Steroids are also known as anabolic steroids, ‘roids, gear, sauce or juice’. They’re made from the male hormone testosterone and help men build muscle easily when training. Steroids can make someone feel more sexually confident and boost their sex drive. However, long-term steroids use can weaken a man’s sex drive and cause erectile dysfunction problems. Testicles may shrink as the body no longer needs to make its own testosterone.
Serious health problems are more likely the longer a person takes steroids. Using them can feed body dysmorphic issues where men see themselves as smaller than they really are and become obsessed with gaining more muscle. In the short term steroids might seem to help with low self-esteem but in the long term can make insecurities worse.
Steroids can be in the form of pills or liquid that is injected into muscle. Injecting directly into the blood stream can cause death. Often steroids are taken in ‘cycles’ of weeks on, followed by weeks off, then on again. They are also used for ‘stacking’, which is where you take several types of steroids together to strengthen their effects.
Pro’s and Con’s of Steroid use
Steroids help a man grow muscles bigger than he could if he trained without them. Being muscular can make a person feel more confident and give a sense of self worth from feeling lusted after.
Unfortunately, nearly all users experience side effects. These include bodily acne, trouble sleeping, digestion issues, permanent hair loss and growth of breast tissue. Testicle shrinkage, water retention, high blood pressure with a risk of stroke, raised cholesterol, liver and heart damage, and prostate problems.
Users can experience mood changes, irritability and aggression (‘roid rage’). Coming off steroids can lead to depression and for some men possibly thoughts of suicide.
Injecting steroids carries its own health risks, such as skin abscesses or infections. Sharing injecting equipment spreads serious infections like HIV and hepatitis C, but the most common and talked about side effect of using steroids is Erectile Dysfunction.
Erectile Dysfunction from steroid use
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to get and maintain an erection long enough to have sexual intercourse. It can be embarrassing to discuss, but it’s not at all uncommon. Up to 20% of all men are affected by ED at some point in their lives. In fact, it’s actually the most commonly treated sexual disorder.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the primary male sex hormone testosterone, which help with muscle development. The bad news, however, is that over dependence on anabolic steroids interferes with the body’s own capacity to produce testosterone, leading to erectile dysfunction and could cause long-term harm to the testicles.
Once a user stops consuming these steroids, issues such as ED, testicle shrinkage, and low libido may begin to disappear.
Erectile Dysfunction Solutions
Stick to a heart healthy diet
A diet full of foods that help protect the cardiovascular system can also help prevent erectile dysfunction. This is because damaged or constricted coronary arteries can interfere with blood flow to the penis. In fact, ED is often one of the early signs of heart problems.
One study found that sticking to a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and fish was associated with a lower risk of ED development and improvement in people who already suffered from ED. There’s evidence that vegetarian and vegan diets may lower the risk of some types of heart disease while improving and preventing ED.
Make sure you’re walking enough every day.
The most common cause of ED besides steroid use is arterial dysfunction, which is essentially when your blood vessels don’t work as well as they should. Research has shown that consistent and regular physical activity – especially aerobic exercise like running, walking, and cycling – can help protect against vascular ED.
One study found that participants with cardiovascular problems who also reported having ED were able to significantly improve their erectile function by walking 30 minutes per day, three to four times a week.
Try out pelvic floor exercises to see if they work for you
Pelvic floor exercises, or Kegels, have been shown to benefit treating ED. A study conducted in the UK found that 40% of 55 participants with ED regained normal erectile function after practicing pelvic floor exercises for six months.
An easy way you can practice is by contracting the muscles of the pelvic floor by stopping your flow of urine several times during urination. Once you become familiar with the sensation of contracting the correct muscles, you can try squeezing them throughout the day while standing or sitting.
Avoid nicotine at all costs
If you’re looking for one easy way to increase your chances of maintaining a strong erection, cutting out nicotine might be it. Research suggests that any product containing nicotine – including cigarettes, gum, chewing tobacco, and vapes – might decrease the strength of an erection.
A 2014 study found that dosing healthy participants with nicotine reduced the strength of their erections. Researchers concluded that this was because nicotine interfered with heart function and blood flow.
Another study discovered that nicotine significantly reduced participants’ physical arousal in response to erotic films. The erections achieved by study participants who had ingested nicotine were 23% smaller than those who hadn’t. This is in spite of the fact that participants didn’t report feeling any less psychologically aroused by the erotic films.
Don’t use anabolic steroids
Erectile dysfunction can sometimes be caused by an imbalance of hormones within the body, including testosterone. Testosterone helps regulate sexual function as well as the development of organs like the penis, prostate, and testicles.
