#1 Victorian uni for graduate employment1

#1 in the world for sport science2

#1 Victorian uni for course satisfaction3

NEXT UP ON this.

Unpacking the dynamics of steroid use

Remember the exhilarating feeling of riding a bike for the first time without training wheels? It was like discovering a new world of excitement and freedom. But if we’re honest, when the training wheels are on, everything is so much smoother and easier.

Steroid use can be likened to those training wheels. You can build muscle and improve your body image without them, but it requires Herculean effort. This is why many individuals turn to steroids – for the apparent ease they offer.

They’re the cheat code for body transformation, promising a shortcut to apparent greatness.

But, as Dr. Matthew Dunn, a senior lecturer at Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation explains, people take steroids for a variety of reasons.

‘The research shows that people take steroids for a number of reasons. These can be categorised into four groups, – enhanced body image, sporting performance, occupational purposes, or as a form of testosterone-replacement therapy.’

What drives steroid use?

Certainly, the stereotype of steroid users and their primary motivation for turning to these enhancement drugs often gets boiled down to the first category, enhanced body image or a ‘gym bro’ grappling with body image insecurities.

However, this caricature oversimplification ignores the diverse spectrum of reasons people turn to steroids, Dr. Dunn explains.

‘Another use is for occupational purposes, this might involve desiring a more aesthetically pleasing physique if your profession demands it, or seeking increased muscle size and strength for a role that requires it.’

This may be due to an occupation such as a security guard, police officer or personal trainer.  He believes that, for many steroid users, the benefits spill over into multiple aspects of their lives.

‘For instance, a tradesperson might use steroids to expedite recovery from an injury because any time off work has tangible implications for their livelihood.’

But it’s more than just this.

‘There are ancillary benefits that come with steroid use, such as enhanced size and strength, which could be advantageous. So, while reduced recovery time might get the tradesperson back to work more swiftly, it could also assist them in the gym or on the sports field during the weekend,’ says Dr. Dunn.

However, that’s not to say that all steroid use is illegal or used for innocuous reasons. These enhancement drugs are also available via prescription, for example to treat testosterone deficiency in men, which brings us to the third category.

However, as many people obtain steroids for non-medical reasons, explains Dr. Dunn, ‘they’re more often than not bought illegally off the black market to address what some men perceive as a deficiency in testosterone.’

So, where do people buy steroids?

It’s hardly surprising to learn that most steroid purchases occur within gyms.

‘We know that there has been a surge in online purchases of steroids, including from the dark web. However, most transactions involve people buying from friends or other acquaintances, who might be their coach or someone they know from the gym,’ he states.

But that doesn’t mean what they’re purchasing is safe. Dr. Dunn explains that research indicates ‘dealers’ generally ‘don’t perceive selling steroids as ‘dealing,’ but rather as a way to help others by ensuring they receive a product that is of good quality and won’t cause any harm.’

Nonetheless, it’s uncommon for these steroids to be prescribed, which poses a problem in terms of quality and purity. And these underhanded dealings might be on the rise, Dr. Dunn says.

In terms of purchasing rates, it’s difficult to gauge, but one can look at the amount that is being confiscated.

‘Data has demonstrated a steady increase over time in the seizure of performance and image-enhancing drugs, which might indicate a rise in usage.’

Social media’s impact on mental health

With the growing influence of social media, there is a mounting pressure to attain the ideal physique. For many men, this translates to gaining muscle, and steroids can expedite this process significantly.

Indeed, the bodily pressures of perfection that used to exclusively plague women are now prevalent among both sexes.

‘Society places a premium on appearance and has associated positive attributes with it, which is only being heightened by the likes of Instagram ‘fitfluencers’ and TikTok body shred accounts,’ continues Dr. Dunn.

And while the perceived positive bodily effects of steroids are one of the reasons people may turn to steroid use, it can also result in heightened self-esteem and self-confidence through the positive feedback people receive from others, which makes disentangling self-worth from these enhancement drugs all the more difficult, Dr. Dunn explains.

‘Those who consume steroids can exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues. They can also find it challenging to quit, as the body may struggle to produce the same amount of testosterone once steroid intake ceases.’

How can users discontinue using steroids? 

If a user eventually decides to discontinue steroid use, it boils down to restoring their natural testosterone production to a normal level.

‘Many report using steroids for longer periods than initially intended, and at higher doses than intended. Often, this is because when they cease using steroids, they lose the gains in muscle size and strength that they had achieved while using them. This suggests a psychological component at play,’ he explains.

For many, it boils down to the desire to stop and getting the right support systems put in place, otherwise chancing continued use.

‘Estimating how long it might take for someone to re-establish their natural testosterone production after stopping steroid use can be quite challenging. This can range from being a swift process to it never fully recovering, and it does appear to depend on the duration of steroid use’, he says.

However, with the right precautions in place, it’s within people’s capability.

this. featured experts
Dr Matthew Dunn
Dr Matthew Dunn

Senior Lecturer,

Faculty of Health,

Deakin University

Read profile

explore more