Steroid Abuse Treatment Centers
Anabolic steroids, or anabolic-androgenic steroids, are synthetic forms of the male sex hormone testosterone.1 Medical doctors sometimes prescribe steroids to treat hormonal imbalances, delayed puberty, or muscle loss from certain illnesses. However, athletes and bodybuilders also abuse steroids to boost athletic performance or enhance their physical appearance.
Over time, anabolic steroid abuse may lead to addiction.1 When addicted, a person finds it difficult to quit or cut down, continues to use despite problems, and spends large amounts of money to acquire the drug. People addicted to steroids may require professional treatment from a recovery program or medical provider to safely and effectively quit.
Are Steroids Addictive?
in different ways:1,2
- Stacking refers to taking 2 or more different types of steroids at the same time.
- Cycling involves starting, stopping, and then restarting steroids.
- Pyramiding refers to gradually increasing the dose or frequency of use until a person reaches a peak, and then gradually tapering down. Pyramiding often occurs in cycles of 6 to 12 weeks.
Even though anabolic steroids do not cause a high like other drugs, they can still be addictive.1
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, people addicted to steroids may display some of the following signs:3
- Taking more steroids or using them for a longer period of time than intended.
- Failing to quit or cut down.
- Spending large amounts of time acquiring, using, or recovering from steroids.
- Experiencing strong urges to use steroids.
- Continuing to use steroids despite a negative impact on relationships.
- Giving up activities that were once valued.
- Risking harm while using steroids.
- Continuing to use steroids despite physical or psychological problems that are either caused or worsened by steroids.
- Developing withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit or cut down or using steroids to relieve withdrawal symptoms.
Steroid withdrawal symptoms include:1,2
- Mood swings.
- Low energy.
- Poor appetite.
- Low libido.
If left untreated, depression during steroid withdrawal can become severe and may lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts.2 The depression may last for up to 1 year or more.2
A study of 227 men admitted to a treatment center for addiction to heroin and other opioids found that 9.3% abused steroids before trying other drugs.
Abusing anabolic steroids can lead to short- and long-term effects on a person’s physical and mental health. Although some of these side effects may be reversible if a person stops using steroids, others may be permanent.2
Short-term side effects of using steroids include:1,2
- Severe mood swings and anger, also called “roid rage.”
- Jealousy and suspiciousness.
- Poor judgment.
- Skin problems, including increased oil production, acne, and cysts.
- Swelling of the hands and feet.
Long-term effects of steroid use include:1,2
- Delayed growth.
- Liver damage, tumors, and cancer.
- Kidney damage or failure.
- High blood pressure.
- Cholesterol changes.
- Enlargement of the heart.
- Blood clots.
- Atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of artery walls.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack and stroke.
- Increased risk of viral and bacterial infections if the drug is injected.
Additional long-term effects for men may include:1,2
- Decreased sperm production.
- Decreased testicle size.
- Hair loss.
- Breast development.
- Higher risk of prostate cancer.
Additional long-term effects for women may include:1,2
- Smaller breast size.
- Enlarged clitoris.
- Menstrual cycle changes.
- Decreased body fat.
- Deepened voice.
- Increased growth of body and facial hair.
Research shows that some users may use other drugs to manage the unpleasant side effects of steroids. A study of 227 men admitted to a treatment center for addiction to heroin and other opioids found that 9.3% abused steroids before trying other drugs.2
Treatment for Addiction
Effective treatment for anabolic steroid addiction combines medications with counseling and therapy. Healthcare providers may prescribe medications during withdrawal and treatment to restore hormonal imbalances and to alleviate specific withdrawal symptoms. Medications for steroid withdrawal and addiction include:1,2,4
- Antidepressants, such as Prozac (fluoxetine), to reduce depression and mood swings.
- Antipsychotic drugs, such as Haldol (haloperidol) and Geodon (ziprasidone), to treat psychosis-related agitation.
- Benzodiazepines to minimize agitation.
- Anticonvulsants such as Depakote (valproate) to treat mania.
- Pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), to treat muscle and joint pain and headaches.
- Endocrine treatments to balance hormone levels, including human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and infertility drugs such as clomiphene.
Counseling or therapy is an important part of steroid addiction treatment. Behavioral therapies, including the following, are beneficial for treating steroid addiction:2,5
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) assumes that people’s thoughts directly impact their emotions and behaviors. CBT helps people identify and modify unhealthy thoughts that cause negative emotions and behaviors. CBT therapists also teach relapse prevention skills and healthy coping strategies.
- Contingency management is a treatment approach that gives rewards, such as cash, movie tickets, or food, for recovery-oriented behaviors such as negative urine tests. These rewards serve as an incentive to stay sober.
- Twelve-step facilitation therapy introduces people to the philosophy of 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Participants attend 12-step meetings and benefit from a support system of other sober people.
Seeking treatment for co-occurring disorders can help address the underlying reasons for steroid abuse.Steroid addicts may also suffer from mental health conditions, such as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). BDD is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder that involves:3,6
- Preoccupation with what they believe are defects or flaws in their appearance.
- Repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively looking in the mirror, excessively grooming, or seeking reassurance from others.
Some people with BDD are diagnosed with muscle dysmorphia, a form of BDD where a person is obsessed with wanting to be more lean or muscular.3,6 A person with muscle dysmorphia may spend excessive amounts of time exercising, dieting, and using supplements or drugs, including anabolic steroids.
Body dysmorphic disorder, muscle dysmorphia, and other mental health conditions should be treated along with steroid addiction. Co-occurring or dual diagnosis treatment programs specialize in treating both addictions and mental health disorders. Seeking treatment for co-occurring disorders can help people address the underlying reasons for their steroid abuse, which may help decrease the chances of a relapse.
Some recovery programs treat addiction to anabolic steroids. Steroid addiction treatment may take place in the following settings:
- Detox centers can assist users during the withdrawal process by providing medications to treat symptoms and alleviate discomfort. Participants are also encouraged to rest and prepare for further treatment when withdrawal is complete. Detox is often followed by inpatient or outpatient treatment.
- Inpatient rehab programs provide medications and intensive therapy. All therapy sessions and medical appointments take place in the facility, where participants remain until they are ready to return home or transition to outpatient treatment.
- Outpatient treatment programs offer a specific number of group or individual therapy sessions each week. Participants reside outside of the treatment facility and only come to the facility for therapy sessions and appointments.
- Individual or group psychotherapy can take place in an inpatient or outpatient treatment facility or with a private therapist or counselor once or more per week.
The right type of treatment center depends on the user’s circumstances. Someone who is suicidal, is psychotic, or has medical problems may benefit from an inpatient program. Regardless of the route one takes, medically supervised detox is recommended for steroid withdrawal due to the risks of relapse and suicide.4
Some inpatient and outpatient treatment centers specialize in treating co-occurring disorders. People struggling with both steroid addiction and mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or body dysmorphic disorder, can benefit from seeking treatment at a co-occurring or dual diagnosis treatment center.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: Anabolic steroids.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2006). Research report series: Anabolic steroid abuse.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Trenton, A. J., & Currier, G. W. (2005). Behavioural manifestations of anabolic steroid use. CNS Drugs, 19(7), 571-595.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide.
- Leone, J. E., Sedory, E. J., & Gray, K. A. (2005). Recognition and treatment of muscle dysmorphia and related body image disorders. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(4), 352-359.