Androgenic anabolic steroids: A qualitative study of the context of how and why they are used in different groups

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Aims: To describe the context of Androgenic Anabolic Steroid (AAS) use

Design: Qualitative

Setting: Needle exchange service in Middlesbrough

Participants: Individual interviews with two key informants and eight focus groups of 30 individuals with different types of user including occasional users, contemplators, bodybuilders, heroin users and ex-offenders.

Findings:  The respondents thought that were widely used, particularly within certain groups.  Common reasons to use included improvement in appearance and to ‘function’ better, including doing physical work and for intimidation type purposes.  Many of the respondents talked about steroids as if they were stimulants.  Heroin users took steroids to counteract the adverse effects of heroin on physical size including reassuring themselves and others that they were off heroin.   Use in prisons seemed widespread, and increased size provided a goal to aim for in the context of there being little else to do.  There seemed to be a variety of views about how ‘serious’ steroids were as drugs, with some participants reporting that they families and friends regarded them as having little importance, to others who likened them to heroin (particularly when both involved injecting practices).  It was felt that they were commonly used in the younger age groups, though tablets were particularly common in this group.  Advice about steroid use and supplies of steroids were easily obtained through ‘big’ men in gyms, who it was noted, had a vested interest in selling larger quantities than were necessary.


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Dr Charles Cornford