Most people think steroid users are easy to spot. This might be true for steroid users who’ve crossed a certain threshold — like if one had the proportions of an elite bodybuilder, say — but it’s not true for every steroid user. Indeed, some of the people who you think use steroids to bulk up are probably au natural.
Of course, we understand why steroid users refuse to admit to using steroids. These substances are not just illegal in some areas, they also carry a lot of stigma. Steroid users are often seen as addicts after all, and there’s a sense in which using is akin to cheating. Whether these opinions are reflective of objective reality or not, the fact is that there’s a whole lot of misinformation about steroids floating around the internet that, for the purposes of this article, we won’t get into.
For now, we’ll list down and discuss a few of the reliable ways to determine whether someone is using. They won’t work for everyone, of course — hey, some people are just naturally veiny! — but definitely, someone who ticks more than a few boxes listed here is more than likely juicing.
1. Rosy and Flushed Skin
Depending on the type of anabolic steroids one uses, one can expect bad cholesterol levels to rise in the body and good ones to decrease. These are called LDL and HDL cholesterol, respectively. Because of this, blood pressure can be expected to increase, and skin can be expected to become rosy and flush as a result.
Another thing is that, because of the rise in blood pressure, users can also expect their core body temperature to increase, which may exacerbate a user’s flushed look.
To be sure, this effect will be more pronounced for some people than others, and flushing of the skin might not be a reliable indicator of steroid use because there are people who have naturally rosy-looking skin to begin with. It is, however, one indicator of steroid use.
2. Sudden Body Mass
Another indicator of steroid use is when someone abruptly increases in mass and size. This will particularly be true for someone who’s taken bulking compounds. This is, in fact, what bulking compounds do — they induce a rapid increase in muscle mass in just a few weeks.
Working out and training with weights can result in the same increase in muscle mass, to be sure, but it will take much longer, and might even need a few years. So if you see someone who’s inexplicably developed muscles over the course of a few weeks, then it’s a safe bet that he’s juicing. Especially if the added muscle mass came with a leaner look. The reason for this is because it’s difficult to lose weight and build muscle simultaneously, and within a few weeks, without the aid of an anabolic steroid.
Indeed, anabolic steroids such as Anavar and Winstrol are great at increasing muscle mass and fat loss, two things that will be almost impossible to accomplish in a few weeks on a natural cycle.
Someone who’s had 20 to 30 pounds of gains in a short period is more than likely using, because such gains are close to impossible without the help of a bulking compound. It is known in the bulking community that immediate gains is one of the biggest tells that someone is juicing up.
There are people who are genetically predisposed to gaining muscle faster than others, but I have yet to encounter someone who’s been able to gain as much as what someone using anabolic steroids can gain in the same amount of time.
3. Roid Rage
First of all, what people imagine roid rage to be in the context of steroid use isn’t all that accurate. Largely because of how it’s been talked about in the media, most people think that taking anabolic steroids can turn someone into a mindless ‘Hulk smash’ automaton who will rage against anyone and anything close by with little reason.
The first thing to say about roid rage is that it only happens to steroid abusers. The second thing is that it has to do with the hormones related to impulse control — it’s not a sudden mindless aggression that abruptly appears in people who do steroids. This is because anabolic steroids increase testosterone in the body. From research, we know that impulse control is correlated with testosterone levels, such that the more testosterone in the body, the more aggressive and impulsive one tends to be.
How aggressive and impulsive one becomes after using too much anabolic steroids will depend on a lot of other factors, too. Some people are naturally more irritable than others to begin with. Whatever the case may be, roid rage is a real thing that can happen to those who abuse steroids, and it’s well-documented to have played a role in some cases of violent crime.
4. Uneven Bulking
It goes without saying that anabolic steroid-use coupled with weight training can produce — will produce — a significant increase in muscle mass. These increases are beyond what one can accomplish with weight training alone. Given this, someone who uses anabolic steroids but fails to train certain muscle groups puts himself at risk for developing a disproportionate body.
Of course, someone who does weight training without the aid of anabolic steroids can also develop a disproportionate body by failing to train certain muscle groups, but when anabolic steroids is involved, the asymmetry becomes more immediate and noticeable given the speed with which anabolic steroids work to increase muscle mass.
This unevenness in muscle development is fairly common among steroid users and is precisely why veterans always advise novice users to give special attention to exercises whose purpose is to correct such imbalances.
5. Male Pattern Baldness
Baldness is, unfortunately, one of the risks of steroid use. Especially for people predisposed to male pattern baldness — if you have a history of baldness in your family, say — using steroids may result in the condition appearing earlier than you’d like.
The reason for this unfortunate side effect is the increase in Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the body after steroid use. Too much DHT in the body is known to cause baldness in men.
