Anabolic-androgenic steroids, often shortened to “anabolic steroids,” “steroids,” or “androgens,” are the most widely misused APED. These are synthetic substances similar to the male sex hormone testosterone. They promote the growth of skeletal muscle (anabolic effects) and the development of male sexual characteristics (androgenic effects) in both males and females. These compounds are sometimes used medically to treat delayed puberty and muscle loss due to disease and to treat low levels of testosterone in men with an associated medical condition. Anabolic androgenic steroids can also improve feelings of well-being and increase bone strength, but are not approved for these purposes. However, testosterone-supplementation therapy is an increasingly common treatment for mood and sexual performance problems associated with male aging, and it is controversially being prescribed even for younger men.

However, A variety of side effects can occur when anabolic steroids are misused, ranging from mild effects to ones that are harmful or even life-threatening. Most are reversible if the user stops taking the drugs, others may be permanent or semi-permanent.


Possible Health Consequences of Anabolic Steroid Misuse

Cardiovascular System, Steroid use has been associated with high blood pressure; decreased function of the heart’s ventricles; and cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, artery damage, and strokes, even in athletes younger than 30. Steroids can lead to increase the risk of atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty substances are deposited inside arteries and disrupt blood flow. If blood is prevented from reaching the heart or brain, the result can be a heart attack or stroke, respectively. Steroids also increase the risk that blood clots will form in blood vessels, potentially disrupting blood flow and damaging the heart muscle, so that it does not pump blood effectively. 

Hormonal System, Steroid use disrupts the normal production of hormones in the body. Changes that can be reversed include decreased sperm production, decreased function of the testes (hypogonadism) that leads to low testosterone levels, and shrinking of the testicles (testicular atrophy). Irreversible changes include male-pattern baldness and breast development (gynecomastia) in men. Anabolic steroids may also act upon the hormone system to increase the risk of testicular cancer, especially when steroids are used in combination with insulin-like growth factor. 

In females, anabolic steroids cause masculinization. Specifically, breast size and body fat decrease, the skin becomes coarse, and the voice deepens. Women may experience excessive growth of body hair but lose scalp hair. With continued administration of steroids, some of these effects become irreversible. 


Musculoskeletal System, Rising levels of testosterone and other sex hormones normally trigger the growth spurt that occurs during puberty and adolescence. These rising levels of testosterone also provide the signals to stop growth. When a child or adolescent takes anabolic steroids, the resulting artificially high sex hormone levels can prematurely signal the bones to stop growing. Evidence suggests that weightlifters who misuse anabolic steroids have stiffer tendons, which could lead to an increased risk for tendon injury.

Liver, Steroid misuse has been associated with liver damage,tumors,and a rare condition called peliosis hepatis, in which blood-filled cysts form in the liver. The cysts can rupture, causing internal bleeding and even death in rare cases.

Take away tip

Quitting Anabolic Steroids

  • Don’t quit on your own. Abruptly stopping carries a significant risk for other psychological complications, including potential depression and suicidal behaviors. If you have been using steroids for a long period of time, you may require inpatient detoxification.
  • Learn why you started using. Successful drug abuse treatment requires you to explore your motivations for using and understand the reasons for the substance abuse – activities that require professional help. Issues such as dissatisfaction with your appearance are deeper problems that can’t be solved with drug use.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of using. Ultimately, you must decide if the risks of substance abuse outweigh the perceived benefits of abusing the drug.
  • Get professional help. Treatment centers are efficient, supportive and have the track record to demonstrate success in the treatment of substance abuse and co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression and body image problems.

Q&A: What are the hormonal disturbances that result from misuse of anabolic steroids?

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