Steroid abuse - what's the score?
Body image is a serious topic in today's society. It's not just women who are under pressure to look toned, fit and healthy. With photoshopping rife not only in the media but on social media too, we're all bombarded with images of 'perfect' bodies in the news, on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and every time we open a magazine. In fact, more men than ever before admit to spending hours on grooming. Figures released recently reveal men spend longer on grooming than women, with the average man spending up to 75 minutes a day on their grooming regime - women average around 70 minutes (1). There's nothing wrong with looking good and keeping our bodies fit and healthy is a huge part of that. But an obsession with body image can be dangerous, and many men are turning to artificial enhancement to keep up with their peers.
Going to the gym can easily become addictive, whether you enjoy working out every morning before the office or heading for fitnesss classes in the evening. There's nothing wong with a healthy 'addiction' which doesn't impact other areas of your life, but for some men, lifting weights alone just isn't going to cut it when it comes to developing what they see as the 'perfect' body. For these men, artificial enhancement is the key.
What are anabolic steroids?
Steroids are prescription-only meds that are often taken illegally. They can improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass, but they can also lead to addiction and serious side-effects. Anabolic steroids mimic the effect of the male hormone testosterone - they decrease fat and increase muscle mass. Usually injected into the muscle, steroids can also be found in tablet form or as gels or creams which are applied to the skin. Many men use 'stacking' - taking more than one type of anabolic steroid at once or 'cycling' a period of time when they are injecting followed by rest periods. Some users believe that this decreases or eliminates the unwanted side-effects of taking steroids, but in truth there is no way to avoid side-effects or health risks completely. When taking high doses of steroids, it's common for men to exercise more and make the most of their enhanced performance.
What are the side-effects?
Taking anabolic steroids regularly can be incredibly dangeous for your health - they increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart attack and can cause the following physical side-effects:
- Reduced sperm count
- Shrunken testicles
- Increased risk of prostate cancer
- Breast development
- Overgrowth of forehead ('Incredible Hulk' appearance)
More serious risks could include the development of blood clots, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, liver and kidney tumours, stroke or heart attack.
Taking steroids can also lead to psychological and emotional changes such as mood swings, aggressive behaviour, hallucinations/delusions and manic behaviour. Anabolic steroids are highly addictive and once addicted, the individual will continue to use them despite the unpleasant side-effects. If you or someone you know has become addicted, it's important to seek help from your GP and make sure you don't stop taking them but gradually decrease your dose - withdrawal symptoms can be severe and could include:
Your GP will probable refer you to a trained drugs counsellor for addiction treatment.
Why do men take steroids?
So why take steroids in the first place, you might be wondering? I mean, the side-effects seem pretty extreme! Well, most men start taking steroids to enhance their athletic performance whilst reducing body fat and increasing muscle size. Men with muscle dysmorphia, where they have a distorted view of their bodies, may turn to steroids as they feel they appear small and weak - even if they're huge and muscly!
Achieving a toned, muscular body isn't just about lifting weights - it's about living a healthy lifestyle too and that means eating well and being healthy from the inside out. Abusing your body by taking anabolic steroids may give you larger muscles in the short-term, but it creates a dangerous cycle of addiction and long-term side-effects which could damage your body and leave you seriously ill. Is it really worth it?
Spotting the signs of 'roid addiction
If you're worried about a friend, family member or fitness buddy using steroids, here are some tell-tale signs to look out for:
- Mood changes - or 'roid rage' - a previously calm, chilled-out friend may be moody, withdrawn, angry and frustrated constantly
- Supersized muscles in the shoulder area - the pectorals, triceps, lats and trapezius may all be huge, whilst the lower body remains a normal size
- Reddish glow to the skin
- Upper-body acne
- Stretch marks on pectorals and biceps - muscle mass could increase by up to 25% over 10 weeks of steroid use, leading to stretch marks (2)
- Enhanced sexual appetite and boundless energy
- Shrunken testicles
- Dramatic strength gains and increase in bench-press strength
There's no point risking your health just because of an obsession with appearance. Eating a high-protein diet, supplementing with whey protein and working out regularly will ensure you make strength gains and increase muscle mass whilst also remaining healthy - like they say, no pain, no gain! Cheating your way to a buff body could damage your health and wellbeing, and as more emphasis continues to be placed on body image and the way we look, more men may unfortunately turn to steroids in their quest for the perfect body - don't be one of them!
READ THIS NEXT: Are you addicted to exercise?