How to Spot a Steroid User?

It’s a commonly known fact that has been prevalent throughout professional athletics and bodybuilding for decades – the use of steroids is extremely commonplace amongst fitness professionals, models, general fitness enthusiasts, amateur athletes, and even youth athletes. One study indicated that 1,084,000 Americans, or 0.5 percent of the adult population, said that they had used anabolic steroids at one point in life. 

Although it is impossible to identify someone as a steroid user without specific medical tests, there are several indications of steroid use that can be subjectively viewed. Read on and find out how to tell if someone is on steroids based on some common visual and behavioral signs. By understanding these symptoms, you can better identify potential steroid users and have a more informed perspective on the topic.

Fat-Free Mass Index

Following years of studying steroid users and analyzing bodybuilders from several different eras, Harrison Pope, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, developed the fat-free-mass index (FFMI) to estimate the genetic potential of a person’s natural ability to build muscle mass. This calculation evaluated the height, weight, and body fat percentage of a person to estimate the physiological ceiling of a person’s muscular development. 

Harrisson estimated that the ceiling of a natural bodybuilder was, on average, 25 FFMI. This indicates that anyone with an FFMI of 26 or above would be a prime suspect of using a performance-enhancing drug, such as ligandrol (PED).

It should be noted that this study is not a definitive measure of how long it takes to lose muscle and has been the subject of much scrutiny over the last few years. There will always be rare genetic outliers who can achieve a natural FFMI above 25, and there will also, on the opposite spectrum, be individuals who are steroid users who have not achieved an FFMI of 25.

Common Signs of Steroid Use – Physical Changes

Apart from the fat-free mass index results, there is a range of common visual signs of steroid use that may indicate the use of steroids. The physical changes from steroids are often the most notable and objective signs of steroid use because some physical alterations are very apparent depending on the time and duration a person uses anabolic steroids.

Some of the typical physical steroid use signs include: 

Flushed Skin

Anabolic steroids can cause a rise in blood pressure, leading to an increase in core body temperature. This increase in temperature can result in a flushed or pinkish appearance of the skin. It’s important to note that some individuals naturally have a flushed skin tone, but if someone’s complexion has significantly changed, it could indicate steroid use. However, keep in mind that other drugs or medications, such as pre-workout supplements or stimulant-based fat burners, can also cause flushing.

Sudden Changes in Body Composition

If someone has experienced a rapid and significant increase in muscle mass or simultaneous muscle gain and fat loss, it could be a sign of steroid use. Building muscle naturally requires years of hard work, discipline, and a balance between calorie surplus and deficit. 

Anabolic steroids can enhance muscle growth and fat loss simultaneously, which is difficult to achieve naturally. However, it’s essential to consider other factors, such as genetics and training history, before drawing conclusions.

Disproportionate Muscle Groups

Research suggests that steroid users who engage in weight training may develop significantly more hypertrophy and strength in specific muscle groups compared to sedentary steroid users. This could result in a disproportionate body appearance, especially if certain muscles are not trained as extensively as others. 

While natural bodybuilders can also have uneven muscle development, the potential for unevenness is generally greater among steroid users.

Hair Loss 

Anabolic steroid use can lead to hair loss, particularly in individuals who are genetically predisposed to male pattern baldness. Androgenic steroids can increase the levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which can damage hair follicles on the scalp. This can result in thinning, recession, or complete loss of hair on the scalp. It’s important to note that the severity of hair loss can vary depending on the individual’s genetics and the specific steroids used.

Deltoid or Trapezius Development

The deltoid (shoulder) and trapezius muscles often experience significant growth in individuals using anabolic steroids. These muscles have a higher number of androgen receptors, making them more responsive to the effects of androgenic compounds. 

While well-developed deltoids and trapezius muscles are not exclusive to steroid users, exceptionally large muscles in these areas, especially when disproportionate to the rest of the body, can be indicative of steroid use.


Acne vulgaris or seborrhea (oily skin) can be visual signs of steroid use, particularly when androgenic compounds are involved. Anabolic steroids can stimulate overactive sebaceous glands, leading to excessive production of sebum. This can result in blocked pores and, in severe cases, cystic acne. It’s important to consider individual genetics, as some people may have naturally oily skin, which can worsen with steroid use.


Gynecomastia is the enlargement or swelling of breast tissue in males. Anabolic steroids that convert to estrogen through the aromatase enzyme can disrupt the hormone balance, leading to the development of gynecomastia. This condition may require anti-estrogen medications or even surgery to address the excess breast tissue. It’s important to note that not all steroid users develop gynecomastia, and certain steroids have a higher risk of causing this side effect.

Difficulty Urinating

Androgenic steroids may cause benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlargement of the prostate gland), which can lead to difficulties in urination. This can manifest as a reduced urinary flow and the need for more frequent trips to the bathroom. Difficulty urinating was one of the factors that prompted the development of less androgenic but highly anabolic steroids, such as Methandrostenolone (Dianabol).


Estrogenic steroids can cause water retention and bloating due to increased osmotic sensitivity and sodium retention. This can result in a decrease in muscle tone and a bloated appearance. Some individuals may also experience extreme muscle fullness and a 3D-like look due to increased glycogen uptake in the muscles. The extent of water retention and bloating can vary depending on the dosage of steroids used.

Increased Visceral Body Fat

Visceral fat is adipose tissue that accumulates around vital organs, such as the liver and intestines. Steroid use, particularly anabolic steroids, can lead to higher levels of visceral fat due to impaired insulin sensitivity. This increase in visceral fat can cause a distended appearance in the abdomen. It’s important to note that steroid users may have lower overall body fat percentages but higher levels of visceral fat compared to non-users. However, certain steroids, such as Anavar, may have a reduced impact on visceral fat.

