Society as collapsed, and now everywhere is in a state of anarchy. You're probably going to have to fight for food and supplies, so you should be strong. You might need to get strong quickly, so if you stumbled across some anabolic steroids, should you take them to help you get strong fast? We are a little less concerned with long-term effects because you might not survive tomorrow...

So, with that being said, if you took them, what changes? Ignoring long term effects like increased heart attack and stroke risks, what changes would happen to a person and how would that affect their ability to survive in the post apocalypse?

I'm not trying to justify steroid use; I'm just making a post apocalypse game and need to populate it with items. I am thinking about having these in the game to help players level up their characters strength faster. In the game, using steroids would do this, but it would also make them chemically dependent on it, and whatever other negative, short(er) term health effects, adding or removing a few for balance reasons.

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    $\begingroup$ Game mechanics wise I could see using steroids as a trade off: you are stronger but you need more food to stay strong. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Sep 13, 2022 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ Human natural shape is already optimized for survival in a world without civilization. As a first order of approximation, post-apocalyptic world is the same as prehistoric world. $\endgroup$
    – void_ptr
    Sep 14, 2022 at 0:35
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    $\begingroup$ VTC: Soliciting opinions is contrary to the help center and how SE works. As asked, there is no way to justify a best answer (in fact, as asked, I can't see that there's a difference between this and asking if it's a good idea right now). Theoretically this could be saved by including details about the environment, details about the person taking the steroids and an explanation of your goals, expectations, and how they relate to your judgement of a best answer - but even then, it's story-based. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 14, 2022 at 2:15
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    $\begingroup$ The answer I'd give for a real-to-life scenario wouldn't suite games very well as action is more-or-less continuous there, but a refractory period after any exertion especially a heightened one would be necessary. Difficult to see how to answer within the framework of your game without more detail, which tends towards story-based anyhow. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2022 at 2:22
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    $\begingroup$ There's a lot of misinformation about anabolic steroids in the answers here. Most of the answers seem to assume that steroids are only useful for building size and strength, whereas they actually increase speed and endurance as well. $\endgroup$
    – Omegastick
    Sep 14, 2022 at 13:34

4 Answers 4


No Help:

Sorry to say, your survivor isn't likely to benefit from the effects of anabolic steroids. It might even get them killed. Your biology is pretty well evolved to make the compromises needed to live in a world of small society and stressed resources. Tampering with that balance is risky business.

  • Steroids increase demands on your metabolism. You require additional calories and protein to build muscle. If you have plenty of those, why are you taking steroids? If you don't, you're wasting resources. Muscle is also energy-intense. Being lean or even a bit fat is a survival trait. Muscle only helps if you have a specific task to do.
  • Steroids can affect your behavior. They can cause anger, aggression and other mood disturbances. You may want to establish friendly relations with people who have guns. Steroids can skew your serotonin and dopamine systems, throwing off your reward system. Your biology rewards survival behavior. You might find yourself prioritizing work-outs over conserving calories or hunting. Short-circuit at your own risk.
  • Steroids require you to "do the work" to gain a lot of muscle. If you take them and aren't lifting weights, you're throwing off your survival chemistry for little benefit. They mostly enhance the muscles you work on. Survival requires lots of random tasks to get by. Being able to cycle for 20 hours straight might not be as helpful as it sounds.
  • You can become dependent on steroids. The supply is limited, and after that, you're in real trouble. Depression in a depressing world is bad.
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    $\begingroup$ Steroids grow muscle even if you just sit on your butt: nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199607043350101 (but training increases the effect). $\endgroup$
    – gustafc
    Sep 14, 2022 at 12:15
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  • $\begingroup$ bigger problem, steroids also negatively effect the immune system, in a post apocalyptic setting your immune system is MUCH more important than big muscles. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Sep 14, 2022 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ @John On that front, the good news is that the massive die-off of humanity means diseases are going to be largely local. No more COVID. ;) $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Sep 14, 2022 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ Steroids can also lead to infertility. If you need to continue the human race, steroids is going to cause big trouble. $\endgroup$
    – mbomb007
    Sep 15, 2022 at 13:10

Strength is of limited use. It's fine facing unarmed people who don't want to go to jail. But armed people with nothing to lose will just see you as a bigger target if you start flexing at them. Hunter gatherers main killings today happen against bullies and they don't challenge them to a one on one fist fight. They just surround them and stick them with spears.

