We’ve probably all seen news, documentaries, and media horror stories about a person who wants to get buff and ends up buying illegal injections from shady agents. At first, the newbie packs on muscle mass like crazy, developing terrible acne, and so-called steroid rage (or roid rage), only to end up hospitalized (or even dying) because of cardiac arrest.
Is this the reality of taking steroids, or is it just a myth?
In this article, we’ll do our best to find out.
What Are Anabolic Steroids?
First thing’s first, to understand the truth and misconceptions about anabolics, we have to clarify what they are.
According to expert definition, these compounds are primarily synthetic forms of the male sex hormone, testosterone. Properly, these compounds are referred to as anabolic-androgenic steroids. The ‘anabolic’ part refers to the ability to add muscle mass, while the ‘androgenic’ refers to the increase in male sex characteristics.
Originally, doctors prescribed these drugs to help treat issues of hormonal nature like delayed puberty or naturally low testosterone levels. They are also important in treating diseases that cause muscle loss (like AIDS or cancer).
Most steroid myths stem from the fact that oftentimes, you can see bodybuilders and athletes using them to boost their performance and athletic aesthetics. Out of those, the most problematic group are those who take matters into their own hands and inject or take these drugs just to “look better” and gain more confidence.
Though these compounds are considered safe in the proper dosages administered and tracked by trained medical professionals, they can become pretty dangerous and lead to pretty serious problems when people misuse them. Dosing is the biggest issue, and records of abuse show people taking amounts much bigger than a doctor would ever prescribe.
The Gym: The Hotbed of Steroid Misconceptions
Experts on the subject of anabolics and their effects on the human body say that athletes have been adopting a trial-and-error approach to steroid use. They experimented mostly on themselves with these compounds, and often ignored the wealth of research documenting the adverse effect irresponsible steroid use can have on the human body.
However, it’s worth keeping in mind that, when it comes to steroids, the truth is that few studies divide users based on their use pattern. For example, research shows that professional athletes tend to use steroids in cycles adjusted for peak performance at a key point in the season. They also stop using them for extended periods to avoid adverse effects, and switch between supplements to avoid dependency. On the other hand, bodybuilders who use steroids primarily for aesthetic purposes tend to abuse steroids in the “traditional” sense, overdosing and not taking adequate breaks to allow the body to recover. The longer they stay “on,” the bigger the possibility of damage and developing harsher side effects. There are also few studies that examined the stacking effects of different compound types and brands.
Unfortunately, the focus on the negative side-effects in the available scientific research has bred distrust among athletes, and led them to heavily favor the hands-on, “street” approach. This, in turn, has led to the popularization of several myths and misconceptions regarding steroid use and abuse.
Furthermore, athletes may also experiment – without consulting a medical professional – with other compounds that aren’t necessarily steroids to enhance their looks and performance. These are compounds like growth hormone, bronchodilators, thyroid hormones, insulin, diuretics, and site enhancers like Esiclene and Synthol.
Breaking Down the Myths Surrounding Steroids
Without further ado, let’s explore the most common myths surrounding these compounds.
Steroids Can Be Safe
Let’s get the number one myth out of the way: Can steroids kill you? The short answer is, not immediately. Can you take them safely? Yes, with a medical professional’s supervision, in prescribed dosages, and only for specific purposes. Nearly every androgenic compound you can take will mess with your natural testosterone production if used without necessary precautions.
While it’s true that steroid studies primarily focused on their adverse effects, they are not dangerous in all circumstances. The more science-backed knowledge a person gains about the compounds, the better their chances of avoiding serious health problems. However, no knowledge will make you well-equipped to self-administer steroids. This is something only medical professionals can do for you.
Injectables Are Safer than Orals
Oftentimes, you will hear that injecting steroids intramuscularly will do less damage than taking them orally. This can be true, because some orals (e.g., C-17α alkylated androgenic steroids, like Halotestin) are known to cause liver damage, hepatitis, and jaundice even through normal doses and prolonged use.
However, this doesn’t mean that injectables are safer. Even underground anabolic steroids facts will agree that the most powerful androgen out there is Trenbolone (which also tends to come with the harshest side effects), and it happens to be injectable. Trenbolone (or simply “Tren”) can have a devastating physical and mental impact on the body, lead to profuse sweating, increased aggression, kidney and blood pressure problems, shut down your natural testosterone production, and even cause left ventricular hypertrophy.
There are no steroids that are safe to use without supervision, whatever their point of entry into the organism.
