What Are the Health Risks of Mixing Steroids and Alcohol?
In 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 86.4 percent of people over age 18 stated that they had used alcohol at some point in their lives, and 56 percent of people reported that they had drank within the past month. Drinking is legal in the US for those 21 and older, and it’s socially accepted in many cultures. Due to this easy accessibility and social acceptance, it’s one of the most abused substances in the US.
Steroids are formally known as anabolic steroids, and they contain testosterone. People who abuse steroids are generally after physical results, such as increased muscle mass, improved athletic performance, and reduced body fat. These types of steroids should not be confused with corticosteroids like cortisone, prednisone, and methylprednisolone that are helpful anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat various diseases.
When one compares rates of alcohol abuse to rates of anabolic steroid abuse, the two substances seem quite different. Alcohol has proven to be highly addictive and steroids are Schedule III substances, which means they have a moderate to low potential for abuse. Alcohol use is rampant in society, while the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that a mere 0.5 percent of the adult population has used some form of steroid.
Though rates of abuse of each substance individually are drastically different, they make a dangerous combination when they are mixed together. As with all substances, the risks of each substance are compounded when steroids and alcohol are mixed.
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Why Mix Steroids and Alcohol?
There are many reasons that an individual may mix steroids and alcohol. For some, the decision may be completely accidental; physicians use steroids to treat conditions like asthma, hay fever, and sciatica, so it is possible that some take their prescribed medications and then unwittingly indulge at the bar. For others, social pressure to bulk up at the gym and get a drink with friends afterward may lead them to mix the two substances.
Another theory behind mixing steroids and alcohol comes from the American Fitness Professionals and Associates. According to their research, steroid use creates a potent mood elevator in the body, and when that feeling subsides as the drugs wear off, the individual’s mood plummets, creating a depressive state. This mood decrease is known among fitness professionals as an “estrogen rebound,” as the estrogen chemicals in the body respond to the increase in testosterone they experienced while using the steroids. Some experts believe that this depressive state actually pushes the individual to seek out comfort from other substances like alcohol. In this way, regular steroid use creates the need to mix the drugs with alcohol.
While drowning one’s sorrows in a drink has long been considered socially acceptable, this can be a dangerous choice for someone suffering from an estrogen rebound. This is because, as research in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry points out, consuming beer and wine changes hormone levels, enhancing estrogen in the body. The enhanced estrogen may make the individual feel even worse, feeding a compulsion to use steroids and feel that improved mood once again. Without even realizing it, mixing steroids and alcohol can create a dangerous cycle of dependence on both substances.
Serious Health Dangers
Using steroids under medical supervision and with a legitimate prescription is generally considered safe, though even legitimate use comes with the potential for risks and side effects. Likewise, moderate drinking doesn’t generally pose a problem for most people. That being said, misuse of either substance can result in serious health ramifications. Mixing alcohol and steroids greatly increases the risks associated with use of either substance, putting the user’s physical and mental health at risk.
The biggest risk a person faces when they mix steroids and alcohol is a high level of liver toxicity.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that long-term steroid use can cause damage to the liver and kidneys, two organs that also suffer damage when an individual overindulges in alcohol. Combining steroids and alcohol can overexert the liver, eventually leading to cirrhosis or liver failure.
Other physical dangers of mixing these two substances include:
- Chest pain
- High blood pressure
- Allergic reactions
- Gastrointestinal issues
Of course, there are also psychological side effects that come along with mixing steroids and alcohol. Steroids can leave a lasting impact on the brain. Prolonged steroid use can lead to mentally unstable states, such as psychosis and mania. Additionally, short-term steroid use can make a person’s mood volatile, causing the infamous “roid rage” many people have heard about. When this unstable mindset combines with the decreased inhibitions of a drunk person, dangerous situations, increasing the potential for violence and physical harm, are likely.
If someone is prescribed steroids as part of a medical treatment, it is important that they are mindful of the amount of alcohol they consume while taking them. They should abstain from alcohol altogether. If they are unable to do so, professional help is needed.