The effects of steroid abuse can be seen in both physical changes and psychological shifts. The presence and likelihood of steroid side effects depends in part on the age and gender of the user, the dosage and chemical composition of the drugs, and the duration of usage. While some effects of steroid abuse may be short term and terminate upon the cessation of use, permanent side effects are also possible.
The short-term effects of steroid abuse include a significant increase in muscle mass. The enhanced ability of the body to build muscles while on steroids is the primary reason for their use; but this one enhancement is countered by a variety of unpleasant and even dangerous effects. Some of the first signs of steroid abuse include other physical changes, such as severe acne, increased oil production in the skin, and increased hair growth. More severe side effects of steroid abuse include an increased risk of cancer, liver problems, high blood pressure, and heart disease. While these more serious effects are often linked to long term use, they can occur with some short-term abuse as well.
Since steroids are similar to human hormones, the abuse of steroids can lead to a variety of changes specific to male and female users. Male steroid abusers may suffer from a reduced sperm count or even infertility, while female users may cease ovulating and menstruating regularly. Male abusers sometimes experience shrinking of the testicles, and some may even develop female physical characteristics, such as breasts. In women, the changes wrought by steroid abuse go the opposite direction; in addition to ovulation and fertility problems, women may experience facial hair growth and pronounced deepening of the voice.
Psychological changes can also sometimes be side effects of steroid abuse. The abuse of certain steroid hormones is linked to an increase in aggressive behavior, including violent mood swings, increased feelings of jealousy and rage, and an increasingly short temper. On occasion, violent crimes, including murder, have been partially attributed to steroid abuse, though there is insufficient evidence of a connection in many cases.
The abuse of steroids is dangerous for any person, but may pose particular risks for adolescents. The insertion of additional hormones around puberty can wreak havoc on the adolescent physiology, leading to life-long effects. Stunted or accelerated growth and disrupted sexual development are both linked to adolescent steroid abuse. Complete infertility can occur in some cases, though fertility issues may sometimes be resolved by ceasing steroid use.