The good news is that it won’t happen to everyone. If you’re not particularly susceptible to male pattern baldness, and don’t have the “baldness gene,” so to speak, then you might experience a little thinning of the hair and nothing more. There are also a variety of treatments that you can use in conjunction with your stack to mitigate this effect, including DHT inhibitors such as Proscar.
Another way to avoid male pattern baldness while on a steroid cycle is to opt for milder compounds that carry a decreased risk of hair loss, such as Anavar and Deca Durabolin.
6. Boulder Shoulders
Because of the shoulder’s high concentration of androgen receptors, they’re more prone to overgrowth when using androgenic compounds than other muscle groups. Someone who has what is called ‘boulder shoulders’ isn’t necessarily juicing up. After all, there are ways to increase the size of your traps without the help of steroids, but those who do use steroids will more than likely develop huge traps after a while of steroid use.
The fact is that it’s very difficult to increase shoulder size with weight training alone, so it’s a safe bet that someone with oversized shoulders and traps is using.
Those who would rather have normal looking shoulders should stick to less androgenic compounds like Dianabol or Deca Durabolin. Because these compounds are less androgenic compared to others, they are less likely to increase shoulder size to ridiculous levels. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a good example of an elite body builder who’s successfully kept his shoulder size in check. They’re not tiny by any stretch of the imagination, but they are nowhere near the size and mass of the boulder shoulders of some bodybuilders who’ve clearly gotten the condition from using.
This one won’t happen to everyone, but it is quite common among anabolic steroid users. It is one of the effects that is largely determined by a person’s genetic makeup — i.e., depending on genes, some people are more predisposed to acne than others. Certainly, anabolic steroids can exacerbate the condition.
The anabolic compounds that carry the biggest risk for developing acne are trenbolone, testosterone, anadrol. These compounds induce acne breakouts by overstimulating users’ sebaceous glands, resulting in an increase in sebum production. Sebum, in case you’re wondering, is the oily and waxy substance that is secreted by the oil glands in and around the hair follicles.
Fortunately, steroid acne is as treatable as ordinary acne, and treatment options are largely the same. Antibiotics that can kill the bacteria that worsens acne breakouts such as doxycycline and tetracycline are also effective for treating severe cases of steroid acne.
Those who are genetically prone to oily skin under normal conditions might want to reconsider their enthusiasm for anabolic steroids because the likelihood of developing acne during a cycle will be extremely high. The only advice we can give to those who still want to use steroids despite their increased risk for acne is to include one of the treatments we mentioned above and avoid eating oily foods.
8. Difficulty with Urinating
Anabolic steroids have been found to affect the prostate gland in ways that reduce urine flow. Prostate enlargement is one of the well-known side effects of long term steroid use. This is because testosterone naturally binds to the receptors in the prostate. Injecting yourself with too much testosterone or testosterone-like hormones, therefore, can result in an enlarged prostate.
Men going through puberty will in fact experience a natural enlargement of their prostate because of the large amounts of testosterone that their body produces at this stage of their physical development. Using anabolic steroids during puberty can therefore aggravate prostate enlargement and lead to urinary problems such as difficulty in urinating and other kidney diseases.
Natural prostate growth is also expected in men who reach their 40s. Using steroids at this age can therefore be expected to result in an overly enlarged prostate, which carries the same risks mentioned above. Men who want to use steroids at these ages should therefore have regular prostate exams and include medication such as Dutasteride or Finasteride in their steroid cycle.
9. Enlargement of Breast Tissue (Gynecomastia)
Gynecomastia, or the enlargement of breast tissue, is one of the known side effects of anabolic steroid use. This is a condition that can occur without steroid use through hormonal imbalance. Unfortunately, the same hormonal imbalances that can cause gynecomastia can be triggered or aggravated by anabolic steroids. This is because some anabolic steroids such as Dianabol or Anadrol get converted to estrogen in the body, and estrogen is a sex hormone that’s responsible for the development of female sex characteristics.
Thankfully, gynecomastia can be avoided with anti-estrogen treatment (or what is more commonly referred to as an aromatase inhibitor) such as Anastrozole or Letrozole to prevent steroids from converting into estrogen in the body.
Another way to avoid gynecomastia while on a steroid cycle is to take a SERM such as nolvadex to block receptors in the breast tissue area from receiving estrogen. Indeed, SERMs are better for steroid users than aromatase inhibitors because the latter carries more risk to cardiovascular health.
Those looking to increase muscle mass and boost performance by using steroids can also opt for non-estrogenic compounds such as Anavar or Trenbolone. These compounds don’t aromatize testosterone into estrogen and thus won’t induce gynecomastia.
For most people, the simplest way to slowly eliminate gynecomastia once it has occurred is to halt steroid use. There are also surgical options to remove breast tissue permanently for the purpose of eliminating gynecomastia or avoiding risk of enlargement.
