Are Steroids Bad for You? (12 Shocking Side Effects)

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: January 27, 2024
Our content is meticulously researched and reviewed by an expert team of fact checkers and medical professionals. They ensure accuracy, relevance, and timeliness using the latest reputable sources, which are cited within the text and listed at the end of the article. Before publication and upon significant updates, we confirm factual accuracy, committed to providing readers with well-informed content. Learn more.

Anabolic steroid use is a controversial and sensitive subject.

Possession of or using steroids for performance enhancement is illegal, yet many professional athletes still use them and often claim the only problem is anabolic steroid misuse, not the use in general.

Being a fitness trainer and a professional athlete, people have frequently asked me, Are steroids bad for you?

Given all the confusion on this subject, I studied all the peer-reviewed articles I could find, and I teamed up with an endocrinologist to discuss the literature.

My findings only solidified my long-standing stance, so let’s dive in.

Quick Summary

  • Steroids, particularly anabolic steroids, are controversial due to their potential for misuse and serious side effects, despite some medical benefits.
  • Steroid misuse can lead to a range of health issues, including hormonal imbalances, reproductive problems, and psychological effects.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that up to 30% of steroid users develop a dependency syndrome, and about 25% experience major psychiatric disorders.
  • From my professional experience, I advocate for natural alternatives to steroids, like natural testosterone boosters and bulking stacks, for safer muscle building.

Why Are Steroids Bad for You?

A buff male raising a muscly arm

Steroids are generally considered bad for you because many of them can lead to adverse side effects and be easily misused.

Even when used as doctor-prescribed treatments for medical conditions, steroids can have various long-lasting side effects.

Steroid use in competitive sports undermines the essence of fair play and sportsmanship, casting doubt on the value of natural talent and effort and often setting unrealistic benchmarks for performance.

Teenagers and young adults, particularly vulnerable to influence, may feel compelled to use steroids to mimic their idols, risking misuse and health complications early in life.

Let's see why you should avoid them.

Side Effects and Risks

Close up shot of a steroid bottle and syringe

While steroids have legitimate medical applications and can be beneficial in certain contexts, their misuse comes with a range of serious side effects.

Men

  • Breast-tissue development: Consistent steroid use can lead to hormonal imbalances, which can trigger the growth of male breasts [1].
  • Testicular atrophy and reduced sperm count: Drug abuse, especially with steroids, is associated with impaired male reproductive function, testicle shrinkage, and genetic sperm damage [2].
  • Erectile dysfunction: While steroids increase testosterone levels, they can lead to erectile dysfunction once you’re off the cycle, based on research published in the Translational Andrology and Urology journal [3].
  • Increased risk of prostate cancer: Using steroids can cause cancer which may lead to tumor growth or enlargement of the prostate, according to the Mayo Clinic [4].

Women

  • Body hair growth and scalp hair loss: Women who use steroids may experience excessive growth of body hair and lose hair from their scalp; continued administration can make these effects permanent.
  • Facial hair growth: In addition to increased body hair, women who use steroids may also experience growth in facial hair [5].
  • Male sex characteristics: Women who use steroids tend to experience male sex characteristics like a deepened voice, a smaller chest, and increased facial hair [6].
  • High sex drive: According to WebMD, while men experience lower libido from steroid use, women experience a heightened sex drive when taking steroids [7].

Both Sexes

  • Aggressive mood swings: Commonly called "roid-rage", steroid-induced aggression can occur in individuals taking large doses of steroids over an extended period of time [8].
  • Mental health impact: The National Institute on Drug Abuse highlights that up to 30% of steroid users develop a dependency syndrome, and about 25% experience major psychiatric disorders like mania [9].
  • Liver disease: Research from the University of California has shown that using steroids can lead to severe liver toxicity [10].
  • Altered immune system: While studies, like the one published in the Open Life Science journal, show that steroids can affect your immune system, this area still needs more research [11].

“There are a lot of side effects of steroids. They are not good for you. It is like Russian roulette. Five people may take them and have no long-term problem. The sixth may end up dead.”

- Dr. Kenneth Mautner, MD, Physiatrist, Emory University

What Exactly Are Steroids?

Close up shot of a syringe of steroids

Steroids are hormones, either natural or man-made, that boost bone and muscle growth. We're zeroing in on anabolic steroids here—the kind most people mean when they talk about steroids. There are three main steroid hormone types:

  1. Anabolic Androgenic Steroids
  2. Corticosteroids
  3. Sex Hormones

Anabolic Androgenic Steroids

These synthetic hormones mimic testosterone and are primarily used to bulk up muscle. While they are illegal to have and distribute, doctors can prescribe them for hormonal issues and muscle loss.

But they're often misused. In the fitness world, I've seen bodybuilders take doses 10 to 100 times higher than medical recommendations. You can take anabolic steroids orally, inject them, or use them as creams or gels.

Corticosteroids

Different from anabolic steroids, corticosteroids are either naturally occurring hormones or synthetic drugs. They're used to treat immune overreactions, inflammation, asthma, and COPD [12].

