SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Anabolic steroids are a group of synthetic drugs. They copy the masculinising effects of the male sex hormone, testosterone.
- Anabolic steroids are often referred to as a ‘performance and image enhancing drug’. Their use includes increasing sporting performance and outcomes.
- There are some legitimate medical uses for anabolic steroids.
- People who misuse anabolic steroids may include athletes, bodybuilders and people who feel they need to look muscular to feel good about themselves.
- The misuse of anabolic steroids can cause long-term side effects. These can include cardiovascular complications, liver disease, reproductive organ damage and severe mood swings.
- Support is available for anabolic steroid users who want to change their dependence on these drugs.
What are anabolic steroids?
Anabolic steroids are also misused. People who illegally use anabolic steroids often do so to increase lean muscle mass, reduce fat and speed up recovery from injury.
Anabolic steroids can take the form of tablets, capsules or injectable liquids, depending on the brand.
Common slang terms for steroids include 'roids', 'gear' and 'juice'.
Who uses anabolic steroids?
According to research, anabolic steroiduse for non-medical purposes is more common in men in their 30s. Other groups who typically use them include:
- Professional athletes and bodybuilders who are involved in competitive sport or who have a strong desire to succeed.
- People who work in industries where muscle strength is important – such as security workers, police, construction workers and defence force staff.
- Young people and adults who are concerned about their body image and want to look muscular to feel good. This may include people who work in the fashion and entertainment industries.
How anabolic steroids work
Anabolic steroids work by imitating the properties of naturally occurring hormones, Their chemical composition is similar to testosterone and can activate the body’s testosterone receptors.
Once the receptors are stimulated, a domino effect of metabolic reactions takes place as the drug instructs the body to increase muscle tissue production.
Testosterone has two effects on your body:
- anabolic – maintains bone density, supports muscle growth and speeds up recovery from injury
- androgenic (also known as masculinising) – develops and maintains male characteristics (such as the penis, testicles, muscle mass, deep voice and facial hair).
Although testosterone is called a male sex hormone, it also occurs naturally in women, but in much smaller amounts.
How anabolic steroids affect the body
People who use anabolic steroids generally experience an increase in muscle strength very quickly.
This generally means that people are able to train more often and for longer periods of time, with improved recovery.
This can often lead to rapid increases in lean muscle tissue.
Fluid retention is also common and can lead to muscles looking soft or bloated.
Side effects of anabolic steroids
The effects of anabolic steroid use can differ from person to person. Some people may experience:
- difficulty sleeping
- damage to nerves from injecting steroids
- irritability, mood swings, aggression or depression
- skin changes – that results in scarring
- more .
Men may experience:
- testicle and penis shrinkage
- gynaecomastia (breast development)
- involuntary and long-lasting erection.
Women may experience:
- irregular or
- shrunken breasts
- deepened voice
- facial and body hair growth ()
- abnormal growth of the clitoris.
Young people may experience:
- stunted growth
- premature balding
- acne scarring
- injury caused by excessive, intense workouts
- on the chest and arms
- prematurely aged (or ‘leathery’) skin.
Long-term effects of anabolic steroids
Anabolic steroids can produce many unpleasant and often permanent side effects, including:
- damage to the gonads (testicles or ovaries)
- malfunctions of the , or
- 'roid rage', which is characterised by uncontrollable outbursts of psychotic aggression
- and mood swings, including deep
- , which can cause scarring
- injuries to tendons that can't keep up with the increased muscle strength
- delusional feelings of being superhuman or invincible.Trembling and muscle tremors.
- nerve damage from needle use – this may lead to conditions such as
- unsafe needle use can increased the risk of contracting infactions such as and , and .
Mixing anabolic steroids with other drugs
A person who is using anabolic steroids may turn to other supplementary drugs.
They may do this to either speed up their physical transformation or counter the side effects of the steroids.
The dangers of mixing these drugs aren't fully known.
Some of these other drugs may include:
- – to counteract feelings of deep depression and aid in fat loss
- beta blockers – to counteract trembling
- diuretics – to counteract fluid retention
- – such as human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) to stimulate the body's natural production of testosterone and counteract testicle shrinkage.
Dependence on anabolic steroids
Anabolic steroids do not cause physical dependence. However, if a person relies on them for their self-esteem and confidence, then giving up can be extremely difficult. The pressure to keep using steroids may result in feelings of anger or depression if their access to steroids is denied, even temporarily.
Withdrawal from anabolic steroids
It can take up to 4 months to restore natural testosterone levels after being on anabolic steroids for a long time. Withdrawal symptoms from steroids can include:
Treatment for anabolic steroid addiction
- individual counselling
- group therapy.
Peer support – or talking to someone who has been in the same situation – can also be helpful.
See your doctor for information and referral, or contact an alcohol and other drug service in your area.
Anabolic steroid use and the law
In Australia, laws and penalties vary on anabolic steroid use among states and territories.
Steriods are only permitted for people with certain medical conditions on prescription by their medical practitioner.
Generally, anabolic steroids cannot be:
- manufactured, imported, used, supplied or held in someone’s possession without a prescription or medical practitioner licence
- injected by another person or self-administered without a prescription
- used in competitive sport. Positive tests can result in fines, suspensions or permanent bans.
Where to get help
- In an emergency, call triple zero (000)
- Your GP (doctor)
- Sports psychologist
- Tel. – information and referral services for anyone seeking help for alcohol or drug use
- Tel. – for 24-hour confidential drug and alcohol telephone counselling, information and referral
- Tel. – for information and support for people concerned about a relative or friend using drugs
- Tel. – free drug and alcohol counselling 24/7
- service Tel. – for information, counselling and referral to youth-specific alcohol and other drug services
- Tel. or – for young people aged 12-25 wanting to talk about mental health and substance use