Fluid retention is another known side effect of estrogenic compounds such as testosterone and Dianabol. In simple terms, fluid retention (or water retention) is when water accumulates in body tissues and causes it to swell. This is because estrogenic compounds tend to elevate sodium (salt) absorption in the body, causing bloating and swelling of tissues.
Symptoms of fluid retention include aching and stiff joints, fluctuating weight, and as previously mentioned, bloating and swelling underneath the skin.
Steroid users may be able to mitigate these effects by doing a number of things, like reducing the amount of their salt intake while on the cycle, taking diuretics, or doing cardio exercises.
11. Getting Fat Inside
You’re probably scratching your head wondering what this means. Quite simply, this means steroids can increase visceral fat — the fat inside your body that wraps around your organs.
Subcutaneous fat is the fat that’s underneath your outer skin, while visceral fat, like we mentioned above, is further underneath, wrapping your liver and intestines. This is what gives some bodybuilders a weird-looking tummy, where their abdominals look lean but are protruding outward, seemingly almost ready to explode. Too much fat, whether subcutaneous or visceral, isn’t good for the body and can carry serious health risks, but too much visceral fat, in particular, can lead to all kinds of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Because steroids mess with how the body responds to insulin (leading to a decrease in insulin sensitivity) prolonged steroid use can be expected to increase visceral fat. Unfortunately, once it occurs, it can’t be eliminated by simply stopping steroid use, and can remain for several years after. For some extreme cases, only medication or surgery will be able to remove visceral fat from the body.
If you intend to go through a steroid cycle but want to avoid the risk of increasing visceral fat, we recommend you take Anavar instead, which is one of the few anabolic compounds known to reduce both subcutaneous and visceral fat. Indeed, Anavar, in contrast to other anabolic compounds like testosterone, seems to have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity, which might explain why it decreases rather than increases visceral fat.
12. Masculinization in Women
One particularly harrowing side effect of anabolic steroids is virilization. This might be a welcome side effect for some men — after all, virilization means an exaggeration of masculine characteristics —but for women, it definitely won’t be. When it comes to using steroids and juicing up, looking like a man is no doubt high on a woman’s list of anxieties.
The fact is that virilization — also referred to as masculinization — is unavoidable with steroids such as testosterone. These compounds were designed to mimic male hormones, after all. The only way women can avoid virilizing effects is by either taking low doses and short cycles, or opting for less virilizing compounds such as Anavar and Primobolan.
13. Erectile Dysfunction
The good news is that erectile function will improve while on a steroid cycle. This is largely because of the increase in exogenous testosterone production in the body during a steroid cycle. Once the cycle stops, however, and natural testosterone shut down happens — as it will to varying degrees in most steroid cycles — erectile dysfunction can occur.
For some men, recovery can be quick, as much as a few weeks or months after discontinuing steroid use, but for others, effects are more prolonged and can last years.
Some anabolic compounds such as Deca Durabolin are more likely to cause erectile dysfunction, or what is referred to as “deca dick,” than others. This is because compounds like Deca Durabolin also increase prolactin levels, which can have a negative effect on libido.
Unfortunately, there’s not really much one can do to avoid this sorry state if one is genetically predisposed to getting it. Steroids will aggravate it, to be sure, so especially if you’re a beginner, you might want to go easy on the compounds and have yourself regularly checked to determine the proper dosing and cycle lengths. What we can advise is that you always watch what you eat, be mindful of your vascular health, commit to a lifestyle change, and avoid things such as nicotine and alcohol to maintain proper erectile function.
14. Increased Irritability
Many studies in recent years have linked steroid use to an increase in irritability and aggression. The level at which steroid users become aggressive and irritable during a cycle, however, will also depend on a lot of other factors, including temperament, circumstance, genetics, and stress. Indeed, studies also show that people who use steroids report higher incidences of irritability towards others.
The term “roid rage” was coined to describe this loss of impulse control among steroid users, which have to do with secondary hormonal changes in the body brought about by anabolic steroid misuse. Not only that, steroid users are also at an increased risk for anxiety and mood disorders such as hypomania and depression.
Irritability and aggression can often be observed to decrease, however, after each steroid cycle, when testosterone levels crash. The link between steroid use and aggressive behavior is complex, but it’s generally agreed among researchers that the observational data we have conclusively establishes that it exists.
The number of anabolic steroid users in the US alone is staggering. It’s been estimated that there are around three to four million anabolic steroid users in the US, one million of whom are doing so for non-medical (i.e., cosmetic) reasons.
The above list is a general description of the effects of steroids that can be observed by outsiders. Of course, one can’t expect to see all of these symptoms in a steroid user, and it’s even possible for an individual steroid user to have none of these symptoms. The fact is that most steroid users won’t look like the prototypical elite bodybuilder. Some will use it to lose fat and look leaner, while some will take just as much to look like the average gym goer.
With that being said, a veteran steroid user who’s straddling the fence between steroid use and abuse will more than likely develop one or more of the maladies described above.