What are anabolic steroids

What are anabolic steroids (and how do they work)?

9 min read


24 Jan 2023

Grab your cheatsheet…

  1. The history of anabolic steroids
  2. What are anabolic steroids?
  3. How do steroids work?
  4. What are the side effects of anabolic steroids?
  5. Mental health side-effects
  6. Reproductive health side-effects
  7. Physical health side-effects
  8. Should you use anabolic steroids?

Dodgy deals in the locker rooms, and hushed conversations by the weight rack. If you regularly lift weights or are an aspiring bodybuilder, you’ll no doubt have come across anabolic steroids.

You might even have considered taking them yourself to help you achieve your physique goals.

And it can be tempting! Especially if you struggle to build consistent muscle mass. But the benefits fail to outweigh the negatives. Steroids have been a dark part of the health and fitness industry for decades.

Yes! They can help you achieve incredible strength and incredible physiques faster and more effectively, but they are dangerous with many undesirable side effects and they are illegal in every state in the US.

Yet, despite these drawbacks, thousands of people still use them with the hope that they'll improve their performance without harming them in the process.

So, what are anabolic steroids, how do they work and what are the side effects - let’s figure it out.

The history of anabolic steroids

When talking about steroids in this article, we're only referring to anabolic steroids, the leading and most popular kind of illegal steroids in circulation.

Alternative types of steroids are used primarily in a medical setting to treat patients, but anabolic steroids are the main variant that some weightlifters and bodybuilders use to improve their strength and mass.

The first steroid as we know it today was created and introduced in 1935. Discovered in Germany, this steroid was the first to synthesize testosterone.

history of anabolic steroids

In simple terms, this means that the steroid was manufactured to replicate naturally occurring male hormones and worked by eliciting the same reactions that testosterone would have. Believe it or not, this first steroid was used to treat depression, which proved problematic - as mental illness is a common symptom of steroid abuse.

Of course, it wasn't long before people started using this substance for sporting purposes, and professional athletes started to use it to boost their performance in the 1954 Olympics. Allegedly, Russian weightlifters took this synthetic testosterone to help them increase their strength.

In the 1980s, anabolic steroids made it deeper into the general population, with young men being the main demographic to start using the drug.

Then, in 1990, just as anabolic steroid usage was at its peak, congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Act of 1990, making steroid usage illegal in the United States and punishable with a minimum of 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Despite steroids becoming criminalized, there are still a lot of illegal steroids in circulation in the country, being sold illegally on the black market and even online. This is because there are other countries, like Mexico and some European nations, where steroids are not illegal, making it easier to smuggle in supplies from there.

Thankfully, in recent years, legal anabolic steroid alternatives have been developed. These supplements are safer, healthier alternatives that allow users to experience the benefits of anabolic steroids without some of the side effects.

This development now means that there's a legitimate option for those who want to get help to achieve their fitness goals, and it means that steroids don't have the attraction they once did.

What are anabolic steroids?

So, first off - what are anabolic steroids?

Steroids are artificial substances that mimic the production of testosterone - the male hormone chemical produced in your body that controls and regulates various functions, including muscle growth.

They help build muscle mass and lose fat, making them a tempting option for weightlifters and bodybuilders.

Steroids come in multiple shapes and sizes, with different varieties suitable for specific goals. For example, certain steroids are great for building mass, while others are better at boosting your metabolism to help you stay lean.

There are also multiple ways to take steroids, most commonly injected via a hyperdermic needle.

You can also ingest steroids as pills, and they will be dissolved into your bloodstream.This is a popular method as it's more direct and is said to make your muscle mass grow even quicker.

How do steroids work?

Steroids work by mimicking testosterone. Your body responds to the drug as if it is your natural testosterone.

The hormone is responsible for many functions in your body, the main one being that it signals your muscles to grow and repair. When first used, steroids will boost your overall testosterone level in your body, or more specifically, what your body perceives to be testosterone.

A rise in this hormone will help you develop muscle and strength. That said, after prolonged usage, your body will stop creating testosterone, reducing the effect of the steroids.

Therefore, many people must increase their dosage to see the same results.

To combat this, users of steroids run cycles where they start with small doses, increase it to a maximum amount after a month, and then slowly reduce it again.

Related content: How do anabolic steroids work?

The science of anabolic steroids

The science can be complicated regarding how steroids work within your body. To help you get some understanding of what's going on inside your body, here's a basic explanation of the process and how steroids have an effect.

With hormones and other chemicals that exist in your body, for them to work and create a reaction, they need to interact with the relevant receptors in your body.

For testosterone, those receptors are known as androgen receptors. When testosterone binds with these receptors, it causes chemical reactions that signal your body to grow muscle and encourage other effects.

The science of anabolic steroids

Steroids also bind to these receptors, saturating them with synthetic chemicals to encourage your body to grow muscle and mass.

