Steroids are often mentioned in the media, and while most of us know that they’re controversial, few realize why they are specifically illegal. So what’s so bad about them, and why are steroids illegal in the United States?

Anabolic steroids are classed as controlled substances and are, therefore, illegal in the United States. Steroid use by athletes can cause serious physical and mental health issues and can also give an unfair advantage on the field. However, safe and legal alternatives to steroid use exist.

Keep reading to learn why steroids are illegal in the United States, the problems that steroid use in athletes can cause, and the safe and legal alternatives to steroid use for bodybuilders and other sportsmen.

What Makes Anabolic Steroids Illegal in the USA?

Taking steroids to promote or increase athletic performance became illegal in the United States in 1990. The 1990 Steroid Control Act made it illegal for coaches to promote these substances and for athletes to take them.

Before this, steroid use was fairly common among athletes, beginning in the 1950s. Olympic athletes, notably from the former USSR, were noted for taking anabolic steroids to increase strength, and the cosmetic use of testosterone to increase muscle mass in young men became popular, as well. As a part of the greater war on drugs, US lawmakers and federal organizations began to crack down on the distribution of steroids in the 1980s.

Finally, these substances became fully illegal. Further acts in 2004 banned over-the-counter steroid precursors, which were flying under the radar but provided many of the same alleged benefits of illegal steroids.

So what are these potential benefits, and why would an athlete risk everything by taking steroids? What do they do for the human body, anyway?

Why Do Some Athletes Take Steroids?

Traditionally, athletes have taken anabolic steroids to help increase muscle mass. These drugs function like natural testosterone and can enhance strength, endurance, and concentration on the field as well as boost muscle mass.

Athletes face enormous amounts of pressure on the field, as their entire careers and their family’s well-being hinge on their being the best of the best. This pressure, combined with the grueling schedules of professional athletes, has led some men to dose with steroids on the side to help them win and cement their value to the sports world or their teams.

This can be especially true as athletes get older. Professional sports take a toll on the human body, and many athletes are winding down their professional careers by their 30s or 40s. The pressure to keep going and compete with younger players can lead some middle-aged athletes to drug use in an attempt to stay competitive with men a decade or more their junior.

It may also be true that the wise-spread use of steroids in an entire sport may cause some players to feel that doping is the only way to stay energetic and effective as a way to “level the playing field.” Some better-known examples of steroid use by professional athletes include

  • Ben Johnson
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger (back in his bodybuilding days)
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Manny Ramirez
  • Barry Bonds
  • Lance Armstrong

So what types of steroids exist, and what do they do to the human body?

What Types of Steroids Exist?

Different kinds of anabolic steroids exist. Let’s go over what they are and how they affect the human body.

Testosterone Undecanoate or Andriol is a synthetic testosterone substitute that replicates much higher than average testosterone levels in patients. This steroid is typically used to treat low testosterone in middle-aged or older men and results in increased muscle mass as well as greater strength and stamina in athletes.

Cortisone is another anabolic steroid that is used to reduce inflammation in muscle tissue and has been used by athletes to help power through exhausting races without lagging.

Primobolan is another common anabolic steroid that mimics slightly elevated testosterone levels in the human body. It is illegal in most countries and is not as strong an androgen as drugs like Andirol.

Clenbuterol has been widely abused by athletes over the years, despite there being little evidence that it does anything to enhance performance in humans. Clenbuterol has been used to help asthma patients breathe better and is sometimes used by women to artificially reduce appetite and decrease body weight.

Nandrolone is a fairly strong anabolic steroid that noticeably mimics elevated testosterone levels. It produces noticeable effects on stamina and physical bulk while increasing strength. It’s a popular doping substance among athletes, even to the present.

Dianabol is another testosterone substitute that downplays some of the less pleasant effects of testosterone supplements while increasing muscle mass. Used in the 1950s to treat male infertility, it was later picked up by bodybuilders in the 1970s. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been widely assumed to have used Dianabol during his Mr. Universe days to increase muscle bulk.

All of these substances are believed to (or actually can) increase muscle mass and/or endurance in athletes. But what about the negative side effects? Are there physical drawbacks to these drugs that can hurt your health?

What Are The Negative Physical Effects of Steroids?

The negative physical effects of anabolic steroid use are widely documented and have been a factor in making them illegal for athletes in the United States. These include heart problems, liver damage, and fertility issues. Let’s break these down one by one to help unpack just what makes steroids medically unsafe.

The first issue faced by steroid users is possible to damage to the heart. Cardiac damage due to steroid use can cause an enlarged heart, arrhythmia, strokes, heart attacks, and even death if the habit is not overcome in time. The health and efficiency of blood vessels may also be affected, blood pressure can increase, and the lymphatic system can suffer damage as well.

Though anabolic steroids mimic testosterone in the human body, they can ironically cause fertility issues in men. Sperm count is lowered, and testicular size is reduced. Sexual performance can suffer, as well. Meaning that the only real testosterone-like benefits are muscle mass. Everything else that a man would benefit from via natural testosterone increase takes a hit.

