Is Everyone Around You on Steroids?

A personal trainer, bodybuilder, and doctor explain if the juice is worth the squeeze.
steroids injecting anabolic androgenic aas bodybuilding influencers gym fitness health wellness competitive competition social media supplements medication roids juice andro gear body dysmorphia
Is the juice worth the squeeze? Photo: PM Images, Getty

Personal trainer and bodybuilder Francisco Jacinto is currently injecting anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) four times a week, a practice known in gyms as “blasting.” He started using the drug five years ago, when he was 21 years old. 

“I started injecting because I realized that competitive bodybuilding is what I want to do for a living. In order to be competitive, I have to be on steroids,” Jacinto told VICE.


Not to be confused with corticosteroids, which are used to fight inflammation in the body, AAS, or just steroids to many, are man-made versions of testosterone. They are typically injected into a muscle or taken in tablet form, and used to treat men with low testosterone levels, people who lose muscle mass due to chronic health conditions like cancer or AIDS, and teen boys with delayed puberty.

But many, like Jacinto, use the drug for aesthetic reasons. 

A body that’s formed with the help of steroids is typically characterized by unusually large and defined muscles, excessive vascularity, and extremely low body fat. While the look is common for competitive bodybuilders, it has become a kind of gold standard for the average gym-goer. Maybe not everyone wants to be as big, but many want to be as ripped, or vice versa. 

The laws around steroids vary depending on the country. In some places, like the United States, they’re prescription-only drugs, meaning it’s illegal to use them without a doctor’s prescription. In other places, like Northern Ireland, where Jacinto is from, it’s illegal to sell them but legal to possess them. For this reason, Jacinto can speak openly about using the drug. The drug can also be purchased over-the-counter in some countries. 


A 2022 study estimated that 3 to 4 million Americans have used steroids to increase muscle mass. It noted that while use of it is more common in men, women use them, too. In the United Kingdom, there are reportedly more than 1 million people who use it (but one study said some estimates are severely underreported). Exact numbers are hard to come by, but talk around the fitness community makes it appear like steroid use is on the rise. Steroids are so common that they’re known by different colloquial terms, like roids, juice, andro, and gear. 

Much of the pressure to look a certain way can be pinned on social media. Constantly seeing people working out and looking like they walked (or perhaps sprinted) out of a fitness magazine can create unrealistic standards for the average gym-goer. Experts have pointed to the rise of muscle dysmorphia (aka bigorexia, the opposite of anorexia) as one factor leading people to use the drug


Some fitness influencers are essentially paid by supplement companies to look a certain way all year round. Fitness coach John Politis, who works with people who use or have used steroids, said that means they simply can’t afford to go off it because doing so would mean their bodies would change, and in effect, impact their careers. 

“It’s not gonna look good to the supplement company [if the influencer goes off steroids]. Why is he looking worse while using these supplements? So the motivation to look good right now is a lot higher.”

For Jacinto, however, looking good is a competition. 

“I remember stepping on my second junior bodybuilding competition and I’m pretty sure I was placed last. The result devastated me to the point where I was crying. Competing against other enhanced 20-year-olds made me realize I had no chance at all if I wanted to [bodybuild] for a living,” said Jacinto.

Politis explained that steroids help people build muscle, burn fat, and recover from their workouts at a much faster rate than they would without the drug, which pushes a lot of people to continue using them.

“Your recovery is almost instant. That means you train in the morning, [and] you can go training again at night,” said Politis, adding that this speedy recovery and more frequent training usually comes with bigger muscles. 

Jacinto said that seeing the results of using the drug excited him. It felt like he was finally gaining something from his training and dieting.


Internal medicine physician Mutahir Farhan does not prescribe steroids for people who only want to use them to look better. He discourages the practice but has treated several patients who use the drug as part of their exercise regimen.

“Though we tend to advise against this practice, we would rather have a close watch over our patients who choose to use steroids as part of their exercise regime rather than abandoning them until their health takes a downward spiral,” Farhan said. 

When used without medical supervision, steroids can have plenty of unwanted effects.

In men, the drug is known to cause decreased sperm production, enlarged breasts, shrinking of the testicles, and male-pattern baldness, among others. In women, it’s associated with voice deepening, coarse skin, and excessive body hair growth. It can also cause severe acne and cysts, high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks. 

Farhan added that people who use steroids illegally usually get them from someone who smuggles the drug from countries where they can still be purchased over-the-counter. Farhan has also had patients who turned to the dark web to get their steroids—but there’s no knowing exactly what goes into those specific drugs.


Steroids aren’t cheap either. “Many people end up spending thousands of [US] dollars on these a month, and as their body grows, so does the amount of steroids,” said Farhan.

Still, it’s easy to imagine how steroid use can spread. Two friends could be training together in the gym, Politis said, when one notices that the other is getting much better results. Some of it could be chalked up to genetics, but when one friend admits to using steroids, the other will often want to join them. It’s unlikely that either is an expert in medicine or a licensed health professional, so a lot of misinformation about steroid use spreads in a similar fashion. 

A common mistake people make about steroids is thinking that they can just use a little bit for a little while, get their gains, then stop. Jacinto said, for example, that people go on a “summer protocol” of the drug, “just to look good at the beach during the hotter days of the year and then go back to being natural.” That means they’re only on steroids for a couple of months of the year and spend the rest of the time off it. 

“However, there’s the danger of not knowing when to stop,” said Jacinto, pointing to how people can get addicted to the results of the drug. 

According to Farhan, the body becomes reliant on the drug to maintain the muscle it puts on. That means that in order to maintain their gains, people have to keep taking the drug. When that happens, Politis said they feel worse because the reason they used steroids to begin with was to gain muscle—so they start using again.


“When someone has an addictive personality and they go off steroids, chances are they’re not gonna stay off long enough, they’re gonna keep on taking them. And this is how people become addicted. So, most people, almost everyone who goes on a steroid cycle, it’s long-term, not short-term, and this is why,” said Politis.

“It is important to remember that these drugs have very powerful effects on your entire body, not just your muscles and fat,” Farhan said.

For example, steroids can initially boost a person’s confidence but can also make a person more aggressive and moody. Many people who go off the drug also report a period of depression, which makes quitting for good even more difficult. 

Jacinto said he was aware of the other possible effects of the drug when he started using it, but was willing to take the risk.

“My long-term plan right now with steroids is to live and enjoy my bodybuilding career. As I have been using steroids for quite some time, I can not just go off, as that would bring danger to my health,” Jacinto said. He will also one day have to go on testosterone replacement therapy to keep his testosterone levels normal. 

People are likely going to keep using steroids to improve their physique. That’s something competitive bodybuilders like Jacinto and even physicians like Farhan seem to have accepted. But that doesn’t mean mindlessly accepting all the risks. 

For anyone adamant about using steroids for aesthetic purposes despite the numerous risks, Farhan said it’s best to consult with a physician who can oversee the use and mitigate any unwanted effects.

For anyone on the fence, Jacinto had a word of advice:

“If you’re taking steroids to show off your body at the beach, that’s OK and I don’t judge anyone that does it. But know that you can obtain a really good-looking body without it in a much healthier way.” 

Follow Romano Santos on Instagram.