The issue with steroids is that they don't just bind to one kind of receptor responsible for muscle growth and recovery. Instead, they also bind and interfere with our receptors and body functions, which is why they come with various unwanted side effects.

The substance can remain in your body for a long time when you use steroids. Although a certain amount will disappear after a few days, steroids can stay in your body for about a year.

Unfortunately, this means the consequences of using steroids can stay with you for a long time.

What are the side effects of anabolic steroids?

Steroids work well at increasing your muscle mass, which is great if you're looking to build an impressive appearance. But sadly, the substance also has many side effects that can negatively impact your health, mood, and quality of life.

You may be willing to risk getting these side effects or believe that you'll get lucky and not experience them. However, due to the countless side effects, there's a high chance that you will be negatively affected in some way.

Some side effects can impact your sexual and reproductive health, cause harm to your mental health, affect your appearance, and even be life-threatening.

Related content: 5 side effects of testosterone you’ll want to avoid

Mental health side-effects

When you take steroids, you change the balance of your hormones. Although this can mainly affect your physical characteristics, these changes can also wreak havoc on your mood and mental stability.

Some mental side effects of using steroids include:

Mania and rage

You might have heard this referred to as “roid rage”.

People who use steroids are more likely to experience mania. Mania is when you are more aggressive and have a shorter fuse. This anger can lead to you being violent and can affect those around you (in addition to yourself).

Related content: What is roid rage (myth or frightening reality)

Paranoia and psychosis

Steroids can also make you a lot more paranoid and anxious, meaning that you can start to behave in negative ways that may be uncharacteristic of your usual self.

In the worst cases, you can develop psychosis and start to experience hallucinations and visions.

Body dysmorphia

Steroids aren't going to cause body dysmorphia themselves, but their usage and the reason for using them could cause you to develop the condition.

Because you focus on improving your physique and looks when using steroids, you could develop a twisted and unrealistic view of yourself while trying to attain unrealistic goals and expectations.

Reproductive side-effects

Testosterone is responsible for regulating your sexual organs and is essential to your ability to reproduce.

As steroids mimic testosterone, the substance can cause many unwanted side effects on your manhood and ability to perform. Some common issues include:

Related content: Steroids and fertility: how are they impacted

Reduced sperm count

As steroids can reduce the amount of natural testosterone in your body, this can harm your sperm count.

Having a lower sperm count means that you have fewer chances of getting people pregnant, which can make it far more challenging to have a child.

In extreme cases, this can lead to male infertility, especially given that steroids can also cause abnormal sperm that aren't as functional and able to perform.

Erectile dysfunction

Steroids can cause you to struggle to get it up, which can be embarrassing in the bedroom and have massive repercussions for your fertility levels.

The reason this happens is that the change in hormone levels means that you struggle to get aroused. Plus, steroids can also harm the blood vessels in your member, causing further issues.

Testicular shrinkage

Steroids can cause your balls to shrink, which means you will struggle to produce as much sperm, leading to fertility problems.

As testosterone is also created in the testicles, having a shrinkage can also mean that your hormone levels drop further.

Physical side-effects

Steroid usage can cause many physical side effects that harm your health and appearance. For many, these effects discourage them from using the drug.

Some of the most common side effects include:

Kidney and liver failure

Steroids typically contain toxins that can harm your kidneys and livers, the organs that process these toxins.

Too much steroid use can cause your kidneys and liver to develop problems, leading to life-threatening failure.

Heart problems

Steroids can cause strains on your heart and vascular system, leading to various heart diseases and even strokes. In worst-case scenarios, these issues can be fatal.

Heart problems

High blood pressure

Steroids increase your cholesterol, which can also lead to high blood pressure to the point of hypertension.

High blood pressure can be detrimental to your health and unhealthy to experience.

Increased risk of cancer

Using steroids has the potential to increase your risk of growing cancerous cells.

Your chances of developing prostate cancer are more likely if you use steroids, and you also have a higher chance of getting growths within your intestines and bowels.


Steroids can cause unsightly breakouts on your skin and can also itch and hurt. You'll likely experience acne on your face, but it can appear on your back too. The acne can get so bad that it may cause scarring.

Hair loss

Steroids can cause you to lose hair on your head, face, and other body parts. As a result, you can develop a prematurely aged appearance.

Should you use anabolic steroids?

Ultimately, it’s going to be down to you whether or not you choose to take anabolic steroids - but we don’t recommend it.

Not only as they have a long list of damaging steroids, but because they are also illegal and come with a hefty fine and prison sentence.

We know they can be tempting, afterall it’s a quick fix to sculpt a perfect physique. But thankfully if you want these benefits you don’t have to turn to steroids anymore.


Because there are fantastic legal natural steroid alternatives available which can help build your physique without the nasty side effects.

These steroid alternatives are legal and natural, allowing you to supercharge your workout and growth without any nasty side effects.

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