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Is Testosterone the Same as Steroids? 
Updated on August 24, 2023
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At Home Health
Is Testosterone the Same as Steroids? 

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.

The Difference Between Testosterone and Anabolic Steroids

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.

What Does Testosterone Do?

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:

  • Growth of the penis and testes
  • Deepening of the voice in puberty
  • Appearance of facial and pubic hair
  • Growth and strength of muscles and bones
  • Sexual desire or libido
  • Production of sperm cells
  • Mood regulation

Testosterone also plays an important role in women’s health. For women or people assigned female at birth, it supports:

  • Normal functioning of the ovaries
  • Sexual libido
  • Bone strength
  • Mood
  • Cognitive function

What Do Anabolic Steroids Do?

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.

Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) vs. Steroid Use

Doctors may prescribe testosterone medications and anabolic steroids to treat various conditions or enhance the recovery of people with severe illnesses.

What is Testosterone Replacement Therapy?

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.

Who Can Take Testosterone Treatment?

Testosterone therapy is usually prescribed for people with low testosterone levels and are experiencing related symptoms, such as:

  • Loss of body, facial, and pubic hair
  • Low energy levels
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Increased body fat
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Reduced sense of well-being
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Low sperm count

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.

What Are The Types of Testosterone Therapy?

Testosterone treatments come in different forms, including:

  • Nasal testosterone gel – pumped into your nose
  • Injectable testosterone – given through the muscle or skin
  • Testosterone gel – rubbed on the skin
  • Testosterone mouth patch attached to your gum line
  • Testosterone pellets – implanted under the skin
  • Testosterone skin patch – applied to your skin

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.

What Are The Medical Uses of Steroids?

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:

  • Increase bone density
  • Build muscle mass
  • Encourage faster recovery from injury
  • Support the development of male characteristics (e.g., facial hair)
  • Lower estrogen levels
  • Promote a healthy appetite
  • Encourage weight gain after losing a lot of weight

Who Can Take Anabolic Steroids?

Doctors may prescribe synthetic anabolic steroids to treat people with testosterone-related symptoms and health problems. These include:

  • Adolescent boys with signs of delayed puberty
  • People who lost a lot of weight due to a severe illness or injury
  • People who suffered muscle loss from a severe illness or injury
  • People with certain types of anemia and breast cancer

What Are The Different Types of Anabolic Steroids?

Anabolic steroids are available in different forms, including:

  • Anabolic steroid injections – injected into your muscles
  • Oral anabolic steroids – pills, tablets, or capsules taken by mouth
  • Topical anabolic steroids – gels or creams applied on the skin

You can discuss your treatment options with a doctor, so they can help you decide which ones work best for you.

What Are The Side Effects of Testosterone & Steroid Use?

Taking anabolic steroids or testosterone may cause side effects in some people.

Side Effects of Testosterone Replacement Therapy

Here are a few possible immediate side effects of testosterone treatments:

  • Acne and other skin reactions
  • Swollen and enlarged breasts
  • Causing testicles to shrink
  • Decreased sperm production in men
  • Increased red blood cell count
  • Breathing difficulty while sleeping (sleep apnea)

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

Side Effects of Anabolic Steroid Use

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.

Effects of Steroids on Men

Men may experience these side effects from taking anabolic steroids:

  • Shrinking testicles and penis
  • Decreased sperm count
  • Prostate issues
  • Breast development (gynecomastia)
  • Balding (male-pattern hair loss)

Some men also become impotent and find it difficult to get or maintain an erection. Others may develop involuntary and longer-lasting erections.

Effects of Steroids on Women

Anabolic steroids have different effects on women, such as:

  • Irregular menstruation
  • Not having periods (amenorrhea)
  • Reduced breast size
  • Deeper voice
  • Growth of facial and body hair
  • Developing a larger clitoris

Effects of Steroids on Young People

In younger people, anabolic steroid use can result in these side effects:

  • Higher risk for injury when exercising heavily
  • Acne that causes scars
  • Premature balding
  • Stunted physical growth
  • Stretch marks on the chest and arms
  • Leathery and older looking skin

Testosterone & Anabolic Steroids Abuse

Testosterone and anabolic steroids are classified as Schedule III substances under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. This means they:3

  • Require a prescription from a doctor
  • Must be obtained from legal sources
  • Should only be taken for medical reasons
  • Must be taken in the exact prescribed dose
  • Should only take them within the recommended period

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.

Why Do People Abuse Anabolic Androgenic Steroids?

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

Are Testosterone & Anabolic Steroids Addictive?

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

The Dangers of Testosterone and Steroid Addiction

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:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Low sex drive
  • Depression

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.

Updated on August 24, 2023
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10 sources cited
Updated on August 24, 2023
  1. Is testosterone therapy safe? Take a breath before you take the plunge.” Harvard Health Publishing.

  2. Testosterone therapy: Potential benefits and risks as you age.” Mayo Clinic. 

  3. Steroids: Fast Facts.” National Drug Intelligence Center, U.S. Department of Justice.

  4. Gym users and abuse of prescription drugs.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information.

  5. Androgen Misuse and Abuse.” Endocrine Reviews, Oxford Academic.

  6. Anabolic Steroid Use Disorder.” StatPearls, National Center for Biotechnology Information.

  7. Testosterone May Be Addictive.” Science Journal.

  8. Anabolic Steroid Addiction And Abuse.” Addiction Center.

  9. Men who use steroids to build muscle have '90% chance of becoming sterile'.” Independent UK.

  10. Anabolic Steroids and Other Appearance and Performance Enhancing Drugs (APEDs).” National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Dr. Rizza Mira
Dr. Rizza Mira
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Rizza Mira is a medical doctor and a general practitioner who specializes in pediatrics, nutrition, dietetics, and public health.

As a pediatrician, she is dedicated to the general health and well-being of children and expecting parents. She believes that good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and prevention of illness are key to ensuring the health of children and their families.

When she’s not in the hospital, Rizza advocates and mobilizes causes like breastfeeding, vaccination drives, and initiatives to prevent illness in the community.
Ada Sandoval
Ada Sandoval
Content Contributor
Ada Sandoval is a B.S. in Nursing graduate and a registered nurse with a heart for abandoned animals. She works as a content writer who specializes in medical-related articles and pet health.
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