Dangers of anabolic steroids highlighted by new HPRA ‘Zero Gains’ campaign

News Category: Regulatory news

Date: 08/10/2018

  • Of concern, 1 in 10 adults would consider taking anabolic steroids, rising to more than 1 in 5 aged 18-34
  • 3 out of 4 people feel social media, TV and other media pressurise young adults to look a certain way
  • Some 50% in Ireland are unaware or unsure about the side effects of anabolic steroid use
  • Volume of illegal anabolic steroids detained increased ten-fold between 2015 and 2017


A new public information campaign to raise awareness of the potentially serious side effects and health risks of using unprescribed anabolic steroids was announced today by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA). Launched by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD., the campaign targets young Irish men and was developed in light of growing evidence of an increased use of anabolic steroids for body enhancement as well as new research* showing a significant lack of awareness of the serious health complications posed by these products. The HPRA advises that people should not use anabolic steroids unless prescribed for them by a doctor as misuse of these products can cause serious physical and psychological health issues. The potential physical effects include heart failure, liver issues, kidney damage, and infertility as well as acne and hair loss. The psychological and emotional impacts include mood swings and aggression or ‘roid rage’ leading to possible depression.

The national education campaign which starts today entitled ‘Zero Gains’ incorporates online search, social and digital media in addition to outdoor and in-gym adverts. A new website www.zerogains.ie has been launched to provide reliable and trustworthy information on the real risks of anabolic steroid use. It also provides practical advice to help anyone who is suffering from issues with use and provides details on how members of the public can report concerns about the illegal sales and supply of steroids to the authorities.

The sale and supply of anabolic steroids to the public outside of a registered pharmacy is illegal. As authorised prescription-only medicines, they are only available on foot of a prescription from a doctor to treat specific medical conditions. Growing evidence ranging from the increasing levels of illegal products detained by the HPRA each year, as well as needle exchange figures and a number of tragic deaths highlighted in the media in recent times, point to a growth in non-medical use in Ireland. The HPRA states that in 2017, working in conjunction with An Garda Síochána and Revenue’s Customs Service, it detained 449,411 dosage units of illegal anabolic steroids, compared to 109,006 units in 2016 and 38,049 in 2015. New HPRA research also revealed today highlights a significant proportion of Irish people are unaware of the many serious side effects caused by anabolic steroid use.  It shows:

  • 3 in 4 adults feel social media, TV shows, magazines and websites are pressurising young adults to look a certain way. This includes 80% of females and 84% of those aged 55+.
  • 1 in 10 adults would consider taking anabolic steroids to enhance physical performance or gain a more muscular physique, rising to more than 1 in 5 of those aged 18-34 (22%).
  • More than 1 in 4 people claim to know someone who has previously used unprescribed anabolic steroids.
  • Almost half of Irish adults (48%) are unaware/not sure about the side effects of steroid use meaning that lack of awareness of specific health risks is significant. While almost 1 out of every 5 (19%) is aware (unprompted) that using anabolic steroids can cause heart problems, awareness levels of other known health risks are quite significantly lower. Only 8% of respondents referred to mood swings, 7% to aggression and just 4% to liver damage.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 (19%) of 25 to 34 year olds say they would not be concerned if their partner, a family member or a friend were using anabolic steroids.


According to Dr Lorraine Nolan, Chief Executive of the HPRA, using anabolic steroids can result in a range of serious health side effects many of which can be life-threatening with long-term use. This campaign aims to inform and discourage people from using anabolic steroids and from buying these products online or from other illegal suppliers.

“Our research highlights the social pressure on young people to look a certain way. Young men are seeking to gain muscle and ‘bulk up’, and whilst use of illegal steroids was previously associated with competitive bodybuilding and enhanced sport performance, nowadays usage appears dominated by the desire to have the perceived perfect body image. We are looking to change that attitude and to dispel the myth that non-medical use of these products is safe and that users have nothing to lose by taking them. On the contrary, young men have a lot to lose starting with their health and wellbeing. We believe there are no gains from using substances that have been shown to cause a range of physical, psychological and emotional damage when misused. The real story is that non-medical use of anabolic steroids can have devastating, long term and life threatening side effects,” she says.  

Speaking at the launch of the campaign, Minister Harris commented: “This is an important and welcome campaign from the HPRA that clearly communicates the very serious health risks posed by anabolic steroids misuse. It seems clear that increasing numbers of young males in particular are being attracted by the lure of taking anabolic steroids without awareness or knowledge of the potentially serious consequences for their health and wellbeing. The campaign uses phrases, imagery and media that will resonate with the target audience who for the most part will be young and healthy. We need them to understand, that when everything is taken into account, there are clearly ‘zero gains’ to using anabolic steroids.”  

Welcoming the launch of the campaign, John Treacy CEO of Sport Ireland, stated: “Sport Ireland is happy to support the HPRA in this important awareness campaign. Sport Ireland works closely with the HPRA and an inter-agency approach is important in tackling the usage of illegal substances, especially with substances such as anabolic steroids becoming more prevalent. While the use of anabolic steroids would have traditionally been associated with improving physical performance, it is clear that they are now being taken for other purposes. A core part of Sport Ireland’s remit in the area of anti-doping is education and this campaign will assist us in highlighting the consequences of doping not just from the sporting perspective, but also the serious health implications associated with taking anabolic steroids.”

Dr Nolan states the campaign, which goes live today, introduces a very specific tone and a range of striking male imagery. ”We think the creative approach is appropriate to the target audience who may be using or considering using steroids. We know young men taking anabolic steroids are more likely to work out regularly so our campaign reflects that. Our approach is not to lecture but to provide the facts about the serious health risks in a clear and unambiguous way. We also want to urge anyone who suspects they are suffering health effects from anabolic steroid use to seek medical treatment immediately,” she concludes.

The HPRA’s visual campaign highlights the negative health impacts of anabolic steroids including mood swings and aggression (often referred to as roid-rage), depression, acne and hair loss, heart and liver issues, infertility and fluid retention. Other related side effects of steroid abuse span kidney problems, high blood pressure and cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, paranoia and delusions. Find out more information on the dangers of steroid use on www.zerogains.ie




Siobhan Molloy/ Seán Lawless                            (01) 679 86 00

Weber Shandwick PR                                          086 817 5066/085 116 7640 

*A national survey undertaken in August 2018 consisting a representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 18+ years of age.



The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) protects and enhances public health and animal health by regulating medicines, medical devices and other health products. The products under its remit include human and veterinary medicines, medical devices, blood and blood components, tissues and cells, organs for transplantation and cosmetics.

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