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How To Tell if Someone Is Using Steroids?
6 Clear Signs

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 11, 2021

Steroids have been part of the bodybuilding scene for quite some time.

When you think of steroids, you probably associate them with hulking titans of mass and muscle. The truth, however, is that even average-looking individuals may have used steroids at some point in their fitness journey.

If you want to differentiate between natural vs. drug-enhanced muscle results, we’ve paired up with the top medical experts to provide you with the most common signs of steroid use.

6 Signs To Recognize Steroid Users

People that use steroids will have giveaways that hint at their use. Below is a list of obvious signs you should look out for.

1. Speed of Muscle Gains

close up image of a man biceps getting measured

One of the best telltale signs that a person is taking steroids is the rate at which they make gains.

This alludes to how quickly they are able to put on mass and transform their bodies in regards to the duration of their workout journey.

There is a limit to how much muscle a natural guy can put on in a month.

For example, natural weightlifters gain around 20 lbs of muscle mass when they start lifting weights.

After this initial period, they stay pretty much the same - only gaining small amounts of muscle afterward.

On the other hand, people using steroids will gain the initial 20 lbs of muscle while also adding another 30-50 lbs onto their frame in a relatively short period of time.

2. 3D Delts

man showing his back while flexing his biceps

Ever met someone who looked box-shape based on their physique? Also known as ‘boulder shoulders,’ 3D delts are another giveaway that they are taking steroids.

While big shoulders are attainable naturally, a common theme regarding steroid use is the focus on the deltoid and trapezius muscles.

If a person is on steroids, these muscle groups will be much larger and defined than other muscles in the human body.

It is due to the large number of androgen receptors located in these muscle regions, which cause significant growth when under the influence of anabolic-androgenic steroids

3. Excessive Vascularity

close up image of a man's veiny arms

One of the best ways to tell whether someone is on steroids is by checking out their veins.

Anabolic steroids have an impact on collagen production in the body, which makes the skin thinner and more susceptible to early aging.

As a result of thinner skin, the veins are easier to identify as they are closer to the skin's surface.

This is also why steroid use increases the risks of injuries, as thinner skin means that wounds don’t heal as fast as a person not using steroids.

4. Losing Body Fat and Gaining Muscle Simultaneously

shirtless buff man working out in a gym

It is common knowledge that workout out is either about gaining muscle or losing fat - but never both at the same time.

To gain muscle naturally, you need to increase your calorie intake through bulking, which also leads to an increase in weight.

From there, you lose fat by cutting down on your calories while doing strength training, as your body already has the excess calories needed to provide your muscles with the nutrients it needs to grow.

However, a steroid user is able to achieve both results simultaneously.

If you notice someone packing on a significant amount of muscle year-round with minimal fat gain, it’s another sign that they’re on juice.

5. Fat-Free Mass Index Ratio

shirtless man showing his abs while using a measuring tape on his chest

The FFMI is a way of determining a person’s mass in proportion to their weight, height, and body fat percentage.

Individuals that take steroids will often exceed what is considered a balanced ratio.

For example, you wouldn’t expect someone who is 5’ tall to possess the same mass ratios as someone who is 7’ in comparison.

Factors such as bone density and growth hormones affect how big someone can grow, which is why someone that exceeds certain percentages is highly suspicious of taking anabolic steroids.

An average FFMI falls between 18 - 23.

Individuals who exceed this range are suspected of being on steroids, while an FFMI greater than 28 means the person is almost guaranteed of taking them.

6. Deep Voice

woman's hands covering her mouth in shock

For women, one dead giveaway that they’re on steroids is the octave of their voice.

Anabolic steroids are associated with an increase in testosterone production.

This results in the lengthening and thickening of vocal cords, which causes a deeper voice for women.

In some cases, women may even develop facial hair in places that they don’t belong as a result of increased testosterone.

Steroids may also influence mood swings, better known as ‘roid rage’.

What Are The Side Effects of Taking Steroids?

man holding his stomach in pain, and another man squeezing acne on his nose

Besides assisting with muscle growth, there are also negative side effects of steroids that can be a detriment to your health. Below is a list of common side effects to look out for.

1. Acne

Steroids can lead to an enlargement of sebaceous glands, which increases the production of sebum (body oil). In large amounts, this oil can clog up a person’s pores, resulting in breakouts of acne.

Besides appearing on the face, these acne breakouts may also occur in places uncommon for acne, such as the back, torso regions, and limbs.

2. Bad Breath

guy holding his nose because of a bad smell

Besides creating disgusting-looking muscles, anabolic steroid abuse can also result in disgustingly bad breath.

