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.
Effects of anabolic steroids in men can include:
- reduced sperm count
- shrunken testicles
- erectile dysfunction
- breast development
- increased risk of prostate cancer
- severe acne
- stomach pain
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:
- heart attack
- liver or kidney problems or failure
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- blood clots
- fluid retention
- high cholesterol
Misusing anabolic steroids can also cause the following mental or emotional effects:
- aggressive behaviour
- mood swings
- 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.
As anabolic steroids are often injected, there are risks associated with sharing needles.
These are the same risks as recreational drug use and include:
- damage to veins, leading to ulcers or gangrene
- hepatitis B infection
- hepatitis C infection
- HIV transmission
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:
- depression and apathy
- feelings of anxiety
- difficulty concentrating
- decreased sex drive
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- muscle and joint pain
This content was fact checked by a pharmacist, a GP and the National Medication Safety Programme (Safermeds).