Anabolic steroids are performance-enhancing drugs that individuals use to increase their ability to heal and exercise. These substances stimulate aerobic capacity, muscle growth and power. The downside of steroid use is that they can cause a variety of physical and mental side effects that can vary in severity and type. While most users experience increased muscle size, the most unexpected and severe side effect of anabolic steroids is their effect on the emotions.
Impulses and Aggression
Clinical studies have shown that high rates of steroid use can result in an increase in irritability and aggression. Steroid abusers have reported committing violent acts that they would not have considered when drug free, such as armed robbery, fighting and other crimes. Studies show these differences in mood and behavior may be caused by hormonal changes and imbalances resulting from the use of anabolic steroids. Some people use illegal drugs or alcohol in an effort to control the negative impulses. A lack of impulse control can also lead to the sudden bursts of anger known as “roid rage” that can occur over seemingly trivial events.
Depression can result if a steroid user fails in his or her attempts to control the side effects with illegal drugs or alcohol. The sense of failure and despair can lead to a downward spiral. Depression is also a potential side effect associated with steroid withdrawal. The mental state can be severe enough to lead to suicidal thoughts. Other side effects of steroid withdrawal include fatigue, restlessness and mood swings as well as a loss of appetite, a reduced sex drive and insomnia. In addition to worsening depression, sleep deprivation can lead to the abuse of sleeping pills.
Steroid use can lead to manic behavior and psychosis that include hallucinations and delusions. Mania occurs when steroid users lose touch with reality. Users can express a better- or worse-than-expected emotional state that is out-of-touch with their current circumstances. During these manic or psychotic episodes, the steroid user may feel extremely euphoric or be prone to rash, impulsive or violent behavior when he or she feels challenged. In other cases, the individual may feel invisible. These episodes can affect the user’s social life, which can lead to depression or an increased use of drugs and alcohol. Steroid use can also lead to a heightened sense of paranoia.
While there are legitimate medical uses for anabolic steroids, illegal or dependent abuse can lead to severe emotional problems that are just as dangerous as the drug’s physical side effects. An experienced clinician can help individuals dealing with the life-threatening complications of illicit steroid use.