Virilization in Women

Female steroid users who use highly androgenic steroids may experience masculinization effects, known as virilization. These effects can include irregular menstrual cycles, clitoral enlargement, breast reduction, body hair growth, scalp hair loss, a more pronounced jawline, and the development of an Adam’s apple (laryngeal prominence). 

While there are female-friendly steroids with a lower virilization risk, high dosages or excessive cycles can still lead to these effects.

Erectile Dysfunction

While anabolic steroids can initially enhance erection quality due to increased testosterone levels, prolonged use or the end of a steroid cycle can lead to erectile dysfunction. Certain steroids, such as nandrolone (Deca Durabolin), can cause erectile dysfunction due to elevated prolactin levels. 

Fluctuations in testosterone levels during and after steroid use can contribute to sexual dysfunction, highlighting the importance of post-cycle therapy to restore natural testosterone production.

Dry-Looking Muscles

While some steroids can cause fluid retention, others have diuretic effects, resulting in a drier and more defined muscle appearance. Steroids like Winstrol and Anavar can expel extracellular fluid, leading to enhanced muscle definition, visible veins, and muscle striations. 

The degree of water retention or dryness depends on the specific steroid used. It’s important to note that excessively dry muscles can look artificial and may indicate the use of performance-enhancing substances.

Other Physical Signs of Steroid Use

  • Acute or rapid increases in strength and/or muscle mass
  • Greasy hair or oily skin
  • Stretch marks on the inner joints from rapid growth
  • Increased length and thickness in body hair
  • Jaundice or yellowing of the skin
  • Skin eruptions and infections, such as abscesses and cysts (injection sites)
  • Limping or pain in quads, glutes, shoulders (injection sites)
  • Drastic appetite shifts (extreme hunger or lessened/loss of appetite)
  • Joint pain; greater chance of injuring muscles and tendons
  • Night sweating

Common Signs of Steroid Use – Personality Changes

Personality changes are much harder to evaluate and there is a mix of contradicting research to indicate that true personality changes exist versus and enhancement of normal character attributes, it’s like they are on some form of brain drug as well, there are some that you can read so you can compare what they do to the brain.

Some of the possible personality changes can include:

Roid Rage

Anabolic steroids can significantly increase testosterone levels, leading to heightened aggression and mood swings in some individuals. This phenomenon, often referred to as “roid rage,” can manifest as bursts of anger, irritability, or even hypomanic or manic episodes. Keep in mind that not all steroid users experience roid rage, and the intensity of these mood changes can vary from person to person.

Increased Alpha Male Behavior

High testosterone levels associated with steroid use can lead to increased alpha male behavior, characterized by dominance, confidence, and assertiveness. Some individuals, especially introverted or shy individuals, may exhibit a more outgoing personality due to elevated testosterone levels. However, these effects are often short-lived, as testosterone levels can plummet post-cycle, potentially leading to low testosterone levels and psychological dependence on steroids.

Other Behavioral Changes Related to Steroid Use

  • Poor decision-making stemming from feelings of invincibility
  • Becomes secretive and/or starts lying
  • Withdraws from family members
  • Depression (usually when the steroids are discontinued)
  • Hallucinations – seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Paranoia – extreme feelings of distrust, anxiety or fear
  • Changes in libido
  • Disrupted sleep patterns (not sleeping well or sleeping too much)

The Bottom Line

Identifying signs of steroid use can be challenging, but understanding the common signs can help raise suspicion and prompt further investigation. It’s crucial to approach the topic with sensitivity and gather additional evidence before making any accusations. 

Genetic factors, training history, and individual variations should also be considered when assessing someone’s physique. If you suspect someone is using steroids, it’s important to approach the matter with care and offer support or resources for education on potential health risks associated with steroid use.



Are all steroids illegal or harmful?

No, not all steroids are illegal or harmful. There are different types of steroids, including corticosteroids (used for medical purposes) and anabolic steroids (used for muscle growth). Anabolic steroids, when used without a prescription or medical need, are illegal and potentially harmful.

Can steroid use cause long-term health problems?

Yes, steroid abuse can lead to a range of long-term health problems, including cardiovascular issues, liver and kidney damage, hormonal imbalances, psychological effects, and addiction.

Are there tests to detect steroid use?

Yes, there are tests available to detect the presence of steroids in a person’s system. These include urine and blood tests. However, these tests are typically used in sports and law enforcement settings and may not be routinely administered in healthcare.

Is it possible to recover from the effects of steroid use?

Yes, with proper medical care and support, individuals can often recover from the effects of steroid use. However, the extent of recovery can vary depending on the duration and severity of use and the individual’s overall health.

Is it possible to use steroids safely for medical purposes?

Yes, steroids can be used safely for legitimate medical purposes when prescribed by a qualified healthcare professional. Medical use involves careful monitoring and adherence to prescribed dosages.

What should I do if I suspect someone is using steroids?

If you suspect someone is using steroids and are concerned about their health, it’s important to approach the situation with empathy and encourage them to seek professional help. It may be necessary to involve a healthcare provider or addiction specialist.




About the Author

, Celebrity Personal Trainer and Fitness & Nutrition Expert headquartered in Scottsdale, AZ. He specializes in helping men and women achieve weight loss, muscle building, toning and other customized fitness & nutrition programs to create a Healthy Lifestyle. James offers private luxury personal training, 12-week custom workout plans, and personalized nutrition meal plans. Follow on Google+.

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