What are image and performance enhancing drugs (IPEDs)?

IPEDs refer to substances that are generally used to enhance muscle growth ('anabolic' effects) or to reduce body fat ('catabolic effects'). The perceived benefits of using these types of substances range from increasing the size and definition of muscles, reducing water retention and body fat, to increasing physical strength and endurance.

Types of IPEDs

Anabolic steroids – ‘roids, gear, juice

Anabolic-androgenic steroids are synthetic hormones that imitate male sex hormones, specifically testosterone. They can be taken either as an injection or as a tablet. Steroids are used due to their anabolic effects that assist in the growth and repair of muscle tissue.


Peptides stimulate the release of human growth hormone, which has an important role in muscle and bone growth. Peptides have become increasingly popular among professional and amateur athletes as they are hard to detect due to how quickly they are absorbed by the body.


Hormones are chemicals released by the body. For example, the pituitary gland naturally releases growth hormone which tells bones and muscles to grow and repair. There are numerous artificial hormones and hormone stimulating drugs available in the IPEDs market.


There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk – even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

The harms associated with IPEDs, depend on the type of drug being used: different categories of drugs have different harms, though there are a few shared harms.

When injected, IPEDs have the additional harms associated with other injecting drug use, including infection, transmission of disease through needle sharing and other problems caused by poor injecting practices.

People who use steroids should be aware of a number of negative physical, psychological and behavioural side effects including:

  • Acne
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver and heart problems
  • Gynaecomastia (growth of breast tissue)
  • Hair loss
  • Increased aggression and irritability (‘roid rage’)
  • Depression
  • Shrinking testicles and prostate problems.

Reported side effects of peptides and hormones include:

  • water retention
  • numbness of the hands and feet
  • increased tiredness

As a number of synthetic peptides hormones are experimental or not yet approved for human use, it is difficult to pinpoint the specific harms they may cause.

Young people

Young men are more likely than young women to use steroids to gain weight and muscle mass. The risks of the following side effects are higher if steroids are injected by young men in their late teens/ early 20s, before they have stopped growing: 

  • Stunted growth
  • Premature balding
  • Acne scarring
  • Stretch marks on chest and arms
  • Prematurely-aged, ‘leathery’ skin
  • Injuries from excessively intense gym workouts

Getting help

You should see your GP if you think you're addicted to anabolic steroids. Treatment for an addiction to anabolic steroids will be similar to that of other types of addiction.

Your GP may refer you to a specially trained drugs counsellor. They'll discuss your addiction with you, how to safely stop taking steroids, and any obstacles you may face when trying to stop, plus strategies for dealing with those obstacles.

Rosslyn House - 37 – 41 Thorne Road, Doncaster DN1 2EZ
Telephone: 01302 730956

Project 3 - Young Peoples Health and Wellbeing Service, Flying Scotsman Centre, St Sepulchre Gate, Doncaster, DN1 3AP
Telephone: 01302 640032

Public Health Wales have produced an excellent toolkit for working with 11-19 year olds involved in IPED use.


Last updated: 23 June 2021 15:00:27

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