Are Steroids Addictive?

There are over 100 types of anabolic steroids. Anabolic androgenic steroids are manufactured synthetic substances that mimic the effects of the male hormone testosterone. It is considered a class C drug that can only be issued and obtained with a medical prescription. Anabolic steroids are often medically prescribed to treat hormone imbalance, hypogonadism, breast cancers, osteoporosis, muscle loss due to tissue, certain types of anemia and endometriosis.

Anabolic steroids are often referred to as appearance and performance-enhancing drugs (APED). They can be taken orally by mouth or can be injected. It is often used to improve physical appearance. It can quickly build muscle mass to enhance athletic performance. Anabolic steroids activate various components of DNA in muscle cells that can increase the production of proteins. It builds muscle tissues and fibers, resulting in increased muscle growth and body mass within a short period of time. It is more often abused in young people and seen more prevalently in men than women.

On a black background, multicolored pills are shaped into an image of a person flexing muscles to ask the question, are steroids addictive?

A 2020 study found that 16% of young men in the U.S. reported using legal performance-enhancing drugs, while 3% reported specifically using anabolic steroids. According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse supported survey in 2022, an estimated 0.8% of 8th graders, 0.5% of 10th graders and 1.3% of 12th graders, reported misusing APED’s in the past 12 months.

Are steroids addictive? Though anabolic steroids do not produce any sort of chemical euphoria or feelings of pleasure, users often quickly develop a psychological dependence on their desire to continue feeling good about their body and appearance. They act as mood elevators, which creates effects similar to antidepressants. When a person stops their steroid cycle, a condition called estrogen rebound can develop. This produces and releases the female hormone estrogen at elevated levels and side effects of depression.

Common Side Effects of Anabolic Steroid Use in Men

  • Reduced sperm count
  • Infertility
  • Hair loss
  • Breast development
  • Increased risk of prostate cancer
  • Severe acne
  • Stomach pain

Common Side Effects of Anabolic Steroid Use in Women

  • Facial hair growth
  • Loss of breast tissue
  • Deepened voice
  • Problems with menstruation
  • Hair loss
  • Severe acne
Infographic illustrating the varying types of anabolic steroid use: cycling, stacking and pyramiding.

Are Anabolic Steroids Addictive?

Research has found that an estimated 32% of people who misuse steroids often develop a psychological dependence and addiction to the substance. Contrary to popular belief, users do not develop a tolerance to the effects of steroids. Dependence and addiction develop due to emotional and psychological factors. The desire to look physically fit, the need to change their appearance and the feedback from others about their physical appearance and performance drive their addiction.

Another factor contributing to addiction is avoiding negative withdrawal symptoms that could hinder their physical appearance. The larger the dosage and duration of steroid use, the more intense the withdrawal effects such as estrogen rebound might be. For this to be avoided, users continue to misuse steroids. Those who misuse steroids are also more likely to misuse drugs and develop a substance use disorder. And vice versa, a person with a history of substance use disorder is at a higher risk for developing a steroid addiction.

Taking steroids over a long period of time can ultimately disrupt natural hormonal balances in the body. When steroid use is suddenly stopped or dramatically decreased, the person can become severely depressed and even suicidal due to hormone imbalance. 

Signs of Steroid Addiction

  • Spending time and money, obtaining steroids and failing to cut back despite repeated attempts to do so.
  • Failure to uphold responsibilities at work and home.
  • Continuing to use steroids despite negative side effects.
  • Having persistent issues with friends and family.
  • Experiencing severe depression as a result of steroid withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue restlessness, loss of appetite, sleep problems and steroid cravings can also develop as a result of an addiction to steroids.

Why do people use Anabolic Steroids?

Some of the most commonly misused oral steroids include Anadrol, Anavar and Dianabol. Commonly misused injectable steroids include Durabolin, Depo-Testosterone and Agovirin. Those who use steroids, often use them to change their physical abilities. It increases muscle mass, promotes physical strength and helps muscles recover faster from intense strain and injury. It can increase physical confidence and help them achieve their ideal body image.

This would be an ideal substance for many athletes who hope to achieve peak physical strength to improve their performance in sports. Because of its effects on the body, anabolic steroids are banned in professional sports. They can be used as performance-enhancing drugs giving that user an unfair advantage over their opponents. In a survey of retired NFL players, an estimated 9% admitted to using steroids during their professional sports careers.

Young men are also more likely to start using steroids. Oftentimes, they suffer from a form of body dysmorphic disorder, a mental health condition in which a person spends an unhealthy amount of time worrying about the flaws in their appearance. This is similar to an eating disorder, in which a person suffering has a severely distorted image of his or her own body. They believe turning to steroids will help them become fit and healthy. But in fact, it can become a dangerous drug habit. In a 2007 study, an estimated 77% of college students admitted to misusing steroids along with one other drug.

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Types of Anabolic Steroid Use

  • Cycling – Cycling steroids involves taking multiple doses of steroids over a specific period of time. Then abstaining for a set period of time. And then starting steroids again for a predetermined period of time.
  • Stacking – Stacking steroids involves taking multiple types of steroids or mixing them all at once. These different steroids can interact with each other to affect different aspects of the muscle in the body. This is often seen in users who have developed a high tolerance for the drug.
  • Pyramiding – Pyramiding steroids involve taking them in a specific cycle of around 6-12 weeks. The user starts with a low dose of steroids and slowly increases to a maximum dose in the second half of the cycle. Once the peak is reached, the user will slowly decrease and taper down until steroid use has finished. The belief is that gradual tapering, It allows the body to slowly adjust and to the high and low dose and allow hormones to readjust to the drug.

Other medical conditions that can develop due to Steroid abuse

  • Cardiovascular system – Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and artery damage can contribute to cardiovascular disease and damage. Steroid abuse can increase levels of low-density lipoproteins and decrease levels of high-density lipoproteins.
  • Hormonal system – Steroids disrupt the normal production and regulation of hormones in the body. Misuse can cause decreased sperm count, decreased function of the testes, lowered testosterone levels, and an increase in testicular cancer in men.
  • Liver and Kidney – Anabolic steroid addiction can cause liver damage, the development of tumors, and kidney damage.
  • Psychological effects and psychiatric disorders – Conditions such as aggressive behavior (roid rage), extreme mood swings, paranoia, manic behavior, hallucinations and delusions can develop with steroid addiction.
  • Musculoskeletal system – In young people, steroid use can falsely trigger a signal for a growth spurt that usually occurs during puberty. The brain then sends signals throughout the body to stop growth leading to stunted bone growth in adolescents and young people.

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We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.

With a steroid addiction, it can also lead to an addiction to other substances. Other drugs commonly abused by steroid users include cocaine, MDMA, Adderall, marijuana, alcohol and opiates. Addiction to any type of substance is dangerous and should be treated in a professional environment. Hotel California by the Sea provides a unique opportunity to treat those who are suffering from a substance addiction.

Whether it is street drugs or prescription drugs such as anabolic steroids, a behavioral health treatment program offering varying levels of care can help. Programs with detox, residential, PHP and IOP programs offer evidence-proven treatments to help those with a steroid addiction. Intensive treatments such as CBT, DBT and EMDR therapy offer clients a deeper understanding of their addiction. These unique treatment methods uncover any other co-occurring mental health conditions that may be hindering recovery. It also provides clients with the tools and resources they need to overcome their addiction.