The Side Effects of Anabolic Steroid Use (In-Depth Guide)

Professional bodybuilders and amateur athletes have one thing in common: they all want to build a perfect physique. The majority of them turn to performance-enhancing drugs as the fastest way to bulk up quickly. However, anabolic steroid abuse has many negative long-term effects on health and performance. This guide gives you everything you need to know about the adverse effects of anabolic steroid use.

If you’ve ever wondered how the bulky weight lifters down at the gym get so big, sometimes it isn’t through a strict routine of weight lifting and diet, but through the illegal use of steroids.

Anabolic steroids are also known as anabolic-androgenic steroids because they both cause an increase in muscle mass and improve sexual health.

In this guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at the adverse effects of using anabolic steroids and some of the common reasons why people use them. What’s more, we’ll also look to answer the most frequently asked questions.

What Are Anabolic Steroids?

Before taking a closer look at some of the reasons why people use anabolic steroids and the potential side effects of anabolic steroid abuse, it’s worth explaining exactly what they are. 

Anabolic steroids are drugs designed to replicate the effects of the male sex hormone, testosterone. These steroids are a prescription-only medicines that can provide some legitimate medical uses.

What Are The Side Effects Of Anabolic Steroid Use?

However, they can also be taken without medical advice for other, non-essential use, such as to increase muscle growth and athletic performance.

Anabolic steroids shouldn't be confused with corticosteroids, which are a completely different type of steroid drugs commonly used as anti-inflammatory agents for a range of conditions.

It’s worth noting that most professional sports organizations ban the use of performance-enhancing drugs and regularly test their athletes for illegal steroids to maintain the integrity during competition.

Apart from steroids, athletes often use non-steroidal compounds that mainly include human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor. Even though they are usually prescribed for medical reasons, they are often misused for performance enhancement.

Why Do People Use Them? 

Doctors can prescribe anabolic steroids for various medical reasons, but the primary is low testosterone levels that require long-term administration of testosterone replacement therapy. Other FDA-approved indications for the use of anabolic steroids include delayed puberty in boys, hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, gonadotropin and luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone deficiency, and pituitary-hypothalamic axis dysfunction from various tumors, injuries, and radiation.(1) In addition, non-FDA-approved uses include different types of cancer, kidney failure, immunodeficiency. Lastly, they are used by all kinds of athletes in virtually all sports.

However, doctors don’t prescribe anabolic steroids to athletes looking to have an increase in muscle mass and improve physical performance. This is the most common reason for anabolic steroid misuse, which is completely illegal without medical advice from a doctor.

The recent research report showed that current anabolic-androgenic steroid users are not just bodybuilders or weightlifters. In fact, the number of non-athlete weightlifters taking PEDs has exceeded the number of competitive athletes.(2)

Many young boys and adults become too concerned with their physical appearance, which may lead to a disordered body image, also known as muscle dysmorphia. This is a mental health condition where individuals are constantly worrying about the flaws in their physical appearance.

Unfortunately, a common misconception is that anabolic steroids can quickly help young athletes become fit and healthy; however, this is far from the truth.

In fact, if anabolic steroids are regularly used in this sense, it can result in a dangerous drug addiction.

Side Effects 

Side Effects 

Using anabolic steroids on a regular basis can lead to a number of positive physical and psychological changes in both men and women, including faster muscle growth, increased lean body mass, improved body composition, more energy, and better mood and sex drive. However, these effects often come at the cost of a wide range of potentially dangerous medical conditions.

