Why Is Steroid Use Considered Dangerous?
While anabolic steroids, often referred to as performance enhancing drugs, are sometimes used by professional and even high school level athletes who want to get a leg up on the competition, these types of drugs have serious health risks. Though anabolic steroids are sometimes prescribed to treat legitimate health conditions, the doses when used illicitly can be from 10 to 100 times greater than prescription dosage. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, data on steroid use is spotty, but is estimated to be prevalent among 1 to 6 percent of athletes at all levels, from high school to professional. Read on to learn more about the dangers of steroid use.
How Do Steroids Work?
Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of hormones that the body produces naturally. These may include testosterone, androstenedione, gonadotropin (human growth hormone), or erythropoietin. Steroids not only make muscles larger by helping the body produce more protein than it needs, but can help athletes rebound from a difficult workout more quickly, allowing them to train harder and longer.
Why is Steroid Use Dangerous?
Using hormonal steroids disrupts your body’s natural production of hormones, which causes changes both reversible and irreversible to primary and secondary sex characteristics. In addition to the physical effects, these hormonal changes also cause emotional and behavioral side effects, such as aggression. Because steroids naturally raise the level of cholesterol in the blood, they can also cause heart disease and stroke. And if steroids are injected, they also carry the same risk as injecting other street drugs, including abcesses, infection, and contraction of diseases such as HIV or hepatitis.
What Are the Side Effects of Steroid Use?
For men, using anabolic steroids can lead to side effects that include development of breasts, atrophied testicles, impotence, and infertility. For women, side effects can include:
- an enlarged clitoris
- increased body hair growth
- deepened voice
- disrupted menstrual cycle
Both genders may experience:
- hair loss
- severe acne
- liver damage
- increased cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- cardiac problems
- aggressive behavior
While many of these side effects go away when use of the drug is discontinued, some, such as hair loss and breast growth in men, are permanent. Many steroid users experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop using the drug.
Education programs about steroids at an early age are often effective at preventing future abuse of these types of drugs. If your child plays sports, it’s critical to have this conversation early and often. If you or a family member are experiencing dependence on anabolic steroids, talk with your doctor. He or she can recommend or refer you to an inpatient treatment facility that can help you get and stay clean.