Steroid abuse is currently becoming rampant not only in the world of athletic sports but progressively more in high schools, colleges and even the workplace. Although anabolic steroids are available only through a doctor’s prescription, they are often regulated like narcotics. Illegal distribution of different types of steroids is prevalent in gyms, sports competitions, and mail operations after being smuggled in the country. Steroids can also be obtained by users from illegal drug manufacturing laboratories and by smuggling from countries like Mexico and Europe as steroids can be purchased in these countries without a medical prescription. But the easiest way that anyone can get their hands on steroids is through internet purchases, which often leaves innocent teens in danger.
The short-term effects of steroid abuse have been reasonably known. Nevertheless, it has only been these past recent years that researchers are able to identify the long-term complications of steroid use. As these studies are continually being conducted and abusers themselves present the various problems of the addiction as they age, it is worth noting that steroids do have continuing and dangerous side effects that are detrimental to the user’s health. The following are some medical complications that can be brought about by steroid abuse:
• HIV/AIDS or hepatitis B and C infections. One of the deadliest side effects of steroid abuse is the increased possibility of being infected by HIV/AIDS or hepatitis B or C. Many steroid users scoff at the idea that they may get infected and often times downsize the thought of getting these infections. The sharing of non-sterile needles coupled with an increased sex drive or libido can put teens and young adults at risk, especially if they have poor decision-making skills and are easily influenced by peer pressure.
• Liver problems and complications. Several studies have reported that many patients receiving long-term steroid treatments experience a condition called peliosis hepatitis, wherein normal liver and spleen tissue is replaced by blood-filled cysts. These cysts have also been linked with liver failure. There have been reports of regression and disappearance of the cysts with discontinued steroid use. However, through the course the use, the cysts can develop into tumors, and eventually lead to liver cancer. Jaundice has also been associated with steroid abuse.
• Cardiovascular conditions. Steroids are known to increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and decrease HDL (good cholesterol) levels. This leads to high blood pressure and increased chances for blood clotting. High blood pressure results from salt and water retention in the body. Therefore, steroid users become more prone to stroke, premature heart conditions like infective endocarditis, and heart attack. Increased muscle mass puts undue strain on the body, while there is also an increased demand for the heart to supply blood to more tissues and process greater amounts of bad cholesterol.
• Musculoskeletal complications and injuries. Studies reveal that adolescents who use steroids are at risk of stunted growth. When the brain at puberty stage senses a certain amount of body hormone, it responds by sending signals to the bones to stop growing, thus the growth plates in the long bones tend to close prematurely. Since one of the side effects of steroids is increased muscle mass and strength, too much strain is also placed on the ligaments and joints. This often leads to orthopedic conditions like tears in the ligaments and joint sprains.
• Neurologic complications. Different types of steroids have been reported affect the brain’s neurologic pathways. Although the effect usually depends on the age when the steroids were taken, it can sometimes be permanent. Steroid abuse during teenage years can alter the brain’s ability to produce serotonin, an enzyme associated with our sense of well-being. This can lead to bouts of depression and aggression later in life. In women, steroid use can significantly lower progesterone and estrogen levels and induces severe anxiety and depression disorders.
• Other long-term side effects of steroids may include prostate cancer in men, kidney cancer, bacterial skin infections on the injection site and severe acne. Weight problems have also been noted in many steroid users.