What are Steroids?

(Photo Source: Peter Dazeley, Getty Images)

(Photo Source: Peter Dazeley, Getty Images)

Daniel Doherty, Writer

Most people do not differentiate between types when they speak of steroids. There are various kinds of steroids. Steroids are manufactured chemicals that your body makes naturally, typically hormones, alkaloids, and vitamins. They aid your organ, tissue, and cell functions. The main types of steroids are anabolic steroids and corticosteroids.


What Are Anabolic Steroids?


Anabolic steroids, also called anabolics or just steroids, help build larger muscles; they’re a manufactured version of testosterone. Doctors can prescribe these to treat certain hormonal conditions such as delayed puberty, low testosterone, or diseases that cause muscle loss.


Due to the muscle-boosting powers of anabolic steroids, people all over the world have been misusing and abusing them. When people misuse anabolic steroids they tend to take extremely high doses, sometimes 100 times the legally prescribed dosage. Athletes and bodybuilders abuse anabolic steroids to increase performance or improve appearance.


Animal studies have shown that steroids can alter the brain in similar ways to other misused drugs. In chronic abuse cases, anabolics can cause rapid increases in dopamine(a chemical in the brain) which reinforces most types of addiction. Abusing drugs for a long period of time can alter the brain to transmit and produce less dopamine. This chemical imbalance along with other factors such as body image problems contributes to addiction. 


Anabolic steroids also have more specific dangers, such as paranoia, jealousy, extreme irritability, aggression, extreme mood swings, delusions, impaired judgment, mania, acne, and fluid retention. For men specifically, it can cause smaller testicles, lower sperm counts, infertility, and breast growth. For women, it can cause male-pattern baldness, facial hair growth, inconsistent periods, and a deeper voice.


Anabolic steroid abuse during long periods of time can damage your heart, liver, and kidneys. They can also greatly increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes at any age. Due to the complexity of the issues that anabolic steroids cause, treatment for long-term abuse is tremendously difficult. 


What Are Corticosteroids?


Corticosteroids are man-made versions of the hormone cortisol. These steroids help reduce inflammation in the body by reducing the production of chemicals that cause inflammation. Common corticosteroids are cortisone, prednisone, and methylprednisolone. These steroids are used in cases when the immune system is fighting a disease wrong and causing inflammation when it shouldn’t be, or when other methods of treatment haven’t worked and the amount of inflammation may cause tissue damage.


To better understand these steroids you have to look at the hormone that corticosteroids imitate, cortisol. Cortisol is your main stress hormone. It is released when you are stressed and affects metabolism, heart rate, inflammation, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Cortisol shuts down bodily systems that you do not need when you are in a life or death situation, like digestion and reproduction.


The side effects highly depend on dosage and length of treatment. Some possible side effects include but are not limited to increased appetite, weight gain, increased growth of body hair, easy bruising, difficulty sleeping, cataracts, glaucoma, lower resistance to infection, swollen face, acne, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stomach irritation, mood swings, muscle weakness, blurred vision, nervousness, restlessness, water retention, and swelling. Not everyone who is prescribed corticosteroids will have side effects. 




As with anything drug-related, contact your doctor if you have questions.