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Dangers of the Misuse of Anabolic Steroids

Written by Sumaiya Difaa PharmD’ 26
Published on April 12, 2022

It’s incredible that a human could be as built as Arnold Schwarzneggar or even cycle as much as Lance Armstrong. One could say that it was just luck, they were the ones that worked for it, or perhaps it was bound to happen. While some of that may be true, both Schwarzneggar and Armstrong have been known to take performance enhancing drugs, also known as anabolic steroids, to help them throughout their athletic journey.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic hormones that help imitate natural hormones such as testosterone, a hormone which helps grow and repair muscle tissue. There are many reasons why people choose to use anabolic steroids, ranging from medical uses to personal gain. Typically, doctors prescribe anabolic steroids to men who are experiencing hormone problems, delayed puberty, or if one is experiencing muscle loss because of a disease. No matter the reason, in the United States, anabolic steroids can only legally be used if they are prescribed by a physician. More so, the use of anabolic steroids at the Olympics is forbidden and considered cheating. With that being said, the misuse of anabolic steroids can lead to dangerous outcomes for an individual’s health. 

Although, at first, steroids may seem like they are improving one's athleticism, their long term effects can lead to bad consequences. Taking anabolic steroids can change one’s cholesterol levels and increase low-density lipoprotein levels (LDL). Having high levels of LDL leads to plaque buildup in the arteries which can lead to a heart attack. The misuse of steroids has been linked to liver damage, and when the liver is damaged, it can lead to the skin looking yellowish. Since steroids are imitating hormones, it can affect the hormone system of an individual. For men, they typically experience enlarged breasts, decreased sperm production/infertility, testicular cancer, baldness. For women, they can experience a deeper voice, more body hair than usual, smaller breasts, and baldness. Anabolic steroids are known to artificially alter the way someone was built and it challenges our ethics and where we as a society stand on changing our bodies for personal gain.

In 2019, an anonymous survey was put on nine different web platforms and people were able to voluntarily participate. They answered 160 questions relating to each of their experiences with anabolic steroids. The participants had to be male, over 18 years old, and using/used anabolic steroids in the past 5 years. In total, there were 2385 participants who completed the survey, 53.3% of them were from the United States while the rest were from Europe, Canada, and Australia. Most of the participants were Caucasian males (83.52%). Over half experienced testicular atrophy, acne, and/or hypersexuality. Majority of these participants (74.7%) believed that steroids were safe, showing their lack of knowledge about these drugs before taking them. In fact, 56.1% kept their steroid use a secret from their physicians. This most likely indicates a mistrust when talking to healthcare workers about steroids, considering that 55.3% of patients felt that they would be judged by their doctors.  With over 94% of participants reporting side effects, it further supports the need for medical care using anabolic steroids. Of all the participants, 60.22% of them are still using anabolic steroids indicating that the misuse of anabolic steroids may lead to addiction. Once addicted to steroids it’s difficult to stop because of withdrawal symptoms.

The misuse of anabolic steroids can lead to serious and unexpected consequences. There needs to be more awareness that steroids are not for everyone and that one should first speak to a health care professional to mitigate the dangers that may come from using anabolic steroids. Going forward, healthcare professionals need to educate the public about the danger of anabolic steroids and work towards making a safe place to talk about them for those people considering using them.

Categories:  Philadelphia College of PharmacySUDIPharmacySubstance Use Disorders Institute