Skip to main content

Warning notification:Warning

Unfortunately, you are using an outdated browser. Please, upgrade your browser to improve your experience with HSE. The list of supported browsers:

  1. Chrome
  2. Edge
  3. FireFox
  4. Opera
  5. Safari

Anabolic steroid misuse

Anabolic steroids are prescription-only medicines.

They are sometimes taken without medical advice to increase muscle mass and improve athletic performance.

If anabolic steroids are used in this way, they can cause serious side effects and addiction.

Anabolic steroids are not to be confused with corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are a different type of medicine. They are prescribed for a variety of conditions.

Get help if you're addicted

Your GP will help you to get treatment for addiction.

Non-urgent advice: Talk to your GP if:

  • you think you're addicted to anabolic steroids

Your GP may refer you to a drugs counsellor. They'll discuss your addiction and help you safely stop taking steroids.

Medical use of anabolic steroids

Anabolic steroids have limited medical uses.

They are sometimes prescribed to treat hormone deficiencies and diseases that result in loss of lean muscle mass, such as cancer and AIDS.

Anabolic steroids and the law

Anabolic steroids are only available legally on prescription from a registered pharmacist.

Otherwise it is illegal to sell them or supply them. This includes giving them to friends.

You could be fined up to €2,000 or put in jail.

Most sport organisations ban and test for anabolic steroid use.

Why people misuse anabolic steroids

Anabolic steroids can be used as performance-enhancing drugs.

They increase muscle and decrease fat but can also cause many unpleasant effects. Some athletes and bodybuilders take them to improve physical performance.

People may also misuse these drugs for other reasons, for example teenagers who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder - a mental health condition where you worry a lot about how you look.

Some people believe taking anabolic steroids will help them become fit and healthy.

This is not true. Taking anabolic steroids is dangerous.

How anabolic steroids are taken

Anabolic steroids are usually injected into the muscle or taken by mouth as tablets.

They also come as creams or gels that are put on the skin.

People who misuse anabolic steroids might:

  • take the drugs for a period of time, stop for a rest then start again - this is known as 'cycling'
  • take more than 1 type of anabolic steroid at a time - this is known as 'stacking'
  • do a combination of both stacking and cycling known as 'pyramiding'

There is no evidence that these methods reduce the side effects from taking anabolic steroids.

Side effects of anabolic steroids

Taking anabolic steroids can lead to physical and mental changes in both men and women.

They can also cause dangerous medical conditions.

Serious side-effects, such as heart attack, stroke and blood clots can be fatal.

Physical effects

Effects of anabolic steroids in men can include:

In women, anabolic steroids can cause:

  • facial hair growth and body hair
  • loss of breasts
  • swelling of the clitoris
  • a deepened voice
  • an increased sex drive
  • problems with periods
  • hair loss
  • severe acne

Men and women who take anabolic steroids can develop medical conditions, some of which can be fatal.

Medical conditions include:

Psychological effects

Misusing anabolic steroids can also cause the following mental or emotional effects:

  • aggressive behaviour
  • mood swings
  • paranoia
  • manic behaviour
  • hallucinations and delusions

Stunted growth in adolescents

Anabolic steroids speed up bone growth. If they're misused by adolescents, the drugs can cause premature ageing of the bones and restricted growth.

Sharing needles

As anabolic steroids are often injected, there are risks associated with sharing needles.

These are the same risks as recreational drug use and include:


Anabolic steroids are addictive.

This means you can crave the drug and need more to get the same effect. You can have withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking them.

A person who is addicted to anabolic steroids will want to keep using them. This is despite experiencing unpleasant side effects.

When GPs prescribe steroid medication, they always advise coming off the medicine slowly by gradually reducing the dose.

Sopping anabolic steroids suddenly can result in withdrawal symptoms that include:


This content was fact checked by a pharmacist, a GP and the National Medication Safety Programme (Safermeds).

Page last reviewed: 24 September 2021
Next review due: 24 September 2024

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.