Anabolic Steroid Addiction

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Understanding Anabolic Steroid Addiction

Anabolic steroid addiction is an unhealthy dependence on the use of anabolic steroids, which can lead to physical, psychological, and social problems. Anabolic steroids are synthetic hormones derived from testosterone that are commonly used by athletes and bodybuilders to increase muscle mass, reduce body fat, and enhance physical performance.

Steroids are highly addictive and dangerous if not used properly, as they can cause numerous adverse effects such as:

When anabolic steroids are used recreationally or in higher doses than prescribed or recommended by medical professionals they can quickly become addictive due to their strong effect on the brain’s reward system. Specifically, anabolic steroids trigger the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters that cause feelings of euphoria and pleasure, which can cause a person to crave higher and higher quantities.

Anabolic steroid addiction is more common among men, but women can still be affected. Furthermore, anabolic steroid abuse is increasingly common among young people, with 375,000 young men and 175,000 young women having used anabolic steroids at least once in their lives.

Common Ways Anabolic Steroids Are Abused

A common way that people abuse anabolic steroids is through stacking, which involves the simultaneous use of two or more types of anabolic steroids at varying doses over a period of time.

Stacking increases the risk of side effects and can lead to serious health problems such as liver damage, hypertension, and cardiovascular complications. Additionally, stacking may allow users to build up tolerances to each individual steroid which causes a person to crave higher amounts of steroids for the same effect.

People may also abuse anabolic steroids through cycling and pyramiding. Cycling involves taking multiple doses within a set period of time in order to avoid building up tolerance levels. Pyramiding involves gradually increasing dosages over a specific period before taking a break from using them altogether.

Steroid Addiction vs. Drug Addiction

Though steroid addiction and drug addiction can both have devastating effects on an individual’s life, there are some key differences between the two that should be noted.

Steroid addiction is a chemical dependency on synthetic hormones, while drug addiction involves the abuse of illicit drugs or prescription medications. Drug addiction often leads to more serious physical health risks than steroid addiction, such as organ damage, due to the toxicity of many illicit drugs. 

However, long-term steroid abuse can lead to cardiovascular problems, testicular atrophy, hormone imbalances and mental health issues such as aggression and depression, which may require professional treatment.

Commonly abused drugs that are combined with steroid abuse include:

When any of these drugs are abused alongside anabolic steroids, individuals are at a much higher risk for side effects and increased addiction. For example, one study found that 9% of men admitted to an addiction facility for heroin abuse started taking the drug because of their steroid use.

Signs and Symptoms of Anabolic Steroid Addiction

Because anabolic steroid addiction develops gradually over time, it is not an easy condition to identify. However, there are certain signs and symptoms that may indicate an individual is struggling with an addiction to steroids.

Physical signs of steroid addiction include:

Not all symptoms of anabolic steroid addiction are physical. Some are psychological. However, psychological signs of steroid addiction can be more difficult to diagnose as they often manifest internally in the form of mood swings and mental health complications like depression and anxiety

Psychological symptoms of steroid addiction include:

Be aware that these are just some common warning signs associated with anabolic steroid use. Along with knowing the signs, it is helpful to understand the effects of anabolic steroid addiction so that individuals know why treatment is critical.

Secondary Effects of Anabolic Steroid Addiction

When taken appropriately, anabolic steroids help increase muscle mass and athletic performance. However, when taken in excess and abused, anabolic steroid addiction can lead to a host of unwanted secondary effects. 

Here are some of the physical, psychological, social, and environmental effects that result from anabolic steroid addiction:

Estrogen Rebound

Estrogen rebound is a common side effect of anabolic steroid addiction. This occurs when the body begins to recognize that it has less testosterone than normal and compensates by producing more estrogen, the female hormone. Estrogen rebound often causes a number of nasty side effects including weight gain, gynecomastia (enlarged male breasts), and water retention.

The rate and severity of these symptoms often depend on the type and dose of anabolic steroid used as well as how long it was used for. Generally speaking, estrogen rebound is more severe in those who have abused large doses over long periods of time or have had multiple “cycles” without allowing their bodies to recover properly in between.

Interpersonal Consequences

The physical effects of steroid addiction can be obvious to many, but family and friends often experience additional interpersonal effects. For example, using anabolic steroids can lead to extreme mood swings, aggression, and even violent behavior that can put a strain on relationships with family members, friends, or other loved ones. 

People addicted to steroids may also struggle academically due to compulsive use of steroids resulting in lower grades in school or difficulty finding and keeping a job. There is a high risk for depression associated with anabolic steroid abuse which may lead to a cycle of self-destructive or reckless behavior.

Physiological Effects

The physiological effects of anabolic steroid addiction vary based on how long the individual has been abusing the drugs. In the short-term, users may experience decreased libido, acne breakouts and elevated blood pressure or cholesterol levels.

Long-term abuse of steroids can lead to more serious consequences such as damage to internal organs (liver and kidneys), infertility in both genders, hair loss, increased risk of stroke or heart attack, and changes to physical appearance such as drastic weight gain or thinning hair.