Liver damage is another risk of anabolic steroid abuse. As the liver processes these substances, the intensity and frequency of the presence of steroids in the bloodstream can put excessive strain on the liver and lead to partial or complete failure of the organ.

Finally, less severe but still annoying symptoms such as increased acne, oily skin, and premature baldness can occur. What about the psychological and mental effects of steroid use? Is “roid rage” actually a thing, or is it just an urban legend?

Can Steroids Cause Mental Health Issues?

In addition to physical health concerns, anabolic steroid abuse can cause serious mental health issues. Most illegal drugs also produce unpleasant emotional and psychiatric effects, and anabolic steroids are no different. Mild mental health problems include brain fog and forgetfulness. Notable severe problems with steroid abuse also include mood swings, anxiety, depression, and increased anger which can be difficult to control.

These angry outbursts and increased aggression are likely due to the testosterone-like effects of these drugs, which can amp up the emotional intensity and make it tougher to calm down when upset. The angry episodes in which steroid abusers are set off by relatively minor annoyances and may become verbally or physically abusive in the process is known as “roid rage.”

In extreme cases, manic episodes can result, leading to mental breakdowns, hospitalization, and extended breaks from work and family life as a result. These manic episodes can occur on their own but are frequently noted when steroid and cannabis use are combined.

This brings us to another question; are steroids addictive? Is it possible to get hooked on anabolic steroids?

Are Steroids Addictive?

Many of the illegal drugs in the United States are also powerfully addictive, such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Is the same true of steroids? This depends upon the user, but research indicates that at least some steroid abusers become addicted.

How common is steroid addiction? This can be difficult to determine, but reports suggest that 25% – 30% of males who abuse steroids can become addicted. That is, they are unable to stop taking the drug even though the negative effects now outweigh the initial benefits.

Ordinarily, if a food or substance is causing us harm (like a peanut allergy), we would simply avoid peanuts or products containing peanuts with no difficulty. But addiction causes chemical changes in the brain and nervous system, causing the person to crave the substance despite how awful it can make them feel or the social consequences of their habit. This is typically seen in drug and alcohol abuse and can be seen in steroid misuse, as well.

Another strong indication of addiction is the physical and emotional process of withdrawal. This can sometimes be observed in those athletes who try to wean themselves off of anabolic steroids and can manifest as fatigue, muscle aches, nausea, dizziness, and irritability or mood swings.

So with all of the problems related to anabolic steroids, are there safe, natural ways for athletes to bulk up and stay competitive? What alternatives does a pro or amateur athlete have?

Safe Alternatives to Steroids Use Exist

Happily, there are perfectly safe and healthy alternatives to steroid use. Everything from diet to lifestyle to practice can help achieve the effects of steroids without dipping into illegal or unsafe substances.

Let’s start with what you’re eating. Many foods provide extra strength to the human body and are especially beneficial to men seeking to bulk up naturally and perform better. What a man seeking natural performance enhancement from food wants are foods that naturally boost testosterone. These foods mimic the effects of steroids safely and in a way that your body can both handle and benefit from.

These foods include

  • Salmon
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Avocados
  • Kale and Spinach
  • Legumes (like lima beans and edamame)

Make sure that all baked goods are made with whole grains or ancient grains, as these are better for your body overall and are more easily turned into energy. Foods to avoid include anything artificial, refined sugar, refined / white flour, fast food, and foods heavy in preservatives and dyes.

Another safe and helpful alternative to steroid use is simply practicing your chosen sport and developing strength and talent naturally. You can indeed get stronger and better at your sport of choice, but it will take time.

This isn’t a bad thing, though. The human body and mind work best when strength and agility are accrued naturally and gradually, as opposed to rushing the process through drug use. It’s also vital to get plenty of sleep and reduce the amount of stress in your life, if possible.

We recommend cutting back on internet use, reducing or eliminating social media from your life, getting fresh air, and spending time with hobbies, people, or animals that you love. All of these things can help optimize your body and mind towards peak performance and allow your physical strength to increase steadily and naturally.


Anabolic steroids have been illegal for athletes under US law since 1990 due to their physical and mental side effects, addictive nature, and the unfair advantage they can give to players.

These steroids mimic the increased presence of testosterone in the human body and can lead to increased muscle mass and greater physical endurance. Unfortunately, they can also cause fertility issues in men, heart damage, and liver damage. Mental side effects of steroid abuse can include irritability, depression, aggression, and even manic episodes, which can be made worse by cannabis use. These steroids also prove addictive in 25 – 30% of users and can be difficult to quit.

Happily, alternatives to steroid abuse for athletes include naturally testosterone-boosting foods like salmon, nuts, eggs, and leafy greens. It is also advisable for athletes to avoid processed foods and sugar. Another effective steroid substitute is to simply practice heartily at one’s sport of choice, increase muscle mass gradually and naturally, and reduce stress in day-to-day life.