Most of the non-medical anabolic-androgenic steroid (AAS) users are not athletes or risk-taking teenagers, but those who particularly want to increase muscle mass, strength, and physical attractiveness.
The study, conducted by a collaboration of researchers from around the country coordinated by Jason Cohen, Psy.D. candidate, used a web-based survey of nearly 2,000 US males. Whereas athletes are tempted to take anabolic steroids to improve sports performance, the study suggests that physical self-improvement motivates the unrecognized majority of non-medical AAS users who particularly want to increase muscle mass, strength, and physical attractiveness.
Other significant but less highly ranked factors included increased confidence, decreased fat, improved mood and attraction of sexual partners.
Although often considered similar to abusers of narcotics and other illicit drugs (e.g., heroin or cocaine), non-medical AAS users are remarkably different. These users follow carefully planned drug regimens in conjunction with a healthy diet, ancillary drugs and exercise. As opposed to the spontaneous and haphazard approach seen in abusers of psychotropic drugs, everything is strategically planned to maximize benefits and minimize harm.
"This is simply not a style or pattern of use we typically see when we examine substance abuse" said Jack Darkes, Ph.D., one of the authors.
"The notions of spontaneous drug seeking and loss of control do not apply to the vast majority of AAS users," added co-author Daniel Gwartney, M.D.
"These findings question commonly held views of typical AAS users and their underlying motivations," said Rick Collins, one of the study's authors.
"The focus on 'cheating' athletes and at risk youth has led to irrelevant policy as it relates to the predominant group of non-medical AAS users. The vast majority of AAS users are not athletes and hence, are not likely to view themselves as cheaters. The targeting of athletes through drug testing and other adolescent or sports-based interventions has no bearing on non-competitive adult users."
The study concludes that these AAS users are a driven and ambitious group dedicated to gym attendance, diet, occupational goals and educational attainment.
"The users we surveyed consider that they are using directed drug technology as one part of a strategy for physical self-improvement within a health-centered lifestyle," said Collins.
"Effective public policy should begin by accurately identifying who's using steroids and why. We hope our research - the largest adult survey of non-medical AAS use we know of - is a significant step forward in that direction,' Collins said.
The study is published in the online open access publication, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.