Taking anabolic steroids can interfere with the functioning of the testicles. Having testicles that aren’t performing normally can cause low levels of testosterone, a condition which has been linked to decreased libido and erectile problems.
Get your T levels checked by a doctor
Testosterone levels generally decrease as an individual ages. This is normal and natural, but it can lead to erectile problems for some people because androgenic hormones such as testosterone play an important part in regulating the function of tissues in the penis and testicles. One study found that supplementing with testosterone gel improved both the libido and erectile function of participants with low testosterone between the ages of 32 and 84.
Just because your testosterone levels were at healthy levels a few years ago doesn’t mean that they haven’t decreased since your last check-up. If you’re experiencing ED, it’s worth scheduling an appointment with your doctor to find out if your hormone levels might be the cause.
Many people experience occasional erectile dysfunction when they’re stressed or preoccupied. This is because stress increases levels of the hormone adrenaline, which causes blood vessels to contract. As having a firm erection depends upon a strong supply of blood to and within the penis, feeling chronically stressed can lead to bouts of ED.
Making sure you have healthy ways of coping with stress is part of maintaining good sexual health. If necessary, you may want to look into consulting a medical professional about the best way to manage your emotions and keep your stress levels in check. One study found that participants with ED who underwent an eight-week stress management program emerged with significantly improved symptoms. It might also be a good idea to address any relationship issues that could be leading to anxiety in the bedroom.
Lower your alcohol consumption.
Research suggests that drinking alcohol may play a part in erectile problems. One study that considered the prevalence of ED among people dependant on alcohol found that heavy drinkers were more likely to experience sexual dysfunction. Experts also believe that the depressant effect of alcohol can inhibit sexual response and even suppress libido in some people.
It’s worth noting, however, that some studies have found no correlation between moderate alcohol consumption and ED, or have not been able to pinpoint a link between non-heavy drinking and sexual problems.
Getting off steroids
Anabolic steroid users may experience withdrawal if they suddenly stop taking the drug or rapidly reduce their dosage. This happens because of the hormonal imbalance caused by long-term steroid use. Steroids mimic the male sex hormone testosterone. The bodies of steroid users become used to having an increased level of testosterone. The use of steroids can result in an unnatural increase of testosterone levels, which, in turn reduces the body’s ability to produce testosterone on its own.
The withdrawal symptoms from steroids are a result of low levels of natural testosterone in the body. These symptoms persist until the body can restore its normal production of testosterone.
Those who are coming off steroids suddenly should be carefully monitored for suicidal behavior. People with a history of depression should consider checking into an inpatient rehab for treatment where doctors can prescribe medications to lessen withdrawal symptoms and make the detox more comfortable.
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Anabolic steroids can produce effects such as increased energy, libido, concentration and a sense of confidence. However, the withdrawal symptoms of steroids are the opposite of the drug’s effects.
Symptoms can include:
- Lack of focus/concentration
- Decreased appetite
- Low sex drive
- Bodily pain and tension
- Low blood pressure
- Weight loss
While withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable, discontinuing anabolic steroid use poses low danger of serious harm or death. Stopping use may prevent some of the most serious side effects.
Withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from several days to two weeks. The duration of steroid withdrawal symptoms varies from person to person. Many factors influence the duration and intensity of steroid withdrawal symptoms, including:
- How long a person has been using anabolic steroids
- Their average regular dose of anabolic steroids
- How frequently they took anabolic steroids
- Whether they combined anabolic steroids with alcohol or other drugs
- The person’s mental health and medical history (i.e. gender and body weight)
- How they administered anabolic steroids
When you completely stop, you might find yourself prone to mood swings and fatigue.
A doctor-assisted detox is recommended for heavy steroid users. Doctors can prescribe medications during detox to lessen withdrawal symptoms. Some drugs can help restore normal hormonal balances and mitigate symptoms such as pain and depression. Doctors may recommend a tapering-down strategy as part of detox for those who used extremely high doses of steroids. Tapering-down allows users to gradually reduce their dose over time to prevent a drastic shift in their hormone balance.
Individuals should seek treatment for structure, support and encouragement while their hormones and various emotions return to a normal level to help prevent relapse. Treatment also provides relapse prevention skills, stress management, and education on the issue of addiction.
There are multiple inpatient and outpatient rehabs that can guide users safely through withdrawal. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also an effective treatment for those overcoming an addiction to steroids, as it targets the underlying reasons for steroid use like body image issues and depression. If an underlying problem goes untreated, a relapse into steroid use is more likely.
Contact a dedicated treatment provider to learn more about steroid withdrawal and your treatment options.
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