If you’re illegally using steroids to build muscle or improve your PBs in the gym, you’re probably using large doses that provide a vastly higher level of hormones than your body actually needs. This can come with rough side effects and serious long-term health problems that can take a long time to go away.
Here’s what can happen when you start and stop abusing steroids.
What happens when you start anabolic steroids
People who use anabolic steroids will experience an increase in muscle strength and size very quickly. They’ll be able to train more often, for longer and with better recovery, but these benefits come with side effects that have significant health consequences.
Using steroids causes:
- Fluid retention
- Difficulty sleeping
- Damage to nerves from injecting steroids
- Irritability, mood swings, aggression or depression (‘roid rage’)
- Increased sex drive (libido)
- Severe acne (mainly on the back, shoulders and chest)
- Testicle shrinkage
- Reduced sperm count
- Erectile dysfunction
- Gynaecomastia (breast development)
- Hair loss
Health impacts of steroid use
Abusing steroids can cause cardiovascular disease (increasing your risk of heart attack), liver damage, brain damage and infertility. In adolescents, steroids can cause premature aging and stunted growth.
If you’re injecting steroids, you’re also at risk of contracting blood-borne viruses such as HIV, tetanus or Hepatitis C or B. Injecting can also cause abscesses (a pocket of pus) and blood clots if the technique is incorrect or you’re repeatedly injecting the same area.
Some people use other drugs to counteract the side effects of steroids, “cycle” their use with breaks for “recovery” or “pyramid” use by gradually increasing intake to a peak and reducing again. However, there is no evidence that these methods reduce side effects and harm from taking steroids.
What happens when you stop taking steroids?
People can become dependent on steroids, especially when they’re relied on for confidence and self-esteem. Withdrawing from steroids can be incredibly tough. Not only will you lose some of the changes to your image and performance, but you’ll also experience symptoms of low testosterone. When taking steroids, you’re overriding your body’s production of testosterone. When you stop steroid abuse, it takes your body weeks to months to get back to making its own testosterone. Withdrawal effects include:
- Muscle pain
- Poor sleep
- Low mood and depression
- Low sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Body dysmorphia
- Suicidal thoughts.
Many men who abuse steroids decide to stop when they want to recover their fertility to start or grow their family. It usually takes around six to 18 months for fertility to return.
If you’re abusing steroids and want to stop, be honest with your doctor to get the right support. A doctor-assisted detox can help with managing withdrawal symptoms. This can involve seeing a psychologist (for cognitive behavioural therapy) as it can address the underlying reason for steroid use and avoid relapse. If you’ve come off steroids suddenly and have experienced depression, you should be monitored by a health professional.