How anabolic steroids can affect your hair and sex life
Reviewed by our clinical team
It’s commonly accepted that girls and women face a lot of pressure to look a certain way. This can lead to low self-esteem and depression or excessive dieting, unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders. Problems with their body image can cause some women to have plastic or intimate surgery because they feel their bodies aren't good enough.
What’s talked about less is that many men feel the same pressures when it comes to body image. Amongst men, there can be a particular focus on muscle definition, and especially a type that can be hard to achieve through diet and exercise alone.
The “solution” for some men – and some women too – is to take anabolic steroids, despite the fact that they are unlicensed for this use and can cause serious health complications.
What are anabolic steroids?
Anabolic steroids are synthetically produced drugs that mimic the effects of natural testosterone. They are used to treat certain conditions. If you’ve been prescribed anabolic steroids, they will be safe for you to take – provided you use them as directed by your GP or pharmacist.
The problem is that anabolic steroids (often simply caused "steroids" or "roids") are often used in an unlicensed way. People use steroids in bodybuilding, because they can quickly build muscle mass, decrease body fat, and improve athletic performance. Other people will simply use them to improve their appearance.
Although it’s not illegal to possess anabolic steroids for personal use, it’s illegal to supply or sell them to other people. They are a class C drug and can only be obtained through a pharmacy with a valid prescription. Anything you order online or get from your gym is unlicensed and not legal. Sometimes they are marketed as "legal steroids"- unfortunately there's no such thing. Most sports organisations have banned the use of anabolic steroids, and other performance-enhancing drugs, and will carry out regular tests on all competitors.
Why are anabolic steroids dangerous?
Anabolic steroid misuse can cause fertility issues for both men and women. It’s also associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fluid retention, blood clots, and problems with the liver and kidneys. In men it can increase the risk of prostate cancer. It can also cause acne. Most anabolic steroids are injected so there is a risk of HIV and hepatitis if needles are being shared.
There can also be psychological effects, including mood swings, paranoia, and aggressive or manic behaviour. Anabolic steroids can cause addiction.
Anabolic steroids and sexual dysfunction
For lots of men, the desire to use steroids stems from poor body image, or the pressure to “look better” for their sexual partner. The irony is that anabolic steroid misuse can actually lead to erectile dysfunction (ED), as well as shrunken testicles, reduced sperm count, and infertility.
For women, steroids can actually lead to an increased sex drive. However, female steroid use is known to lead to “masculinisation” – hair may grow on the face, and breast tissue may decrease. These types of physical changes may end up impacting self-esteem and having a harmful effect on body image.
Anabolic steroids and hair loss
Hair loss on the head can be a side effect of anabolic steroid misuse in both men and women. It’s believed that prolonged use can cause permanent hair loss.
Do other steroids cause hair loss and sexual dysfunction?
If you’ve been prescribed anabolic steroids, there is the potential for these kinds of side effects. The difference is that your doctor will have weighed up the benefits versus the risks before prescribing them to you. Your specialist will choose a dosage that will be safe and effective, with the lowest risk of complications or side effects.
Anabolic steroids are not to be confused with corticosteroids such as eczema creams, preventer (steroid) inhalers to help you through an asthma attack or prednisolone tablets to dampen down arthritis or skin conditions. Corticosteroids have their own side effects, including difficulty sleeping, mood changes, and weight gain. They will only be prescribed by your doctor when it’s deemed safe and necessary.
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