Steroid addiction

Steroids encompass a broad spectrum of drugs which play pivotal roles in various medical treatments, from combating inflammation to bolstering the body’s ability to fight certain diseases. While the therapeutic use of steroids is well-established, anabolic steroids, in particular, are commonly abused for sports and physical enhancement, often at a steep cost to health and well-being. Steroid addiction is one serious outcome of steroid abuse, which can have potentially deadly consequences if it is not addressed. It is crucial that anyone using or considering the use of steroids recognise the risks involved and, if they do become addicted, know that professional treatment and support are available at Sanctuary Lodge.

What are steroids?

Steroids are a class of organic compounds with a molecular structure that contains four rings arranged in a particular configuration. These compounds are broadly categorised into two main types, which play diverse roles in the human body and medicine.

1. Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are synthetic drugs that mimic the action of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. These steroids are prescribed for their potent anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties, making them invaluable in treating conditions such as asthma, arthritis and autoimmune diseases.

2. Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS)

Also commonly known as anabolic steroids, these are synthetic derivatives of testosterone, the primary male sex hormone. These steroids are designed to promote muscle growth and enhance physical performance, traits that have made them popular among athletes and people looking to put on muscle or improve their physique.

What is steroid abuse?

Steroid abuse typically refers to people using AAS in amounts or ways that are not sanctioned by medical professionals and is most common among sportspeople, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. However, many other groups of people may potentially abuse steroids for reasons that can be complex and vary significantly among users.

The misuse of steroids can take place by various means, including:

  • “Cycling” – Taking doses for a period, stopping for a while, then restarting
  • “Stacking” – Combining two or more different types of steroids)
  • “Pyramiding” – Gradually increasing the dose or frequency of steroid use, reaching a peak amount, and then gradually tapering off

What is steroid addiction?

Steroid addiction usually refers to a psychological dependency on AAS that causes the compulsive use of steroids despite negative consequences to health, personal life or well-being. Unlike other forms of substance abuse, steroid addiction is often initially driven by body image disorders or appearance or performance goals rather than the pursuit of a euphoric high.

The development of steroid addiction can be subtle, gradually escalating from experimental use to a perceived necessity to keep taking the drugs. This dependency is often compounded by the positive reinforcement of improved muscle mass or athletic ability, overshadowing the potential health risks involved.

Psychological addiction is the primary concern with steroid use, as these drugs do not usually have physically addictive properties like opioids or stimulants. However, users can still experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms, which can contribute to continued use and an ongoing cycle of steroid addiction.

How to spot steroid addiction symptoms

Identifying steroid addiction symptoms can be challenging as many of the signs overlap with the expected effects of steroid use. However, recognising these indicators is crucial for seeking timely support and intervention and avoiding serious health risks. Common steroid addiction symptoms include:

  • Obsessive behaviour related to body image or exercise
  • Spending excessive amounts of time and money obtaining steroids
  • Continuing to use steroids despite experiencing negative health effects
  • Secretive or deceptive behaviour regarding the use of steroids
  • Dependency on steroids to maintain self-esteem or confidence.
  • Strained relationships due to behavioural changes or financial strain from purchasing steroids
  • Legal problems related to obtaining or using steroids
  • Loss of employment or academic failure due to prioritising steroid use or its effects
  • Steroid withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, loss of appetite, insomnia and steroid cravings

If you recognise these warning signs in yourself or someone you know, professional help should be sought immediately to address the addiction and its underlying causes.

Risk factors for steroid addiction and abuse

While anyone using AAS can potentially develop an addiction, certain factors may increase a person’s susceptibility. Understanding these risk factors for steroid addiction is crucial for prevention and early intervention:

Psychological factors

  • Low self-esteem: People with poor self-image or low self-worth may turn to steroids as a means to enhance their physique, believing it will improve their confidence and social acceptance.
  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD): People suffering from BDD are excessively concerned with perceived flaws in their appearance, which may drive them towards steroid use to “correct” these issues.
  • History of mental health issues: Pre-existing conditions like depression, anxiety or substance abuse disorders can make individuals more susceptible to steroid addiction as they may use these substances as a form of self-medication.
  • Professional pressure: Athletes, bodybuilders and individuals in professions where physical appearance is highly valued may feel compelled to use steroids to compete or meet expectations.
  • Accessibility and misinformation: Easy access to steroids, coupled with misinformation about their safety and efficacy, can all increase the chances of initial use.
  • Peer pressure and cultural influences: Peer pressure and the influence of gym culture can also contribute to steroid abuse. Individuals may be encouraged by friends or coaches who downplay the risks or even champion the benefits of steroid use.