Social Impacts

The social impacts associated with anabolic steroid use can range from poor relationships with family and friends to negative public opinions due to a person’s altered physical appearance from steroid use. 

Additionally, individuals addicted to anabolic steroids may end up facing legal repercussions such as jail time for activities related to illegal possession or distribution of steroids. Furthermore, cyberbullying is on the rise among teenagers who turn to steroids to improve their appearance or physical performance. These social effects illustrate just how deeply rooted the problem of anabolic steroid addiction has become in society today.

Environmental Factors

Finally, anabolic steroid addiction can lead to environmental consequences such as peer pressure from friends who are already using steroids. If a person is financially insecure, it can also lead to reckless behavior such as illegal activities buying/selling steroids on the black market.

Treatment for Anabolic Steroid Addiction

Anabolic steroid addiction is a serious problem that requires professional help. Fortunately, there are several treatment options available to help users overcome their addictions and lead healthier lives.


Rehabilitation for anabolic steroid addiction is the best long-term solution for individuals struggling with drug abuse. When a person struggles with both steroid and drug addiction, treatment may involve medically-assisted detoxification, especially for those who mix steroids with opiates or severe alcohol abuse.

In addition to medical detox, rehabilitation for anabolic steroid addiction usually includes psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy that can help individuals address underlying emotional issues related to their addiction. During rehab, patients will also learn skills they need to live a healthier and substance-free life once they leave the program.


In addition to participating in rehabilitation programs, some people who are addicted to anabolic steroids may benefit from using certain medications while they’re in recovery. 

These medications may include:


Counseling is a key component of any successful recovery program for individuals struggling with anabolic steroid addiction. A therapist will work one-on-one with the individual to identify underlying issues that may have contributed to their addiction and help them learn healthy ways of coping with stress or dealing with difficult emotions. In addition, a counselor might assist the user in developing life skills needed for continued self-improvement after treatment has been completed.

Risks & Long-Term Effects of Delaying Treatment

Delaying treatment for anabolic steroid addiction can have serious consequences. Long-term use of steroids can lead to liver damage, kidney failure, and infertility. 

Furthermore, long-term abuse of anabolic steroids increases the risk of overdose, which may result in difficulty in breathing, rapid heart rate, kidney failure, coma, heart attack, or stroke. If someone has overdosed on steroids, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.

Other physical effects of drug abuse can include altered body shape, severe acne, and stunted growth in adolescents. In fact, the risk of delaying treatment is especially pronounced for adolescents because their bodies are still developing, and they may suffer long-term health complications from early exposure to steroids. 

In addition to physical issues, adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the psychological side effects of steroid abuse, such as anxiety and depression. As a result, any delay in seeking treatment could impact the adolescent’s future development and life goals.

It is clear that delaying treatment for anabolic steroid addiction can have serious consequences both physically and psychologically – for children as well as adults. Early intervention is key in order to prevent further damage from being done by drug abuse and help individuals recover more effectively from their addiction.

Getting Help for Anabolic Steroid Addiction

Anabolic steroid addiction is an unhealthy and potentially harmful dependence on these synthetic hormones. Abuse of anabolic steroids can cause undesirable physical, psychological and social side effects, such as hormone imbalances, aggression, and organ damage. 

If you or someone close to you is struggling with anabolic steroid addiction, it is important to seek professional help and support in order to safely overcome the disorder. At Healthy Life Recovery in San Diego, we offer addiction treatment services such as medically-assisted detox, individual therapy, and outpatient services for anabolic steroid addiction. 

Our rehab facility is a great fit for individuals that want to overcome steroid addiction because exercise is one of our four pillars. You will be able to exercise alongside a personal trainer and in group settings for the positive benefits of exercise, without the use of steroids. Please contact us to learn more about our services, check your insurance, or ask any questions. We are here to help!

Dr. Sanajai Thankachen

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Sanjai Thankachen

Dr. Sanjai Thankachen graduated from Adichunchanagiri Institute of Medicine in 2000. He completed his residency in psychiatry in 2008 at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in New York. Dr. Thankachen is currently working with Pacific Neuropsychiatric Specialists in an outpatient practice, as well as working at multiple in-patient psychiatric and medical units bringing his patients the most advanced healthcare treatment in psychiatry. Dr. Thankachen sees patients with an array of disorders, including depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, anxiety, and dementia-related problems.

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Sean Leonard Bio Image

Edited for Clinical Accuracy By:

Sean Leonard, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Sean Leonard is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner. He received his master’s degree in adult geriatric primary care nurse practitioner from Walden University and a second postmaster specialty in psychiatry mental health nurse practitioner from Rocky Mountain University. Sean has experience working in various diverse settings, including an outpatient clinic, inpatient detox and rehab, psychiatric emergency, and dual diagnosis programs. His specialty areas include substance abuse, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, ADHD, and OCD.

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