Roid Rage Is Inevitable
If you’ve spent just five minutes researching the possible side-effects of steroids, then you’ve surely come across the term “Roid Rage.”
The term was first used in the 1980s, after several high-profile violent crimes were committed by people who used anabolic steroids. Researchers have linked these events to steroid abuse.
So, what is roid rage? There’s a theory that large doses of AAS can trigger uncontrollable aggressive behavior, especially since there are studies that show associations between testosterone levels and aggression. Roid rage is supposed to be a state of aggressive behavior when the AAS abuser acts uncontrollably.
But, is it real?
The scientific community agrees that measuring aggression and roid rage can be difficult, especially in a controlled environment. But some studies link anabolic-androgenic substance use to aggressive behavior in people who had no prior history of violence.
However, other studies that look more thoroughly at roid rage seem to conclude that roid rage is a more complex issue.
A Swedish study from 2014 on over 10,000 men found that the typical roid rage symptoms were more often the result of polysubstance abuse. This means that, in most cases of roid rage, steroid abusers also used other drugs that might have interacted with the AAS. Even with the study’s limitations, experts suggested that polysubstance abuse is a strong risk factor in developing roid rage, and not steroid use alone.
In other words, just taking steroids isn’t nearly as likely to cause a lack of impulse control as using steroids with other drugs, be they performance enhancers or other types of compounds.
Nonetheless, while they may not be the sole culprit for increased aggression, facts on steroids also show that mood changes and new behavioral patterns while taking AAS are not uncommon.
Some studies showed that testosterone administration could create a shift in the emotional sphere, mostly regarding feelings like disgust, fear, and anger. These changes can explain certain behavioral modifications; however, experts agree that further studies are required to shed more light on these complex connections.
On the other hand, users sometimes also report that compounds like Trenbolone tend to be really hard on them mentally, causing various problems like paranoia, apathy, depression, lethargy, irritability, mood swings, etc.
Only Bodybuilders Use Steroids
When looking at the more interesting facts about steroids, it’s easy to see that this one’s a clear myth. As a matter of fact, anonymous surveys revealed that around 50% of professional athletes use performance-enhancing drugs (not only steroids). This result is worrying, considering that random biological testing only registers about 1-2% positive results for performance enhancers.
Even worse, about 1.1% of children in grades 8, 10, and 12 in the US use steroids. Unfortunately, the “AAS epidemic” isn’t only limited to adults.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Household Survey on Drug Abuse from the early 2000s showed that 0.5% (or roughly 1,084,000 individuals) of the adult US population take steroids.
More recent estimates show that there are between 2.9 and 4 million steroid users in the US, of whom most resort to these compounds for cosmetic purposes.
Steroids only Add Muscle Mass
When looking up facts about steroids, you’ll learn that anabolic-androgenic agents don’t just add muscle mass, but help increase strength gains quite considerably as well.
Compounds like Testosterone, Trenbolone, Halotestin, Anadrol 50, and Mibolerone can advance strength gains – as opposed to gaining muscle mass – but as mentioned above, they can be extremely dangerous, so using them, especially unsupervised, is far from recommended.
Unfortunately, they’re pretty common in the strongman and powerlifting branches. While some say that powerlifting is the only sport where these compounds are allowed and regularly a part of every preparation plan, the International Powerlifting Federation clearly states doping of any kind is prohibited. So, if you were asking yourself: “Do powerlifters use steroids?” the answer is yes, just not legally.
Steroids Make a Pro Athlete
Just like with the majority of fitness and gym myths, you probably know right off the bat that this isn’t true. While all stats on steroids show that these compounds can boost performance for a short time, they also show that their use is extremely dangerous and far from essential for professional sportsmanship.
No steroids can put in the work instead of you. In sports like bodybuilding, genetics also play a significant role in grabbing first-place at Mr. Olympia shows, and talent is required to make you a great NFL player.
Steroids Aren’t Addictive
While you may not expect it, one of the interesting facts about steroids is that they can be highly addictive, both in a physical and psychological sense. They also cause changes in behavior which are typical for addiction: Spending exorbitant amounts of money to get them, putting in effort to hide the habit, and so on.
Research suggests that around 32% of steroid users develop dependence, and experience withdrawal once they stop using. Some of the withdrawal symptoms are typical – fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, depression, etc. – while some are specific to steroid abuse; fear of losing muscle mass is the prime example.
