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January 19, 2015
By L. Carr, Contributing Columnist

If steroids make athletes strong and powerful, how can they be bad? If
a substance makes you perform better, run faster, lift more weights –
what’s the problem? Steroids may seem like a quick fix. But deep down
you know long-term steroid use is a problem. Why exactly is it a
problem? What is wrong with taking steroids for a long period of time?

What Are Steroids?

The steroids that are linked to long-term abuse are called anabolic
steroids. Anabolic steroids are used by athletes and gym goers to build
muscle and enhance performance. Other types of steroids, called
corticosteroids, are used to decrease swelling and tone down an
overactive immune system response – they are not generally abused
over a long term.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic testosterone; the hormone produced by
men and women but often called the male hormone because it
regulates aspects like muscle, sexual drive, and deepening of the voice.  

Are Anabolic Steroids Addictive?

Yes, research shows that anabolic steroids can frequently become
addictive. When you first start taking steroids the body starts to build
up a tolerance. You start to want to take more, or use on a more
frequent basis, to get the same results in performance and strength.
You can become dependent before you know it.

Data from the Drug Enforcement Administration (USA) suggest that
between one million and three million people in the US have abused or
become addicted to steroids.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, scientific evidence
states that anabolic steroid abuse among athletes may range between
one and six percent. The average age of the steroid abuser, the data
says, is 25 and the user is most likely to be a man. Many more teens are
becoming addicted to steroids – a 2012 study from the University of
Minnesota found that around 5.9% of boys and 4.6% of girls aged
around 14 had taken steroids.

Is it Illegal to Take Steroids?

If you do not have a doctor’s prescription for treating a medical
condition then yes, it is illegal to possess, use or sell anabolic steroids.
One of the biggest dangers – health or otherwise – of long term steroid
use is the risk of prosecution.

Federal law states that first-time anabolic steroid possession carries a
prison term of maximum one year in prison, and a fine of $1,000. The
truth is, anabolic steroids are not harmless aids to help you gain a bit
more muscle. Anabolic steroids skew your entire hormonal balance.
They affect your whole body.

We looked at the side effects of long term steroid use, from hair loss to
enlarged breasts and more.

Behavioral and Psychological Side Effects of Long Term Steroid Use

Some of the most striking dangers of taking steroids over a long period
of time are not physical but psychological and behavioral.

Long-term steroid users often experience aggression and mood swings
as the steroids affect the limbic system in the brain which governs
mood and memory. Aggression can lead to physical violence.

Or, users can be forgetful, distracted, or depressed. In many cases
long-term users of steroids suffer hallucinations and delusions.

A 2006 study from the Yale School of Medicine shows that the bigger
your muscles get, the more damage you inflict on your brain as you
take steroids.

Steroids destroy Your nerve cells and steroid use can lead to
hyperexcitability – intense aggression and instability, researchers

Long Term Use of Steroids Produces Dementia-Like Effects

In fact, long-term use of steroids has a similar effect on the brain as

According to a 2012 study from McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical
School, the long-term use of steroids severely impacts your ability to
recall shapes and remember spatial relationships between objects.

This means you may have problems remembering how to get to a place,
such as a building, an address, or a room within a building. Over a
lifetime of steroid use, researchers say some people will develop
problems similar to those seen in people with dementia.

Steroids Can Cause Kidney Damage

Using steroids to improve your athletic performance or your looks can
severely damage your kidneys, according to a 2009 study from the
Columbia University Medical Center.

The researchers looked at 10 bodybuilders who had taken steroids for
a number of years. They had developed a severe reduction in kidney
function as well as protein leakage into the urine. Nine out of 10 had
focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, kidney scarring.

Long Term Use of Steroids Makes You Develop Breasts

If you’re a man, you probably don’t want to start developing breasts.

But taking steroids for a long time causes this to happen due to an
imbalance in the sexual hormones within the breast tissue.

The condition is called "gynaecomastia", colloquially known as "man
boobs",  and researchers in a 2001 study from Hospital Universitario
del Río Hortega, Valladolid, Spain found that a main cause of
gynaecomastia is anabolic steroids consumption – in fact, up to 52
percent of steroid users suffer from the condition.

Taking Steroids Causes Hair Loss

Hormonal changes due to long-term steroid use also cause irreversible
changes including
male-pattern baldness and other hair loss.

You could wave goodbye to your full head of hair if you take steroids
on a regular basis. A 1994 study from the University of Bologna, Italy
shows how steroids interfere with the hair cycle and result in hair loss.

Reduced Sperm Count, Shrinking Testicles, and Infertility from
Steroid Use

Perhaps one of the most worrying dangers of overusing steroids is the
effect this practice has on your fertility.

Changes in the body include
reduced sperm production, testicular
atrophy (shrinking of the testicles),
impotence, hypogonadism, and
infertility. A 2011 study from Sao Paulo State Military Police Hospital,
Brazil demonstrates how steroid abuse is linked to the impairment of
male reproductive function, which can lead to infertility. And a 2013
study by the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas showed how
42 percent of men suffering from male hypogonadism – where the
body doesn't produce enough testosterone — were also prior long-
term users of anabolic steroids.

Long Term Steroid Use Causes Cardiovascular Problems

If you habitually use steroids you put yourself at increased risk of heart
attack and stroke, even when you are relatively young. Steroids
increase the levels of bad cholesterol and decrease the levels of good
cholesterol in the blood, leading to an increased risk of atherosclerosis.
A 2014 study from Universidade Federal do Piauí, Brazil shows a strong
association between high blood pressure and steroid use. And a 1996
study from Helsinki University Central Hospital, Finland demonstrates
how massive amounts of anabolic steroids caused serious
cardiovascular disease in four bodybuilders, including heart failure and
arterial thrombus.

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Long term steroid use can cause
breast enlargement in men.