Man doing push-ups while wondering whether testosterone is a steroid

Is Testosterone a Steroid?

Written on August 1, 2023 by Lori Mulligan, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

Before we address the question, is testosterone a steroid, let’s cover the basics of what testosterone is and the important role it plays.

What Is Testosterone?

Testosterone is a sex hormone. Hormones are the body's chemical messengers. They travel from one organ or another place in the body, usually through the bloodstream, and affect many different bodily processes.

Testosterone is the major sex hormone in males. It is essential to the development of male growth and masculine characteristics.

Signals sent from the brain to the pituitary gland at the base of the brain control the production of testosterone in men. The pituitary gland then relays signals to the testes to produce testosterone. This feedback loop closely regulates the amount of hormones in the blood. When testosterone levels rise too high, the brain sends signals to the pituitary to reduce production.

What Does Testosterone Do?

Testosterone plays multiple important roles in the body, such as:

  • Development of the penis and testes
  • Deepening of the voice during puberty
  • Appearance of facial and pubic hair starting at puberty (later in life, it may play a role in balding)
  • Effects muscle size and strength
  • Bone growth and strength
  • Regulating sex drive (libido)
  • Production of sperm

Adolescent boys with too little testosterone may not experience normal masculinization. For example, the genitals may not enlarge, facial and body hair may be scant, and the voice may not deepen normally.

Testosterone may also help maintain a normal mood. There may be other important functions of this hormone that have not yet been discovered.[1]

Is Testosterone a Steroid?

Natural testosterone is a steroid — more precisely, an anabolic-androgenic steroid. "Anabolic" refers to muscle building, and "androgenic" refers to increased male sex characteristics.

However, when you hear people use the term “anabolic steroids,” they are generally referring to synthetic (made in a lab) variations of testosterone that are injected into your body.

Healthcare providers use synthetic testosterone to treat and manage various medical conditions.

Synthetic testosterone is the main drug of masculinizing hormone therapy, which is a gender-affirming treatment that someone assigned female at birth (AFAB) uses to produce the secondary sex characteristics associated with being assigned male at birth (AMAB).

Is Synthetic Testosterone Misused?

Some athletes and bodybuilders misuse synthetic testosterone (anabolic steroids) by taking very high doses of them in an attempt to boost performance or change their physical appearance.[2]

What Are the Health Effects of Misusing Anabolic Steroids?

Misuse of anabolic steroids, especially over a long period of time, has been linked to many health problems, including:

  • Acne
  • Stunted growth in teens
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in cholesterol
  • Heart problems, including heart attack
  • Liver disease, including cancer
  • Kidney damage
  • Aggressive behavior

In men, it can also cause:

  • Baldness
  • Breast growth
  • Low sperm count/infertility
  • Shrinking of the testicles

In women, it can also cause:

  • Changes in your menstrual cycle (period)
  • Growth of body and facial hair
  • Male-pattern baldness
  • Voice deepening

Are Anabolic Steroids Addictive?

Even though they don't cause a high, anabolic steroids can be addictive. You can have withdrawal symptoms if you stop using them, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Steroid cravings
  • Depression

Behavioral therapy and medicines can be helpful in treating anabolic steroid addiction.[3]

What Are Legitimate Medical Uses of Synthetic Testosterone?

Testosterone is used for men with low testosterone levels caused by certain medical conditions, including disorders of the testicles, pituitary gland (a small gland in the brain), or hypothalamus (a part of the brain) that cause hypogonadism.[4]

They are also of value in various types of wasting syndromes, for example, in patients suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), anorexia, or alcoholism, and for those with severe burns, muscle, tendon, or bone injury, osteoporosis, certain types of anemias, and hereditary angioedema.

Testosterone has also recently been discussed in connection with longevity. As a person ages, their physiological levels of testosterone decrease. Testosterone decline has been associated with aging symptoms such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, overall fatigue, depression, and cognitive decline.

Despite their abuse potential, these drugs are legal in some countries while being treated as controlled substances in others. Their legal status has also an impact on the availability of these drugs for medicinal use. Even though these agents are regarded as older-generation drugs, and their efficacy/side-effects ratio may be questionable, they display valuable and often irreplaceable pharmacological properties, which makes them still medicinally useful.[5]

How Can Everlywell Help?

The at-home testosterone test with sample collection at home and sample testing in a lab can serve as a good first step to learn if you have low levels of total testosterone.

Another option is to talk with a provider about your health concerns. Have symptoms like low energy, low sex drive, or poor sleep? Book an appointment with our online men's health clinic so a provider can evaluate your symptoms and offer guidance on next steps, which may include prescriptions, test recommendations, or lifestyle changes.

Does Working Out Increase Testosterone?

Does a Vasectomy Lower Testosterone?

Does Low Testosterone Cause ED?


  1. Testosterone: What it is and how it affects our health. Harvard Health Publishing. June 22, 21, 2023. Accessed on July 26, 2023
  2. Testosterone. Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed September 9, 2022. Accessed on July 26, 2023.
  3. Anabolic steroids. MedlinePlus. National Library of Medicine. Last updated on June 2, 2021. Accessed on July 26, 2023.
  4. Testosterone injection. Medline Plus. National Library of Medicine. Last reviewed March 15, 2019.
  5. Tauchen J, Jurasak M, Huml L. Medicinal use of testosterone and related steroids revisited. Molecules. Feb. 2021.;26(4). doi: 10.3390/molecules26041032.
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