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Side Effects of Anabolic Steroid Abuse: Dangers and Signs of Use

Anabolic steroid abuse comes with a range of side effects, such as aggression, hallucinations, mood swings, paranoia, and mania. Serious side effects include harm to the heart, kidneys, blood vessels, and liver.[1]

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There are many harmful anabolic steroid side effects to be aware of. Men may experience hair loss, acne, shrinking testicles, and breast development. Women may experience menstrual issues, odd hair growth, and acne.[1],[2] Many of these side effects are also signs of steroid use—if you notice them in a loved one, they may need help quitting anabolic steroids.

Short vs. Long-Term Side Effects of Anabolic Steroids

Short-Term Side EffectsLong-Term Side Effects
AggressionHeart attack
Delusions and hallucinationsStroke
Mood swingsLiver cancer
ParanoiaHigh cholesterol
ManiaBlood vessel damage
Kidney damage
Hormonal changes in men
Masculinization in women

Why Do People Take Anabolic Steroids?

Anabolic steroids mimic testosterone. For men with hormone issues or delayed puberty and people of any gender with muscle loss, steroids are incredibly helpful. 

But some bodybuilders and athletes take 100 times the recommended dose of steroids, and they do so without a doctor’s approval or supervision.[1] These people hope the drugs will give them a competitive edge and deliver the body they’ve worked hard to build in the gym. 

People who take steroids believe these drugs can do the following:[2]

  • Increase lean body mass 
  • Boost strength
  • Shorten workout recovery times 
  • Enhance endurance
  • Build muscle size 

Unfortunately, these drugs can also cause significant short-term and long-term side effects. And people who abuse steroids for long periods may find it hard to quit without help. 

Anabolic Steroid Side Effects: Short-Term & Long-Term Problems

Prescription medications like steroids are safe and effective when used under a doctor’s supervision. But people who abuse these drugs rarely ask for a doctor’s help. They may take so much at one time that experts aren’t exactly sure about the consequences. 

These are a few side effects experts are sure of.

Short-Term Effects of Steroid Use

Unlike heroin, prescription opioids, cocaine, and other drugs of misuse, steroids don’t cause a high. People don’t feel a huge boost of pleasure or calm when taking steroids. But they may experience unintended emotional issues. [3]

Steroid abuse causes the following issues:[4]

  • Aggression
  • Delusions 
  • Hallucinations
  • Mania 
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia 

Long-Term Effects of Steroid Abuse

One dose of steroids won’t cause dramatic body changes. People who abuse them often take doses repeatedly to get the results they want. 

Long-term abuse can damage your: [1],[3]

  • Blood vessels 
  • Heart 
  • Kidneys 
  • Liver

It can also cause high cholesterol, strokes, heart attacks, liver cancer, tendon injuries, and stunted growth in adolescents.[1],[3]

Boys and men who abuse steroids can experience the following: [3],[5]

  • Acne
  • Breast development 
  • Hair loss 
  • Shrinking testicles 
  • Decreased sperm production
  • Male-pattern baldness
  • Testicular cancer

Girls and women who abuse steroids can experience these issues: [3],[5]

  • Acne
  • Menstrual problems
  • Unusual hair growth
  • Voice deepening
  • Reduced breast size
  • Excessive body hair growth
  • Male-pattern baldness

Steroid abuse is very common in professional bodybuilding circles. The habit has also been connected to high-profile deaths within the sport. In most cases, these bodybuilders died due to enlarged heart muscles. [6]

Signs of Anabolic Steroid Abuse to Watch For

Some people who use anabolic steroids talk openly about the habit. They explain how they cycle through use and sobriety, and they may line up their pills and powders on kitchen counters so they remember to take their doses. 

Some people try to keep their use a secret, but telltale signs may appear, including:[7]

  • Mood changes: Irritability or aggression is common. Some people may swing between anger and sadness.
  • Intense focus: People abusing steroids to boost performance may give up virtually all non-workout activities, skip meals, and otherwise spend all their time and energy on bulking up and slimming down. 
  • Obsession with use: People may lie, steal, and cheat to get the drugs they need. 
  • Inability to quit: When people try to stop using steroids, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as depression. 

Since anabolic steroid use damages organs, people with a habit may also seem physically ill. They may look yellow or jaundiced, and they may have swollen hands and feet. [7]

With persistent use, they may complain of nausea or dizziness. And they may be covered with acne, stretch marks, and other skin issues. 

Doctors can use liver function tests to diagnose steroid abuse. And doctors may know to run those tests on patients who appear visibly changed from one appointment to the next. [8]

How Is Steroid Abuse Treated?

People rarely start abusing steroids on a whim. In most cases, deep psychological problems entice people to turn to drugs. Dealing with those issues is a core part of treatment.

Some people misuse steroids due to body image issues. When they look in the mirror, they see a body that’s too thin, too weak, and too frail. 

In therapy, these people can learn to accept their bodies as they are right now. And they can learn how to develop a healthy relationship with eating and workout plans. 

Researchers have found that many people who abuse steroids have been sexually assaulted in the past. They are using muscle mass to help them feel safe in a dangerous world. [7]

Therapy can help them to discuss and process these feelings so they won’t lean on unhelpful solutions like drugs to address a very real mental health issue. Without dealing with the underlying issue, it’s likely that the substance use disorder won’t be successfully managed.

Anyone abusing steroids should consider enrolling in a comprehensive treatment program. Drugs only mask problems. 

Therapy can deliver real healing, so the person can stop abusing drugs for good. The end result is a happier, healthier person.

Updated September 28, 2023
  1. Anabolic Steroids. (June 2021). National Library of Medicine.
  2. Anabolic Steroids. (March 2023). Drug Enforcement Administration.
  3. Anabolic Steroids DrugFacts. (August 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  4. Anabolic Steroid Misuse. (April 2022). NHS.
  5. Teens and Steroids: A Dangerous Combo. (December 2017). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  6. Bodybuilders Are Sounding the Alarm That Extreme Steroid Use Is Leading to Deaths in the Sport, and It's Only Getting Worse. (April 2022). Insider.
  7. Anabolic Steroids. (August 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  8. Look Out For Signs of Steroid Use, GPs Told. (September 2006). GP.
  9. Who Uses Anabolic Steroids? (February 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  10. Health Consequences of Androgenic Anabolic Steroid Use. (March 2019). Journal of Internal Medicine.
  11. Characteristics and Attitudes of Men Using Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS): A Survey of 2385 Men. (December 2020). American Journal of Men’s Health.
  12. Diagnosis and Management of Anabolic Androgenic Steroid Use. (February 2019). The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
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