Stopping Steroid Use Will Make You Lose All Gains
This has to be the number one bro-science among all steroids facts out there. For starters, the biggest predictor for how much muscle mass you can develop is genetic – there’s simply an upper border for the most amount of muscle you can naturally carry on your frame.
While steroids can push these limits, once they are no longer active, users’ muscle mass will downsize to a naturally appropriate level. In other words, training and exercising stats tell us that stopping steroid use does reduce your “gains,” but it won’t rob you of all your muscles – just those impossible without prolonged substance abuse.
So, to recap: Your gains won’t “melt off” of you after a cycle, especially if you haven’t reached your genetic limit. With good nutrition, hard training, and a proper PCT, you can retain most of your developed muscle mass.
If you’ve surpassed your genetic potential, things become a lot more complex. Related information on steroids shows that, if you stop introducing AAS to your body, you will keep bouncing back to your natural limit, even with strenuous training and strict diets.
Steroids Undermine the Essence of Sport
Whether something undermines the nature of an activity created by humans is more of an ethical discussion than a matter of facts. However, what is a matter of fact is that steroids allow athletes to surpass the natural limits otherwise imposed on their bodies and allow for feats of sports prowess that aren’t based on training. They are also dangerous to use without rigorous medical supervision.
Steroid proponents argue that making steroids available to all athletes would level the playing field where steroid users currently have an unfair advantage. However, considering the very real dangers of steroid abuse, this is not a choice any athlete can make without risk. In other words, while the essence of sport remains elusive, the health implications of allowing free steroid use are not.
Creatine is a Steroid
To ease things off a bit, here’s one of the fun facts about steroids: Creatine is not one of them.
To clear things up, creatine is a non-protein compound that regularly occurs in nature, primarily in red meat. While creatine aids in muscle performance, stamina, and recovery, it doesn’t have the same effects on the body steroids do. It’s also not regulated as a drug; it’s a supplement, instead. In its natural form, you simply couldn’t get enough creatine into your body, because you’d have to eat copious amounts of food, so it’s sold as a powder. Nonetheless, it still needs to be carefully and moderately dosed.
Steroid Side-Effects are Permanent
Whether a person uses steroids for powerlifting, bodybuilding, football, or even baseball, there will be side effects. However, the vast majority of them are reversible and will be evident only during the usage cycle. In most cases, shorter and milder cycles lead to fewer side effects.
Generally, side effects will differ from person to person, but most people may experience:
- Fluid retention
- Increased libido
- Acne and oily skin
- Sleeping difficulties
Men may also experience things during their cycle:
- Shutdown of their natural testosterone production
- Testicular atrophy (shrinkage of the testicles due to decreased natural testosterone production that will “reboot” after the androgens exit the system).
- Enlarged prostate
Women may encounter:
- Irregularities in their menstrual cycle
- Shrunken breasts
Most of these side effects can be reversible and will generally subside when or after the cycle ends. However, there are also side effects that will persist:
- Breast enlargement may occur (gynecomastia), which will require a surgical intervention to get rid of
- Male-pattern baldness
- Increased body hair
- Deepened voice
- Facial hair growth
- Abnormal growth of the clitoris.
On the other hand, more serious long-term effects from prolonged abuse may result in damage to the liver and cardiovascular system, among others.
Natural Testosterone Boosters Are a Safe Alternative to Steroids
When talking about stats on steroids and other related topics, we also need to talk a bit about natural testosterone boosters. They’re often marketed as “miracle drugs” that will give you an increased sex drive, bumped-up energy levels, and all the muscle mass and strength gains, without the negative side-effects of AAS.
As a matter of fact, when researchers looked at these natural supplements, 90% of them claimed to boost natural T levels but only 25% of them had actual data related to these claims. What’s more, 10.1% contained components that adversely affect testosterone levels. The chemical makeup of the supplements was also not always in line with what was advertised. To top things off, some products actually contained more minerals and vitamins than the tolerable limit.
Some of these supplements might work for patients with low testosterone levels, but just like steroids, they shouldn’t be used without proper medical supervision.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you have a satisfactory answer to the question: “Is roid rage real?” We also addressed a few other steroid-related myths floating around the internet.
There are quite a lot of myths that stem from people knowing little about the subject. This stems from the lack of easily available science-backed medical information on the topic, and a horde of platforms lauding the benefits of steroids, while downplaying their dangers, and advocating unsupervised use.
Once again, while steroids aren’t dangerous when used for specific purposes and dosed by a medical professional, using them on your own is much more likely to end with adverse health effects than any real “gains.”