The rise of illegal steroids and the dangers of steroid misuse

The rise of illegal steroids and the dangers of steroid misuse

Anabolic steroids were among the most significant categories of counterfeit or illegal medicines seized by authorities in Ireland in 2023, according to the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

The drugs accounted for 29% of almost 900,000 illegal products detained, alongside sedatives (34%), erectile dysfunction medicines (10%), painkillers (5%), and stimulants (3%).

The seizure of large quantities of illegal steroids aligns with what we are seeing at AlphaBiolabs, where we have witnessed an alarming increase in steroid misuse among recreational drug users (upon testing samples in the toxicology lab).

This growing epidemic was further highlighted earlier this year in a landmark study published by Danish researchers, which found that steroid users are 2.8 times more likely to die within 18 years than their peers. 

In this blog, we discuss anabolic steroids, what they are, and the risks associated with anabolic steroid abuse.

What are steroids?

Steroids is a term used for drugs that mimic the effects of some of the natural hormones that regulate and control how the body functions and develops.

The term covers two very different groups of steroids: corticosteroids and anabolic steroids. They are used in different ways depending on the type of drug and which condition(s) they are being used to treat, but can be injected, ingested in tablet or syrup form, inhaled as a nasal spray, or absorbed into the skin as a lotion, gel, or cream.

Anabolic steroids – specifically anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) – are the steroids that are most misused illegally to improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass.

The terms ‘anabolic steroids’ and anabolic-androgenic steroids’ are often used interchangeably to refer to the same drugs. However, they emphasise different aspects of the drugs’ effects.

Both terms describe synthetic substances that have been manufactured to mimic the effects of testosterone, the sex hormone mainly produced in the gonads – the glands involved in reproduction (testicles or ovaries).

However, anabolic refers to the muscle-building effects of the drug, while anabolic-androgenic captures the anabolic (muscle building) effects of the drug, and the androgenic effects (relating to male characteristics).

Therefore, the inclusion of ‘androgenic’ highlights the potential for these drugs to cause changes related to male sexual characteristics, such as facial hair and a deeper voice (which can affect both men and women).

Learn more: What are the different types of steroids?

The dangers of illegal anabolic steroids

Anabolic steroids can only be issued by pharmacists with a prescription and are legally prescribed for short periods in low doses; usually to treat hormone deficiencies (e.g. where puberty is delayed) and loss of muscle mass in patients with life-threatening illnesses including cancer and AIDS.

When used in this way, they are unlikely to cause serious side effects.

However, when taken illegally without medical supervision, anabolic steroids can cause a range of unpleasant side effects. In men, this can include:

  • Hair loss
  • Breast development
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Infertility
  • Reduced sperm count
  • Shrunken testicles

In women, this can include:

  • Hair loss
  • Irregular periods
  • Growth of facial hair
  • Swelling of the clitoris
  • A deepened voice
  • Breast reduction

Additionally, anyone who abuses anabolic steroids over a prolonged period is at an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, liver or kidney problems, high blood pressure (hypertension), blood clots, high cholesterol, and fluid retention.

Learn more: Steroid facts

Where can I buy a drug test for steroids?

Our laboratory can test for a wide range of drugs and their metabolites (breakdown products), including steroids.

With over 20 years’ experience offering drug testing for members of the public, the legal sector and the workplace sector, we provide a variety of drug testing services to suit a range of needs, including:

For more information or to request a quote, call our Customer Services team on 01 402 9466 or email

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