Listed below are some of the common adverse effects that male anabolic steroid users can experience: 

  • Infertility 
  • Shrunken testicles 
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Reduced sperm count
  • A higher risk of prostate cancer
  • Baldness
  • Breast development (gynecomastia)
  • Severe acne 
  • Risk of tendon rupture

Interestingly, using anabolic-androgenic steroids most frequently causes hypogonadism due to disruption of the natural production of hormones by the pituitary gland. Hypogonadism covers a wide range of sexual problems, such as shrinking testicles, loss of fertility, low sperm production, and trouble getting and keeping an erection.(3)

Whereas, some of the common adverse effects that women experience from taking anabolic steroids include:

  • Loss of breasts
  • Facial hair and body hair growth 
  • Deeper voice
  • Swelling of the clitoris 
  • Hair loss
  • Severe acne
  • Higher sex drive
  • Issues with periods like irregular periods

Furthermore, both men and women can also develop the following medical conditions from anabolic steroid use:

  • Increased cardiovascular risk: high blood pressure, a heart attack or stroke, blood clots
  • Liver or kidney problems
  • High cholesterol 
  • Fluid retention

Unfortunately, those medications can also cause sudden death, frequently due to cardiac death. 

Psychological Effects

In addition to the physical side effects of anabolic steroid misuse, there are also some psychological effects to keep in mind. These include mood swings, paranoia, aggressive behavior, hallucinations, and manic behavior. 


As is the case with many drugs, anabolic steroids can be addictive. This means that, not only can you crave the drugs, but you’ll also suffer from withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking them.

Despite the unpleasant side effects listed above, someone who’s addicted to anabolic steroids will want to keep using them.

If doctors prescribe anabolic steroids, they always advise coming off the medication by slowly reducing the dose.

This is because coming off the drug suddenly can result in a range of withdrawal symptoms, including depression, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, anorexia, extreme tiredness, decreased sex drive, and muscle and joint pain.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is the lead federal agency supporting scientific research on drug use and addiction. According to NIDA, anabolic steroids are often referred to as "anabolic-androgenic steroids" because of their anabolic effects and androgenic effects at the same time. This means they boost both muscle development and sexual function. However, someone who has been taking those drugs for a long time usually finds it difficult to stop taking them, fearing to lose the bodybuilding results.

Both animal studies and human studies have shown a potential role for steroids in the development of addition and greatly increased cardiovascular risk.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Your questions answered.

How Are Anabolic Steroids Taken?

People usually take anabolic steroids by either injecting them directly into the muscle or taking tablets. They can also come in the form of creams or gels that are applied directly to the skin.
For example, an individual might take the drugs for a period of time and then stop for some time. This is known as "cycling." Another common method is to take more than one anabolic steroid at a time to try to offset the negative impact of one of the drugs.
This is called "stacking," and it is also thought to make the drugs work better.
It’s worth noting that there isn’t any evidence that suggests these methods actually reduce the chances of suffering unpleasant side effects from taking anabolic steroids or other PEDs like human growth hormone or insulin-like growth factors.

Do Anabolic Steroids Have An Effect On Growth?

Yes, anabolic steroids have the potential to accelerate bone growth; however, if adolescents abuse the drug, it can result in premature bone aging and stunted growth.
This is because they haven’t yet experienced the growth spurt associated with puberty.

How Do You Sleep On Steroids? 

Using steroids can affect your ability to sleep, especially when taken before going to bed in the evening. This is why many physicians recommend taking the entire daily dose in the morning.


Anabolic-androgenic steroids can boost a user’s confidence and strength. However, this causes users to overlook the severe, long-lasting, and, in some cases, detrimental effects they can cause. The long-term administration of performance-enhancing drugs has numerous health risks and often results in serious adverse health effects.

They can lead to cardiovascular diseases like early heart attacks and strokes, liver disease, kidney failure, sexual dysfunction, testicular atrophy, and psychiatric problems. In addition, stopping anabolic-androgenic steroid use can cause depression, often leading to a resumption of use.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids should only be prescribed by a medical doctor for clearly defined medical reasons. Athletes who want to choose a short path to better physique and performance by using synthetic testosterone analogues should be aware of serious adverse effects.

  1. Ganesan K, Rahman S, Zito PM. Anabolic Steroids. [Updated 2022 Aug 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:
  2. NIDA. "Introduction." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 3 Aug. 2021
  3. Rahnema, Cyrus D et al. “Anabolic steroid-induced hypogonadism: diagnosis and treatment.” Fertility and sterility vol. 101,5 (2014): 1271-9. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2014.02.002
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