There are no scientific reasons why this happens, but a couple of theories state that steroids can cause dehydration through increased sweating and a dry mouth, resulting in bad breath.

The best advice for steroid users would be to keep their mouths moist and well hydrated throughout the day.

Also, a breath mint may not be such a bad idea.

3. Dry Muscles

Before a competition, most weight lifters deprive themselves of water to tighten their skin and make their muscles stand out. This practice is known as dry muscles and typically lasts for three days.

However, if you notice someone that constantly walks around with dry muscles and eye-popping veins well after this period, they're probably on steroids.

4. Enlarged Physique

shirtless man working out using a cable machine

Testosterone is partly responsible for the size of our physique, which steroids tend to increase.

This results in an enlarged physique such as a wider face, defined jaw, larger forehead, and bigger Adam’s apple.

If you spot someone who has larger than normal body parts, it probably means they’re steroid users.

5. Steroid Gut

Also referred to as a human growth hormone gut, this condition is common in many users due to an increase in HGH and insulin from a steroid addiction.

HGH is responsible for the growth of tissues and organs. In high amounts, this causes the intestines to grow larger, resulting in a bloated-looking gut.

Modern standards of weightlifting are biased towards size and not aesthetic, which means judges often overlook the side effects of steroid gut. This is why bodybuilders today look as though they’re pregnant, as they pump themselves full of HGH and steroids to look bigger.

Comparatively, bodybuilders were known to have slimmer waists alongside big upper and lower bodies in the past, making them look more balanced.

6. Flushed Skin

face of a woman with flushed cheeks and forehead

Steroids are known to affect LDL cholesterol levels, which results in a spike in blood pressure.

That causes the skin to flush red or pink due to an increase in body temperature.

As a result, if the person sweats often or turns into a tomato at the first signs of aggravation, they're probably on steroids.

7. Bloating

Another side effect of steroid use is bloating. As anabolic steroids cause the body to retain water, this can cause bloating in muscles, face, or midsection.

Comparatively, natural weight lifters will have smooth and defined muscles.

They’ll also look more firm and dense compared to steroid muscles which may appear swollen with air.

8. Gynecomastia

man boobs on a shirtless man

Also known as ‘man boobs,’ gynecomastia occurs when the breast tissue under a man’s pecs becomes enlarged.

This condition is a result of high estrogen levels, which are commonly found in abundance in females.

As steroids greatly increase testosterone levels in men, the body tries to balance it out by creating just as many estrogen hormones, leading to man boobs.

The more estrogen is produced, the larger the breast tissues and nipples become.

Some individuals have been known to take anti-estrogen as they juice themselves to prevent man boobs.

However, this can result in adverse effects as they would be fighting their own body’s defense mechanisms, leading to hormonal imbalances.

9. Shrunken Testicles

One of the most common side effects of steroid abuse is small testicles. If you happen to notice shriveled-up grapes instead of plums, that’s another dead giveaway that they’re on juice.

Testicles shrink when an individual’s testosterone rises past a certain threshold. When this happens, androgen receptors signal the testicles to stop producing testosterone and semen, which causes the testicles to shrink.

Steroid users on a cycle can see a reversal of these effects within a few weeks. For those that abuse using steroids, however, it can lead to a permanent condition.

10. Stretch Marks

woman holding her leg and showing stretch marks

Individuals that are using steroids are also prone to developing stretch marks.

This occurs in individuals that grow their muscles too quickly and exceed the speed at which their skin can stretch.

However, natural bodybuilders may also incur stretch marks; thus, make sure to look out for other symptoms as well.

FAQs

How Common Are Steroids in Gyms?

According to evidence-based studies, “surveys in the American field indicate that drug or steroid use among community weight trainers attending gyms and health clubs is 15%-30%.” [1] - Julien S. Baker, Professor of Physiology

How Long Can Steroids Stay In Your System?

If taken orally, steroids can stay in your system for up to 14 days. If taken through injections, they can last for up to a month.

If It Seems Too Good To Be True, It’s Probably Steroids

If you’re debating between someone having great genetics vs. using steroids, these common symptoms can help you spot a natty from a juicer.

You can easily spot a steroid user due to imbalances in regard to the size. That can lead to many side effects such as swollen muscles, a bloated waist, and even shrunken testicles.

And it’s important to be aware of all these signs of joining the steroid users club. To avoid all of the possible health issues, it’s a much better idea to simply adopt a healthy lifestyle and put in the work, isn’t it?

You’ll make gains a lot slower, but you’ll also live a lot longer as well.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1484557/

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