In This Article
In This Article
Short answer: Yes and no.
Testosterone and anabolic steroids have the same chemical structure and can be prescribed as medical treatments for certain health conditions.
Both have side effects, and both may also lead to dependence and addiction when misused—that is, if you take them in higher doses or longer than prescribed.
Below, we’ll discuss the key differences between testosterone and anabolic steroids, including their uses, side effects, and dangers.
Testosterone is a type of steroid hormone that is produced naturally in the gonads, including the male testes and the female ovaries.
The body produces its own testosterone from cholesterol. But you can also get it from testosterone medications like injections, pellets, patches, or gels.
Anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) are synthetic steroids made in laboratories. They are steroid hormones that mimic natural testosterone. They’re made for the purpose of hormone replacement in those with hormonal problems.
Testosterone is mainly a sex hormone in men or people assigned male at birth. Its main role is to support their sexual development and reproductive health. It is also responsible for many blood and bone functions in both men and women.
For men, testosterone helps with the following:
Testosterone also plays an important role in women’s health. For women or people assigned female at birth, it supports:
Anabolic steroids produce similar effects as natural testosterone. When taken as prescribed, they can increase your testosterone or T levels.
They’re appearance and performance-enhancing drugs (APEDs) that enhance physical performance and looks by encouraging muscle growth and weight gain.
Anabolic steroids are not the same as corticosteroids, which belong to a class of anti-inflammatory drugs that reduce swelling and inflammation.
Doctors may prescribe testosterone medications and anabolic steroids to treat various conditions or enhance the recovery of people with severe illnesses.
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) helps normalize and maintain healthy testosterone levels in people who don’t produce adequate amounts. It also helps to induce puberty in delayed cases.
It may help reduce signs and symptoms of low testosterone levels.
Testosterone therapy is usually prescribed for people with low testosterone levels and are experiencing related symptoms, such as:
A more specific form of testosterone treatment called masculinizing hormone therapy may also be prescribed for transgender men and non-binary people.
The testosterone helps them develop the physical characteristics of the male body, such as increased muscle mass and facial hair.
If you don’t have symptoms or if your low testosterone is caused by old age, testosterone therapy usually isn’t recommended.
Testosterone treatments come in different forms, including:
Your doctor will prescribe a treatment based on factors like your T levels and the amount of testosterone (dosage) your body needs.
However, you can also talk to them about your options. Doctors can help you choose a method based on convenience, comfort, and insurance coverage.
Anabolic steroids can normalize testosterone levels in people with low T levels. They’re also prescribed to improve a person’s appearance and performance.
Some medical uses of steroids are to:
Doctors may prescribe synthetic anabolic steroids to treat people with testosterone-related symptoms and health problems. These include:
Anabolic steroids are available in different forms, including:
You can discuss your treatment options with a doctor, so they can help you decide which ones work best for you.
Taking anabolic steroids or testosterone may cause side effects in some people.
Here are a few possible immediate side effects of testosterone treatments:
Long-term TRT can also increase your health risks. It may lead to blood clots, pulmonary embolism, cardiovascular (heart) problems, and prostate cancer.1,2
Some common side effects of anabolic steroids are trouble sleeping, skin changes, increased libido, and mood changes like irritability and aggression.
People taking anabolic steroids must also watch for signs of fluid retention, like puffy cheeks or a rounder face.
Anabolic steroids can be a hundred times more potent than steroids prescribed for medical conditions. It must be used with caution.
Men may experience these side effects from taking anabolic steroids:
Some men also become impotent and find it difficult to get or maintain an erection. Others may develop involuntary and longer-lasting erections.
Anabolic steroids have different effects on women, such as:
In younger people, anabolic steroid use can result in these side effects:
Testosterone and anabolic steroids are classified as Schedule III substances under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. This means they:3
Some people misuse steroids and take them without a prescription, in higher doses, or for longer periods than prescribed. This is a form of drug abuse.
Drug abuse is the use of illicit drugs for any reason, or taking prescription medications outside of their intended use to achieve desired effects.
Testosterone and anabolic steroid abuse are more common in athletes, bodybuilders, weight-trainers, and gym-goers.4
They consume large doses to enhance their athletic performance and/or their appearance for cosmetic or occupational reasons, like muscle-building.4,5
Non-athletes also engage in illegal anabolic steroid use to increase their lean muscle mass and overall body weight without gaining body fat.6
Yes. Testosterone and anabolic steroids are potentially addictive substances.
When abused, they can increase your risk of developing a physical and/or psychological dependence, which may eventually lead to drug addiction.7,8
People who practice illegal steroid use and testosterone intake may have more severe side effects than those who take them as prescribed.
For instance, male steroid abusers have a 90 percent risk for male infertility.9
Abusing steroids and testosterone also increase your risk of developing various health conditions at an early age, such as heart attacks and strokes.10
Once you develop a dependence or addiction to these drugs, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them. These include:
Most people who experience withdrawal will continue taking testosterone or steroids to avoid these symptoms, making it difficult to quit.
If you’ve become dependent on or addicted to testosterone and/or anabolic steroids, you should consider drug rehabilitation as a treatment option.