Synthetic ones are man-made versions of what’s produced in your adrenal glands. Doctors usually prescribe them to lessen swelling, itchiness, redness, and allergic reactions.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency states their use in sports depends on the dosage, frequency, and purpose [13].

From my time in professional sports, I've learned that corticosteroids, while not our main focus here, are incredibly potent. Misuse, which I've seen happen, can lead to severe side effects.

Sex Hormones

These hormones, including androgens (like testosterone), estrogens, and progestogens, govern sex characteristics and reproductive functions. Most anabolic steroids are based on testosterone, the male sex hormone.

Uses and Potential Benefits

Close up shot of steroid muscles

Steroids, when used correctly, offer medical benefits. Even without a doctor's prescription, they enhance muscle and athletic performance.

Medical Uses

Doctors prescribe steroids for several conditions, including:

  • Delayed Puberty: A 1994 study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood showed anabolic steroids significantly accelerate growth in boys with delayed puberty [14].
  • Muscle-Skeletal Damage: Effective in orthopedic repair, anabolic steroids aid in healing damaged bones and muscles [15].
  • Muscle-Wasting Diseases: For diseases like COPD, AIDS, cancer, and liver or kidney issues causing muscle loss, anabolic steroids help preserve muscle mass, as stated in the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [16].

Enhanced Muscle Growth and Strength

In strength sports like powerlifting and bodybuilding, anabolic steroids boost strength, muscle mass, and power. Their widespread use is partly due to many federations not testing for them.

Enhanced Athletic Performance

Having trained countless athletes, I've seen many turn to anabolic steroids to break through performance plateaus, seeking improved speed and power. Yet, research published in the Sports Medicine journal indicates steroids primarily boost recovery and power rather than just muscle mass [17].

Related Articles:

Are There Better Alternatives to Steroids?

Close up shot of an opened up supplement pill

Yes, there are better and safer alternatives to steroids; they’re called legal steroids. While they might not be as effective at increasing muscle mass, they’re definitely a much safer option in the long run. Let’s take a quick look at them.

Natural Testosterone Boosters

In my journey from soccer to MMA, I've relied on Natural testosterone boosters like vitamin D, ashwagandha, zinc, and protein. They're safe and effective for maintaining healthy testosterone levels [18].

Their only downside is that they won’t naturally increase your T-levels past your genetic and age capacity. For example, a 30-year-old man won’t have his testosterone boosted beyond the average level for his age group. On the plus side, these supplements don’t carry any negative side effects.

Natural Bulking Stacks

Natural bulking stacks are a safe, natural, and effective way to enhance your gains in the gym.

They contain powerful blends of natural testosterone-boosting ingredients that can help you push genetic muscle-building barriers and achieve your fitness goals safely. And they don’t have the nasty side effects of illegal steroids.

We conducted a survey on more than 600 gym professionals and compiled a list of the 10 best bulking steroids that we thoroughly tested ourselves as well.

FAQs

Are Steroids Illegal?

Yes, it is illegal to possess, sell, buy, or distribute anabolic steroids without a doctor’s prescription. Under federal law, first-time unlawful possession of anabolic steroids carries a $1,000 fine and one year in prison. The penalties get more severe with consecutive charges of possession.

What’s the Difference Between Anabolic Steroids and Performance-Enhancing Drugs?

There isn’t really a difference between anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Anabolic steroids are simply a type of PED.

Other PEDs include stimulants, beta-blockers, diuretics, testosterone, erythropoietin (EPO), human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), and human growth hormone (HGH).

What Are the Most Commonly Used Anabolic Steroids?

Anadrol, Oxandrin, Winstrol, Dianabol, Equipoise, and Deca-Durabolin are the most commonly used anabolic steroids.

When Do Some Athletes Take Anabolic Steroids?

Some athletes take anabolic steroids when they want to build muscle mass and strength and improve their athletic performance. Others take it when there’s a medical reason.

When Do Athletes Start Taking Steroids?

Athletes usually start taking anabolic steroids when they’ve reached a plateau in their athletic performance or muscle growth. Steroids help them get over their physical and genetic barriers.

When Is It Okay for Athletes to Take Steroids?

It’s okay for athletes to take anabolic steroids when doctors prescribe them for treating injuries and fast recovery. However, in most cases, they prescribe corticosteroids, not anabolic steroids.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11715139/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29120657/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6043738/
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/anabolic-steroid-oral-route-parenteral-route/before-using/drg-20069323
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955395920302164
  6. https://www.sciencenorway.no/drugs-gender-and-society-workout/women-who-use-anabolic-steroids-encounter-masculinizing-side-effects/1728834
  7. https://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/sexual-health-stds
  8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0018506X01917064
  9. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/anabolic-steroids
  10. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2006/02/97820/anabolic-steroid-use-increases-heart-attack-risk-and-causes-liver-damage
  11. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45191627_Anabolic_androgenic_steroids_effects_on_the_immune_system_A_review
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7255263/
  13. https://www.usada.org/spirit-of-sport/education/five-things-know-glucocorticoids/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1030008/
  15. https://www.news-medical.net/health/Taking-Anabolic-Steroids-After-a-Sport-Injury.aspx
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2844687/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15248788/
  18. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/natural-testosterone-booster
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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