Steroids were first developed in the 1930s to treat a male growth problem that affected physical development and sexual functioning. Today they are still prescribed for certain health conditions. Steroids are also used for non-medical reasons. Some bodybuilders use steroids to increase their muscle mass and strength, and some athletes use the drugs believing they will improve their physical performance. Some people use steroids because they want to improve their appearance by becoming bigger. And others use the drugs to feel confident and energetic. But like any drug, steroids can be harmful.
Many people choose not to use steroids or to use the drugs in moderation, because being less in control of their behaviour increases the likelihood of over-reacting when relating with others. Using steroids may help us feel more confident about our appearance, but repeatedly using the drugs to address difficulties with body satisfaction may lead to harms to our health and relationships.
Using steroids is a problem when it negatively affects our life or the lives of others. Many of us may think this refers only to people who regularly use large amounts, but even a single occasion of use can lead to a problem. For instance, if we share needles, we are at risk of infection. What’s important to recognize is the potential for adverse consequences of use in any context and over time.
Steroid use, especially regular use, by young people has particular risks. Like other psychoactive drugs, steroids may interfere with normal brain development. Early use can also interfere with developing a positive perception of body image and have a negative impact on well-being.
While most people who use steroids do not become dependent on the drug, those who use steroids frequently over a period of time may begin to feel like they need the drug to function and feel normal.
The reasons people use steroids influence their risk of developing problems. For instance, if a person uses steroids to experiment, only occasional use may follow. But when a person uses steroids to cope with a long-term problem such as negative body image, then more long-lasting and intense use may follow.
People who develop a dependence on steroids may experience signs of withdrawal, including depression, fatigue, sleep difficulties, lack of appetite, and muscle and joint pain.
Mixing steroids with other substances
People sometimes mix steroids with other substances without realizing there is the potential for harmful consequences. The following are some common combinations and possible results.
Alcohol and other depressants
Both steroids and alcohol are processed by the liver and can independently lead to liver damage. Using them at the same time can increase the risk of negative impacts on the liver.
These are substances such as cocaine that increase our heart rate. Using steroids with stimulants may increase the stress on our cardiovascular system and put us at risk for experiencing heart disease.
When prescription or over-the-counter medications are used with steroids, there is the potential for side effects or for the medicinal benefits to cancel out. Taking time to read medication labels or consulting with a healthcare professional can reduce these risks.