Steroids, Anabolic

Street names: Gym Candy, Juice, Roids

Revised February 2019

What are anabolic steroids?

Steroids word cloud collage, health concept background©Shutterstock/Dizain

Also known as: Anabolic-androgenic Steroids, Gear, Juice, Roids, and Stackers

Common brand names: Androsterone, Deca-durabolin, Dianabol, Equipoise, Oxandrin, and Winstrol 

Anabolic steroids are medications related to testosterone (male sex hormone) that are made in labs. Doctors use anabolic steroids to treat hormone problems in men, delayed puberty, and muscle loss from some diseases.

Bodybuilders and athletes might misuse anabolic steroids in attempts to build muscles and improve athletic performance, often taking doses much higher than would be prescribed for a medical condition. Using them this way, without a prescription from a doctor, is not legal—or safe—and can have long-term consequences.

Anabolic steroids are only one type of steroid. Other types of steroids include cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone. These are different chemicals and do not have the same effects.

How Anabolic Steroids Are Misused

When people take steroids without a doctor’s prescription or in ways other than as prescribed, it is called misuse.

Some people who misuse steroids take pills; others use needles to inject steroids into their muscles or apply them to the skin as a gel or cream.

What happens to your brain when you misuse anabolic steroids?

Anabolic steroids affect a part of the brain called the limbic system, which controls mood. They don’t cause a “high” like some other drugs, but can cause harmful effects.

Long-term steroid misuse can lead to aggressive behavior and extreme mood swings. This is sometimes referred to as “roid rage.” It can also lead to feeling paranoid (like someone or something is out to get you), jealous, delusional (believing in something that is not true), and invincible (like nothing can hurt you).

Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs.

What happens to your body when you misuse anabolic steroids?

Short-Term Effects

People who misuse anabolic steroids can experience many effects, some of which are serious:

  • oily skin and acne
  • water retention
  • yellowing of the skin
  • muscle building
  • possible improved athletic performance
  • infection

Long-Term Effects

  • stunted growth (in teens)
  • stunted height (if teens use steroids before their growth spurt)
  • high blood pressure
  • changes in blood cholesterol (increases in “bad” cholesterol or LDL, decreases in “good” cholesterol or HDL)
  • enlarged heart
  • heart attack or stroke (even in young people)
  • liver disease, including cancer
  • kidney problems or failure

Males

  • breast growth and shrinking of testicles
  • low sperm count/infertility
  • baldness
  • increased risk for prostate cancer

Females

  • voice deepening
  • growth of facial hair
  • male-pattern baldness
  • changes in or end of menstrual cycle/getting your period
  • enlargement of clitoris

In addition, people who misuse steroids by injecting them risk getting HIV or hepatitis (a liver disease) if they share needles. Read more about the link between viral infections and drug use.

Some people who misuse steroids believe they can avoid unwanted side effects or increase the drugs’ effects by using them in specific ways, sometimes called cycling, stacking, or pyramiding. There is no scientific evidence that any of these approaches reduces the harmful effects of misusing these drugs.

Can you overdose or die if you misuse anabolic steroids?

Yes. Although it is rare, there are a few ways steroid misuse can cause death.

  • Heart attacks and strokes. Steroid misuse can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis, where fat builds up inside arteries and makes it hard for blood to flow. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, a heart attack can occur. If blood flow to the brain is blocked, a stroke can occur.
  • HIV. People who inject anabolic steroids using needles might share dirty drug injection equipment that can spread serious viral infections such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis (a liver disease).
  • Depression. Steroid misuse can lead to depression, especially during withdrawal. In rare cases, this can contribute to destructive behaviors, including suicide. 
  • Cancer. There is some scientific evidence that repeated misuse of anabolic steroids can contribute to the development of liver and prostate cancer. 

Mixing steroids with other drugs, including alcohol, can be especially dangerous.

Learn more about drug overdoses in youth.

Are anabolic steroids addictive?

They can be. Addiction to steroids is different than addiction to other drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. People who misuse steroids don’t experience a “high” from the drug. However, they can experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using them.

People who do become addicted keep using steroids despite bad effects on their bodies and lives. Also, people who misuse steroids typically spend a large amount of time and money obtaining the drugs, another sign they could be addicted.

When they stop using steroids, people can experience uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • feeling depressed
  • having mood swings
  • feeling tired or restless
  • losing their appetite
  • being unable to sleep (insomnia)
  • having a strong desire to take more steroids

Depression can be very dangerous, because it sometimes leads people to think of or attempt suicide (killing themselves). Some symptoms of depression that are linked with anabolic steroid withdrawal have lasted for a year or more after the person stops misusing the drugs.

How many teens misuse anabolic steroids?

While it is usually adults who misuse steroids, a small number of teens use them, often in an attempt to improve athletic performance.

Below is a chart showing the percentage of teens who misuse steroids. 

Swipe left or right to scroll.

Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Steroids for 8th Graders, 10th Graders, and 12th Graders; 2018 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period 8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Steroids Lifetime 1.10 1.20 1.60
Past Year 0.60 0.60 1.10
Past Month 0.30 0.40 0.80

For the most recent statistics on teen drug use, see NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study.

What should I do if someone I know needs help?

If you, or a friend, are in crisis and need to speak with someone now: 

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don't just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by)

If you want to help a friend, you can:

If a friend is using drugs, you might have to step away from the friendship for a while. It is important to protect your own mental health and not put yourself in situations where drugs are being used.

For more information on how to help a friend or loved one, visit our Have a Drug Problem, Need Help? page.

Where can I get more information?

Drug Facts

NIDA Resources:

Other Resources:

Statistics and Trends

NIDA Resources:  

Other Resources:

Blog Posts

Chat Day Transcripts

Content on this site is available for your use and may be reproduced in its entirety without permission from NIDA. Citation of the source is appreciated, using the following language: Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.