Alcohol and Steroids: Anabolic & Corticosteroids

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Using prescription steroids under medical supervision and as recommended is generally safe. Still, even when steroids are taken as directed, they can have side effects and dangers when used with other psychoactive substances. Likewise, when used in moderation, the risks of alcohol may not be significant or result in negative short- or long-term consequences. 

However, using steroids and alcohol simultaneously can significantly increase the risks of using either substance and result in polysubstance use disorder. This condition is typically more complex than a dependence involving just one drug. If you are misusing steroids and alcohol, we encourage you to seek professional help as soon as possible. Contact Guardian Recovery and start your recovery journey today for more information on how you can overcome addiction to multiple substances.

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Alcohol Use Statistics

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 86% of people 18 and older reported consuming alcohol at some point in their lives. Seventy percent reported drinking in the past year, and 55% reported drinking during the past month.

The effects of alcohol are far-reaching and can severely impact a person’s life when its least expected. An estimated 95,000 individuals die from alcohol-related causes each year. In 2019, approximately 14.5 million people aged 12 and older and 414,000 adolescents aged 12-17 had an alcohol use disorder.

Anabolic Steroid Use Statistics

Anabolic steroids activate testosterone, a hormone known for increasing muscle mass and strength and also plays a vital role in the development and maintenance of other typically masculine physical characteristics. These drugs are sometimes prescribed to treat specific types of anemia or help males who aren’t producing enough natural testosterone. 

Recreationally, anabolic steroids are used to augment muscle mass and enhance athletic performance. Research has revealed that approximately 1,084,000 Americans, or 0.5% of adults, have used anabolic steroids, and about 35% of users will become addicted.

Those who misuse anabolic steroids for recreational purposes may use them in amounts 100 times higher than the prescribed dosage. Nearly all professional sports organizations prohibit their use for various reasons. Most people who misuse anabolic steroids are male non-athlete weightlifters in their 20s-30s.

Types of Steroids

Steroids are artificial versions of hormones naturally occurring in the body. There are two main types–corticosteroids and anabolic steroids.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are prescription medications that mimic the hormone cortisol, which prevents your immune system from producing substances that cause inflammation. They have various anti-inflammation-related uses, such as the treatment of rashes, asthma, and injuries. Unlike anabolic steroids, which are controlled substances, corticosteroids are not addictive and do not help with muscle building.

Prednisone is an example of a commonly used corticosteroid. It slows or stops the immune system from causing inflammation and can help balance hormones for people whose adrenal glands don’t produce enough corticosteroids. Prednisone is frequently prescribed to treat inflammation-triggering diseases, such as arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids are synthetic drugs that act on testosterone, a male sex hormone that helps build muscle. They can be legally prescribed for men who don’t produce enough testosterone and boys with delayed puberty. 

As noted, anabolic steroids are controlled substances due to having a potential for dependence and addiction. Illicit use of these drugs for recreational purposes has been associated with physical and mental health hazards. 

Why Would Someone Mix Alcohol & Steroids?

Some people use alcohol and steroids without being aware of the potential risks. For example, they may take a steroid medication prescribed for a health issue and occasionally drink without considering side effects. Others are active misusers of one or both substances. But regardless of the motivation, drinking alcohol regularly while taking steroids can increase the risk of adverse health complications.

Some people who use anabolic steroids suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), muscle dysmorphia, or a distorted perception of their body size and shape. One study found that 46% of male weightlifters with muscle dysphoria reported using anabolic steroids versus 7% of other male weightlifters without the disorder.

More often, however, people who abuse steroids seek physical results not directly associated with distorted self-perception. These include increased lean muscle mass, enhanced athletic performance, and reduced body fat. While many who use steroids avoid alcohol due to its high-calorie content and adverse effects on metabolism, others with mental health issues, such as BDD, turn to alcohol to self-medicate.

If a person drinks alcohol to dampen the unwanted emotional effects of steroids, they may do more harm than good. Some potential side effects of using steroids alone include aggression, mood swings, emotional instability, hallucinations, and paranoia. These symptoms can be amplified by consuming alcohol.

