Taylor Hooton Foundation > Hoot’s Corner > General > How dangerous is steroid addiction?
December 9, 2015
How dangerous is steroid addiction?
Last month, Made in Chelsea star Spencer Matthews left the I’m a Celebrity jungle ‘on medical grounds’. Soon afterwards Matthews admitted he had been taking steroids – body-enhancing drugs which he began using to prepare for a charity boxing match (which never took place) and had continued to take as filming of the ITV series began. Producers deemed it too risky for Matthews to continue to be a part of the show, and sent him packing. But how dangerous is steroid use and how easy is it to become addicted? In a modern world of buff gym-goers and increasing pressure for men to sculpt their bodies into chiselled, ‘beach ready’ figures, more and more individuals are turning to these chemical supplements to further their fitness. But when does use turn into abuse? Addiction specialist Steve Wood works with drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity Open Road, and reveals that the organisation has seen a 400 per cent increase in steroid use over the last five years. According to the addiction specialist, 71 pc of addicts who frequent Open Road needle exchanges are now collecting equipment not for heroin or amphetamine, but rather to administer steroids. As Wood warns, steroids are far from harmless, and men pumping themselves full of these drugs are essentially turning their own bodies into ticking timebombs. “Whether people initially use steroids to ‘bulk up’ or to improve the shape of their bodies,” says Wood, “once they start using they’re down the rabbit hole and it can easily spiral into addiction. The majority of steroids are taken by injecting the substances directly into the core of muscles, Wood tells me.  Anabolic steroids build tissue within the body, which helps promote muscle and bone mass, primarily by stimulating the muscles and the bone cells to produce protein, which in turn helps promote new muscle growth. However, with the correct nutrition, exercise regime and, most importantly, patience, the body will naturally complete this process without dangerously resorting to steroids. “Steroids may not be socially perceived as a drug,” continues the specialist, “but they stimulate the brain in a similar way to recreational narcotics, causing addictive behaviour which drives the individual to use at a higher volume and frequency.  There are numerous anabolic steroids, and they stimulate parts of the brain which encourage the production of testosterone, proteins, oestrogen and many other hormones within the body. And this imbalance can cause the whole endocrine system to fall out of sync.”
Steve Wood believes steroids are not perceived as a mainstream ‘drug’
Wood is concerned at the rate at which steroid abuse is rising, and the readiness with which these substances are available. “Buying online has become the procurement method of choice for the majority of steroid users; it’s simple, convenient and operates under a ‘no questions asked’ system.  Just type the word ‘Buy Steroids’ into a search engine and a long list of websites will appear. “However, not all steroids are the same and purchasing online, you can’t really ever know what you are going to get.  Some are ‘manufactured’ in illegal factories or by individuals and can contain harmful chemicals which don’t even simulate the effects of steroids.” Prolonged use and overdependence on steroids can lead to organ failure, with the liver particularly at risk. “When taking steroids the liver works overtime to detoxify the body from chemicals and build up of toxins,” says Wood. “So, with continuous use, the liver will be damaged and cease to function. “Additionally,” he continues, “the longer steroids are used, the more severe the effects can be. When the body absorbs steroids, it causes an overproduction of cholesterol which, in turn, has an impact on cardiac functions and can cause high blood pressure. If this is not identified straight away, it can cause long term health problems.” Open Road has also recently identified a correlation between those using steroids to excess and those suffering from mental conditions such as muscle dysmorphia –  a disorder characterised by a fear of being too physically small. “Mental health issues are indeed a growing concern,” acknowledges Wood. “We are seeing more and more people suffering from muscle dysmorphia, which can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts. “As with most drugs, if used for extensive periods of time, the body will lose the ability to think straight, repair itself and function optimally.  Using steroids for a period longer than 12 weeks, without a break, can induce mood swings, chemical imbalance and the destruction of serotonin – a compound directly linked to aggressive behaviour and rage.”
action figures
Increasing social and cultural influences are contributing to body anxiety and muscle dysmorphia
Paul, from West London, is an ex-user of steroids, who stopped taking the drugs when he realised the adverse effects they were having on his body, mental health and wider life. “I had wanted to compete in [bodybuilding] competitions,” Paul tells me, “but I wasn’t very big or lean. So I researched what steroids would help me online, and then was properly introduced to the drugs through others at the gym.” Gyms can be seen as breeding grounds for the growing steroid craze. Gym culture has opened the door to experimentation with performance-enhancing drugs, and in such hormone-fuelled environments, men like Paul can feel easily pressured into trying steroids. EasyGym, the low-cost national gym chain, has recently installed sharps disposal bins into all of its changing rooms. A spokesperson from the company tells me that this is to accommodate any diabetic gym-goers, yet when only 6.2 per cent of the UK population suffers from the metabolic disorder of diabetes, this would seem like an overly generous move from a budget gym chain. Paul believes that steroid use is most prevalent in the gym community. “I was mixing with a particular crowd of people,” the ex-user says. “And the steroids made me feel stronger, more confident, powerful and enabled me to work harder and for a longer time. I knew that I was getting addicted, as I couldn’t stay away from the gym and yearned for the whole process of injecting myself. “Coming off steroids was a long process,” Paul reveals. “The fact of the matter is that it becomes such an important part of your life that when you finally stop taking them, your confidence goes, your lifestyle changes and depression can very easily set in. A life without steroids does not feel like a normal life.” Paul believes that the only way to stop others getting hooked on steroids is to teach young people the dangers of these drugs. “Education is what is missing,” says the ex-user. “And face-to-face teaching, not just information on the internet. “The problem of steroid addiction has been steadily growing over the last 8 years, and unless young people are shown the dangers of steroids, or educated about alternative ways of effectively growing muscle, the situation will only continue to get worse.” Steve Wood also recognises the effect that steroids are having on the younger generation, as the majority of those he speaks to through Open Road are below the age of 25. “And this is the most vulnerable age group,” Wood reveals. “Because it is markedly more dangerous for those under the age of 25 to use steroids than anyone else. “Younger people can be struck by infertility, poor bone growth and abnormal physical growth. I have seen many people with high blood pressure and some steroid users who have had up to three heart attacks.” So whilst steroid use has become increasingly normalised, are users even aware of the long-term risks? Wood tells me that he expects the NHS to be inundated with liver failures and heart conditions in several years’ time, when the effects of performance-enhancing drugs finally catch up with the users. But where should the line be drawn? It is clear that young people need to be educated of the dangers surrounding anabolic steroid use, but if sharps bins are removed, and needle exchanges stopped, would users resort to even more dangerous ways to satisfy their unhealthy fitness needs?