What are consequences on behavior?

High doses of anabolic steroids in the body have adverse effects on the mood of an individual. Several studies have reported increase in the aggressiveness and irritability in individuals who consume high doses of anabolic steroids. This may lead to violent behavior and crimes.

The anabolic steroids also lead to addiction as it increases the feeling of well being and happiness (euphoria). Further it has also been noted that the athletes tend to lose strength when they stop consuming the steroids. This makes them take more and more steroids every time and leads to a situation where they cannot manage without it.