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Potential Side Effects & Risks

Extended use of steroids and alcohol can compound the risk of certain side effects and health consequences. On their own, both anabolic steroids and alcohol abuse can adversely affect an individual’s health and well-being.

Common Anabolic Steroid Side Effects Include:

  • Acne.
  • Pain during urination.
  • Fluid retention.
  • Hair loss or growth.
  • Changes in libido.
  • Infertility.
  • Low sperm count or sterility.
  • Cardiovascular problems.
  • Tendon rupture.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Stunted growth in children.
  • Testicle shrinkage.
  • Male breast growth.
  • Breast shrinkage in women.
  • Deeper voice in women.
  • Menstrual cycle changes. 
  • Mood swings and emotional disorders.

Alcohol misuse has been associated with a long list of health conditions. And broadly speaking, many organs in the body are adversely affected by alcohol, some to a greater extent than others.

Long-Term Side Effects of Alcohol Misuse Include:

  • Impaired cognitive functioning.
  • Mood disorders.
  • Heart-related conditions such as cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, and stroke.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Liver diseases, such as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Cancers such as those involving the head, neck, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, breast, liver, and colon.
  • Weakened immune system.

Potential Combined Side Effects & Risks

In addition to the side effects noted above, combining anabolic steroids and alcohol increases a person’s risk of many other health consequences.

Combined Risks of Alcohol & Anabolic Steroids Include:

  • Liver damage.
  • Cardiovascular problems.
  • Gastrointestinal issues.
  • Mental health disorders.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Increased appetite and weight gain.
  • Steroid-induced diabetes.
  • Brittle bones.
  • Changes in blood sugar levels.
  • Dehydration.
  • Chest pain.
  • Heartburn.
  • Allergic reactions.
  • Stomach ulcers.

Worsened Steroid-Induced Psychotic Symptoms or “Roid Rage”

Steroid-induced psychosis, or “roid rage,” is a severe mental health disorder that can occur with anabolic steroid use and be exacerbated by alcohol consumption. The etiology this condition is not entirely understood. However, some research suggests misuse of anabolic steroids can precipitate severe psychiatric symptoms such as profound depression, anxiety, irritability, aggression, mania, delirium, and psychosis. 

Many psychological side effects have also been linked to the combined use of steroids and alcohol. While extended anabolic steroid use can cause mental instability and psychotic symptoms, even short-term use can lead to unpredictable reactions. A volatile emotional state combined with alcohol-induced inhibition can cause an individual to become even more confused, aggressive, and violent than they would be otherwise.

The Most Serious Risk: Liver Toxicity

The most significant risk an individual faces when they abuse steroids and alcohol is a high degree of liver toxicity. Prolonged steroid abuse can damage the liver and kidneys —two critical organs commonly known to incur damage when a person drinks alcohol excessively. Thus, combining steroids and alcohol can overwhelm the liver, causing cirrhosis and organ failure.

Combined Side Effects & Risks of Alcohol & Corticosteroids

Although corticosteroids are not addictive, like their anabolic counterparts, using them while drinking excessively can also increase the risk of certain health conditions.

Corticosteroids & Alcohol Combined Side Effects & Risks Include:

  • Depression.
  • Diabetes.
  • Gastrointestinal issues.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Decreased medication effectiveness.

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Customized Treatment for Alcohol & Steroid Misuse

The first step to preventing the unwanted and hazardous side effects of alcohol and steroid dependence is to discontinue use. Individuals in this situation are encouraged to seek addiction treatment at a comprehensive treatment center. If you need professional help but are unsure where to turn, we can help. 

Guardian Recovery offers a full continuum of care designed by a licensed, highly experienced team of addiction and mental health professionals. Call us today, and you can speak with a Treatment Advisor, who will guide you through our streamlined admissions process. We also provide a free, no-obligation insurance benefits check. We can answer any questions you might have about our evidence-based treatment options. If you or a loved one is struggling with steroid abuse and alcohol addiction, we can help!

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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