Steroid abuse may result in many adverse side effects. Some of these conditions are short-term and reversible while others may have permanently debilitating effects on the user. Some of the long-term effects, such as breast development and acne in men or deepened voice or growth of excessive facial hair in women, though not life-threatening, are physically unattractive. However, steroid abuse may also result in highly serious conditions such as liver cancer, stroke, or heart attack.
Systemic epidemiological studies on long term side effects of steroids, especially anabolic-androgenic steroids, are scarce and most of the currently available data are culled from case reports. According to these reports, the chances of steroid abuse resulting in high risk conditions appear to be low. However, it must be kept in mind that serious adverse conditions may stay underreported or underrecognized, especially since most of these conditions may stem from a long history of steroid abuse and may occur many years later.
Also, there do exist studies conducted on animals which support the possibilities mentioned above. For instance, one such study found that male mice that are exposed to steroid compounds for 1/5th of their lifespan are highly prone to early deaths.
Use of anabolic steroids affects our hormonal system by disrupting the normal production of different hormones in the body. In some cases, the results are long term and irreversible. These include breast development and male-pattern baldness in men and conditions such as deepened voice, reduced breast size, enlarged clitoris and coarse skin in women. Other reported effects include testicular atrophy and reduced sperm production in men and loss of scalp hair in women. These last effects are generally considered as reversible given that one stops using the drugs and receives proper treatment. However, if one continues with the abuse, these may also turn irreversible and after a certain point, treatment may not help at all.
Steroid abuse is also known to cause skin conditions such as cysts, acne, oily skin and hair as well as liver tumors and a condition (referred to as peliosis hepatis in the medical jargon) in which blood-filled cysts are formed inside the liver.
However, anabolic steroid abuse can cause the most sustained damages to our cardiovascular system. Case reports tell us that even in people under the age of thirty, high degree of steroid abuse has resulted in strokes and heart attacks. Most commonly, steroid affects the cardiovascular system by changing the levels of lipoproteins in the blood. In particular, oral steroids reduce the level of HDL and increase the level of LDL. This results in low HDL and high LDL levels in the blood which highly increase the risk of developing a condition known as atherosclerosis—a condition which seriously disrupts the blood flow by depositing a high amount of fatty substances inside the arteries. When the blood flow to brain is prevented, this results in a stroke; on the other hand, when the blood flow to heart is prevented, this leads to heart attack.
Apart from these, steroid abuse potentially exposes the users to fatal viral infections such as hepatitis B and C as well as HIV, especially when the user injects the steroid into his veins. Contaminated needles as well as nonsterile manufacturing conditions or injection techniques may result in the user acquiring these infections.