So I don't see any advantages to taking steroids. It will just increase your caloric needs and they don't do anything without the exercise. They give results for people who are exerting themselves heavily. But not if you aren't. And if you are you'll get fit and strong without them.

For a game though, FallOut4 has a lot of drug use built into it for short term gains, you could do something along those lines.


Taking steroids for muscle gain might not make as much sense as taking them weekly to aid in bodily repair.

The study has found that weekly dose of steroid can help speedy recovery in muscle injuries and repair muscles, damaged by muscular dystrophy - a disorder in which an organ or tissue of the body wastes away.

In a few professional wrestler biographies, they point out that steroid use was almost as much about that muscle repair as it was about getting big. Especially back in the territory days, when you were traveling long distances by car to different venues, you needed to heal fast, and so they take doses of steroids for that purpose (it was also a major factor behind their heavy drinking and drug use. Downers to deal with the pain and uppers to get back into the action, day after day).

  • $\begingroup$ Muscle repair is pretty much how you get big, $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 14, 2022 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ {nods} But in more gradual doses, the muscles repair themselves in a healthier way. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2022 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ The golden rule of survival is just that: survive. DO NOT get hurt. A single scratch gets infected, you get gangrene and you die. Maybe some vitamin C and some amoxicillin would be better.... Skyrim and Fallout both have mods that add antibiotics. Y'all ain't getting no free +1 to strength though, other than the 15 seconds Buffout lasts. And then you're an addict and worse off. Do not abuse your body in a survival situation. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Sep 15, 2022 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ {nods} Indeed, it's ideal not to get hurt. But when you inevitably sprain an ankle, or strain a pectoral muscle, it's good to recover as quickly as possible. :) It's "abuse" the same way that taking an aspirin to help you heal is. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2022 at 2:21

Big, burly guys would be a sign of relative civilization, and nomads/hermits would be smaller and leaner.

If you are fending for yourself, or are a part of a very small group of people, you will probably benefit more from endurance (to allow you to follow potential prey over a long distance) and speed (for outrunning predators/enemies) rather than strength, assuming you have some sort of decent baseline strength to begin with.

Being strong is super useful, but you'll be bigger and heavier and use up a lot more calories, which means you'll need to hunt/forage more. This not only increases the amount work you need to perform (and thus ups your calorie requirement even more), but it also increases the amount of risks you have to take - you may run into other people looking to harvest the same resources you're out after, and as @Kilisi pointed out, being muscular and strong is not much good against five people tossing javelins (or shooting bullets) in the general direction of your face. Or, in the case of hunting, the resource itself may oppose to your gathering it, and bite you, kick you, or shove a horn into your soft parts. Or you could just take a wrong step and sprain an ankle, rendering you unable to walk for three days. If you're lighter and need to do less work, your calorie requirement could easily be half that of your juiced-up counterpart, so you can spend a lot more time just chilling.

However, if you are part of a group large enough to justify specialization between individuals (e.g., a village where people have different occupations), the cost of making one or two individuals abnormally strong might be worth it for the group (especially if technology and/or animals offsetting the need for strength are lacking). These guys would have an occupation requiring good strength, like blacksmith or stonemason, but would also serve as a sort of communal resource anyone can call in when strength is needed.

As for negative side effects, there are plenty, of course, but they vary a lot from person to person. Some people die from live failure on their first cycle, others are mostly fine after doing lots of steroids for many years. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. Also, there are different steroids, which have different side effects (some are more bound to make you aggressive, others are more dangerous to your liver).

What does all this mean to your game? Well, perhaps steroids are easier to find in a walled village rather than in some forest-dweller's shack.

If you want to justify the abundance of steroids in your game world, perhaps the pre-apocalyptic civilization were really into steroids, and managed to elaborate safer formulas with less Very Bad side effects (like instant death) while still having some Fairly Unpleasant side effects (aggressiveness, long term health problems). Seems like a interesting contributing factor to the civilization's downfall, too.


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