The dangers of steroid abuse and addiction

The abuse of AAS and the resulting addiction pose significant risks not only to the physical health of individuals but also to their mental well-being and social lives. Some of the key dangers include:

Cardiovascular problems
Steroid abuse can lead to heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes, even in users who are young and otherwise healthy. Issues such as high blood pressure changes in cholesterol levels, and left ventricular hypertrophy are common among steroid users.
Liver damage
Oral anabolic steroids can cause severe liver damage, including conditions such as liver tumours and a condition called peliosis hepatis, where blood-filled cysts form in the liver.
Kidney problems
The misuse of steroids can lead to kidney failure or significant damage as the body’s filtration system is put under enormous strain to metabolise the substances.
Psychiatric effects
Users may experience severe mood swings, aggression (often referred to as “roid rage”), depression and delusions. The psychological dependency developed through addiction can also exacerbate these psychiatric symptoms.
Reproductive system alterations
In men, steroid abuse can cause testicular atrophy, decreased sperm count and infertility. Women may experience disruptions in their menstrual cycles, deepening voice, and increased body hair growth.
Skin conditions
The appearance of skin can significantly deteriorate due to steroid use and lead to acne, cysts and oily hair and skin.
Risk of infections
The use of non-sterile injection techniques or sharing needles can expose users to a higher risk of contracting infections such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
Stunted growth
In adolescent users, steroid abuse can prematurely halt bone growth, which can lead to stunted height.
Legal issues
The procurement and use of steroids without a prescription are illegal, which can lead to legal repercussions and lifelong sporting bans.
Social consequences
The behavioural changes caused by steroid abuse can strain relationships with family and friends, leading to social isolation, which can further fuel addiction.

What does steroid addiction treatment involve?

Treating steroid addiction requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both the physical dependency on the substance and the psychological aspects of the addiction. At Sanctuary Lodge, the steroid addiction treatment process typically involves several key components:

  • Drug detox: The first step in treating steroid addiction involves detoxifying the body from the substances. Medical supervision is essential during this phase to manage withdrawal symptoms, which can be distressing and often lead to relapse.
  • Drug rehab: After detox, we offer a rehabilitation programme which provides therapy and counselling to address the psychological dependence on steroids. These programmes help our clients to understand the triggers of their steroid use, develop coping strategies to deal with cravings and build a healthier self-image.
  • Aftercare: Continuing therapy and support after the initial treatment phase is crucial for long-term steroid addiction recovery. Our aftercare programme includes weekly group therapy for a year to keep our clients supported and accountable on their post-rehab recovery journey.

Get help for steroid addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with steroid addiction, it is important to understand that help is available and recovery is possible. Sanctuary Lodge offers specialised support and treatment for those battling steroid addiction, providing a comprehensive approach to recovery that includes detox, therapy and aftercare support. Reach out to Sanctuary Lodge today to start the journey towards a life without the burden of steroid addiction. Remember, it’s never too late to make a change and regain control over your health and well-being.


Can you detox from steroids?
Yes, you can detox from steroids, and it’s an essential step in steroid addiction treatment. Detox involves the body clearing itself of the substances which steroid withdrawal symptoms can accompany. Medical supervision is usually recommended during steroid detox to manage these symptoms effectively and to address any complications that may arise.
Are steroid inhalers addictive?
Steroid inhalers, commonly used for managing asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are not addictive in the same way that substances like narcotics or alcohol can be. However, patients can become physically dependent on these inhalers to control and manage their respiratory conditions, so it is important to use them only as a healthcare provider prescribes them.
What is topical steroid addiction?
Topical steroid addiction, also known as Red Skin Syndrome, arises from the prolonged use of topical steroids, which are often prescribed for conditions like eczema or psoriasis. When these medications are used for an extended period, the skin can become ‘addicted’ to the steroids, leading to a worsening of symptoms when the use is reduced or stopped. This addiction manifests as severely inflamed, itchy and red skin, often requiring a careful and gradual withdrawal process under medical supervision to heal and restore the skin’s natural function.

(Click here to see works cited)

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Anabolic Steroids and Other Appearance and Performance Enhancing Drugs (APEDs).” National Institute on Drug Abuse, Accessed 26 February 2024.
  • NCBI. “Topical Corticosteroid Addiction and Phobia – PMC.” NCBI, Accessed 26 February 2024.
  • NHS. “Anabolic steroid misuse.” NHS, Accessed 26 February 2024.
  • UK-Rehab. “Steroids Addiction | UK Rehab.” UK-Rehab, Accessed 26 February 2024.
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