When it comes to teens and substance abuse, parents often worry about alcohol or drugs such as marijuana, meth or heroin. However, there’s another type of drug that typically gets much less attention but still has a significant negative impact on teens: anabolic steroids. One of the best ways to safeguard your teen is to educate yourself about this dangerous drug and how drug rehab treatment may be necessary if your teen is abusing it. It’s important to note that any use of these drugs without a prescription is considered abuse.
There are different types of steroids, including anabolic steroids and corticosteroids. Anabolic steroids, which contain synthetic testosterone, are the ones typically abused by teens. They work by jumpstarting the process that creates body mass – hence the appeal to athletes, bodybuilders, and anyone who wants to “bulk up.” The testosterone travels directly to cells and stimulates the buildup of muscle tissue.
Although often abused, steroids have many legitimate medical purposes. For example, anabolic steroids are often used to help men with abnormally low testosterone levels. They are also prescribed to rebuild the body during or after a wasting-type of illness, such as cancer or AIDS. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone and cortisone, are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation or pain in disorders such as asthma and arthritis.
Because these drugs can have serious side effects, they can be very dangerous in the wrong hands and without medical supervision. Not only that, those who abuse anabolic steroids often take them in significantly higher doses – sometimes up to 100 times higher – than would ever be prescribed for medical purposes. These high amounts make them especially dangerous, especially in teens whose bodies are still developing.
It’s been estimated that 2 percent of high school seniors have used anabolic steroids. Although most often used by males, these performance-enhancing drugs are also used by females.
Anabolic steroids are typically injected or taken orally, although a few types are applied directly to the skin via a gel or cream. Users take steroids in cycles, in which multiple doses are taken over a period of time. They discontinue use for a period of time, and then start over with a new cycle. It’s common to combine different kinds of steroids to achieve the desired effect.
Reasons For Steroid Use
Improved athletic performance and increased muscle mass are the primary catalysts for teens who abuse steroids. For example, a high school football player may take performance-enhancing drugs to push himself past normal physical limits. Athletes can also feel compelled to use steroids to perform at exceptionally high levels. The rewards for high performers can be great, including the ability to deliver winning performances, obtain scholarships to prestigious schools, and please and impress parents, friends and coaches. Teens may also use anabolic steroids because they believe the drugs help them recover more quickly from their workouts.
Dangers Of Anabolic Steroid Abuse
Teens who abuse anabolic steroids expose themselves to many risks. Anabolic steroid abuse has been linked to numerous health problems in adolescents, including heart, liver, and kidney damage. Teen boys who abuse them are at risk for breast enlargement and impotence. Girls are also affected by unique symptoms, including loss of scalp hair, growth of body hair, reduction in breast size and menstrual problems.
Unlike other drugs abused by teenagers, anabolic steroids don’t produce a high. Over time, however, the drug use has adverse effects on the brain. Steroids impact mood-related brain chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin. These changes alter the mood and behavior in long-term users. For example, aggression is very common in chronic steroid abusers. Some users experience a volatile condition known as “’roid rage,” which can cause a person to become paranoid, highly irritable and extremely angry. The rage can easily escalate to violent behavior, making users a danger to themselves as well as to anyone who happens to cross their path.
One surprising effect of anabolic steroid abuse in teens is that it stunts growth. This seems counterintuitive, since the point of illicit steroid use is to build muscle mass. However, high testosterone levels accelerate puberty and the maturation of bones. This interrupts a teen’s natural growth process, preventing him from achieving his natural height. Stunted growth is typically a permanent side effect.
A teen’s mental health may also be at risk when anabolic steroids are abused. A recent British study found that athletes who abused these drugs during the 1960s and 1970s were more likely to report mental health issues later in life. Those who abused them reported higher rates of depression and aggressive behavior.
Anabolic steroid abuse can have deadly consequences. For example, long-term anabolic steroid use has been linked to heart problems. Weight lifters who used steroids for about 10 years showed impaired heart function, a problem that wasn’t found in those who hadn’t taken the drugs. Research has shown that anabolic steroid users have weaker contractions on the left side of their heart, which is a risk factor for heart attack and heart failure. The study didn’t reveal whether the effect was reversed when the drugs were discontinued.
Signs Of Anabolic Steroid Abuse
If you’re a parent, it’s important to be aware of the telltale signs of anabolic steroid abuse. These signs include the following:
- Irritability, anger or rage
- Uncontrolled energy (mania)
- False beliefs (delusions)
- Acne, especially on the face, shoulders and back
- Male-pattern hair loss
- Jaundiced (yellowing) skin
- Dissatisfaction with one’s body
Some red flags are gender specific. Teen boys who abuse anabolic steroids may have enlarged breasts or painful erections. In contrast, adolescent girls may experience reduction in breast size, rough skin, increase in body hair and deepening of the voice.
Treatment For Steroid Abuse
If your teen is abusing anabolic steroids, drug rehab treatment may be necessary to help him or her safely stop using. Since these steroids have a profound effect on the body’s natural hormones, withdrawal may need to be managed by an endocrinologist who is able to monitor and manage hormone levels. Your teen may receive medication during this process to help restore normal hormonal functioning.
Medical professionals will also monitor and, when possible, provide relief for, other withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms often include weakness, fatigue, headache, vomiting, muscle pain and abdominal pain. Many of the physical symptoms of steroid use will start to reverse immediately. However, some symptoms, such as voice changes in female users, may be irreversible.
After withdrawal, therapists or trained drug counselors will work with your teen to address the underlying reasons he or she started using anabolic steroids in the first place. The standard therapeutic approach for most drug treatment programs is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy helps addicts and abusers identify negative thought patterns and emotions, irrational beliefs and unhealthy behaviors. Your teen will also learn to handle those feelings in a healthier way, so he or she can resist the urge to start abusing steroids again. Learning healthy ways to manage negative thoughts and feelings will help your teen in all aspects of his or her life.
Depression is common among steroid abusers early in recovery, so a therapist or addiction specialist should monitor your teen closely for suicidal thoughts or behaviors. If depression symptoms are severe enough, a physician may prescribe an antidepressant medication. These medications can have serious side effects in teenagers, so it’s essential to carefully weigh the risks and benefits before including antidepressants as part of the treatment process.
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