Steroid Abuse and Addiction
When the word steroids is mentioned most people think only of anabolic steroids. Images of muscle bound body builders and media stories of athletes failing drug tests spring to mind. In fact steroids are hormones which occur naturally in the body and they've been used legally in medicine for decades.
Topical steroids such as Hydrocortisone are highly effective in the treatment of skin disorders such eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis.
Others such as Cortisone and Prednisone have been successful in treating people with cancer and HIV as they have been found to destroy certain types of cells which can progress the diseases.
Anabolic Steroids Unmasked
Anabolic steroids are part of the same group but are synthetically made from the male hormone testosterone (the word anabolic means "to chemically build up.") They were first produced in the 1930s and these days there are more than 100 different types. In the majority of countries they require a licence to be used legally. They work by retaining nitrogen in the body, allowing it to be used to build muscle. Steroids also help produce red blood cells which carry oxygen round the body leading to increased endurance and that "pumped up" feeling.
Anabolic steroids can be taken orally or by injection, typically in cycles during which multiple doses are taken over a period of time, stopped, then started again. This is called cycling.
Sometime users "stack" the drugs, combining different types of steroids to maximise their effect. They believe that certain anabolic steroids affect certain muscles so taking several at once can have a greater effect than taking a single one.
Athletes use anabolic steroids illicitly to improve performance and physical appearance. The most common are Nandralone and Stanazol which are manufactured in underground laboratories and can be bought on the black market. They're also readily available on the internet. There's an active smuggling network involving the drugs, mainly in eastern European countries and the USA .
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (www.nida.nih.gov), the majority of anabolic steroids bought in gyms or on the streets are fakes - many are intended for veterinary use or they may be different drugs altogether. Because they're not controlled they can present a serious health risk
Anabolic steroids are available as gels and creams but they're not generally favoured by users because of the large amounts needed to create the same effect as swallowing or injecting the drug. Medically, they do have a very important use although these days they are prescribed less by doctors because of the advent of newer, more effective drugs and the side effects. They're still used to treat conditions caused by low amounts of testosterone including impotence and delayed puberty. They're also prescribed to treat muscle wastage in HIV and cancer patients.