Due to media attention regarding anabolic steroid use, there are many assumptions regarding who uses steroids. People may automatically associate athletes and steroids. However, anabolic steroids are commonly misused by other groups of people looking to capitalize on the desirable, body-enhancing effects of anabolic steroids. 

Although the exact prevalence of anabolic steroid use is largely unknown, survey data indicates that approximately 1,000,000 Americans used anabolic steroids at least once in their lives. The National Institute of Health reports that the majority of people who misuse steroids are male, non-athlete weightlifters in their twenties and thirties. Other groups identified as at-risk for steroid abuse include female weightlifters and teenagers

There are many serious risks associated with the abuse of anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are chemicals produced to mimic the effects of the naturally occurring male hormone testosterone. Steroid use can affect many body systems in both males and females and can result in heart disease and dysfunction, liver damage, reproductive disorders and increased risk of bloodborne illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis from the use of unsanitary needles. There is no safe level of drug use when it comes to anabolic steroids.

Understanding that steroid use is common among many groups, not just with athletes, is very important for being able to recognize the signs of anabolic steroid use and providing appropriate support and guidance to anyone who may be abusing them.

Similarities in People Who Use Steroids

Anabolic steroids are thought of as “body-shaping” drugs that can increase lean muscle mass when used in conjunction with weight training. Even though there is a wide range of people who are at risk for steroid abuse, there are many similarities among people who use steroids. Regardless of the professional occupation or the hobbies of the person who uses steroids, typically the goal of use is to improve physical performance or physical appearance.

People who use steroids may suffer from certain psychological conditions and do not accept the natural limitations of their physical performance or appearance. Some of the people who use steroids include:

  • Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder. Steroid use is often associated with an obsession or preoccupation of the perceived inadequacy of muscles. Body dysmorphic disorder is commonly associated with males, but data shows that anabolic steroid use in women is frequently co-occurring with extreme dissatisfaction of self-image. Anabolic steroid use can be addictive and difficult to stop due to the psychological dependence that many users develop while using steroids. Appropriate treatment must include counseling with trained professionals to properly manage these psychological disorders.
  • Individuals with low self-confidence and self-esteem. Some steroid users reported that they lose confidence when faced with the natural limitations of their body and how this affects their ability to achieve their ideal body type. The physically enhancing properties of anabolic steroids were reported to increase confidence in these users. 
  • Individuals who want increased endurance and strength. Steroids are believed to make it possible for people to train longer and harder, thereby, improving endurance and strength.
  • Individuals who want enhanced muscle recovery. Steroid users report that their muscles have an increased ability to recover faster from intense strain and muscle injury while using anabolic steroids. This effect may be more of a “placebo effect” as research has not shown any consistent truth to this belief. 

Who Uses Steroids the Most?

Despite the numerous health risks possible with steroid use, the popularity of performance-enhancing drugs remains high. The most common age group to use steroids is the 18- to 34-year-old age group. When considering how many people take steroids, it is important to be aware of how diverse and widespread steroid abuse is. 

Although there is a strong association between athletes and steroids, athletes are not the only group of people who abuse steroids. Some groups that are especially susceptible to steroid use include: 

  • High school athletes – The use of steroids in teenagers is concerning because of the many long-term effects that are possible from steroid use during the developmental stages of the teenage years. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report from the CDC states that 2.9% of students have used steroids illicitly. Even though that percentage may seem small, it equates to approximately 1 in every 34 teenagers. Male students are more likely to abuse steroids compared to female students. The most alarming statistic regarding high school athletes and steroids is that, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, about 1 in 4 males, ages 18 to 25, believe that performance-enhancing drugs are critical to enhancing athletic performance. Also, 3 in 4 of those males surveyed indicated that the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports puts pressure on young athletes to use them as well. 
  • Professional and college athletes – The use of steroids in professional and college athletics is frequently highlighted by the media. There is much debate surrounding the appropriate use of drug screenings in college and professional athletics. While the NCAA has clear written rules regarding the use of steroids and college athletes, there is still room for improvement considering that nearly 1% of NCAA male athletes have self-reported steroid use.
  • Law enforcement – Illegal steroid use continues to grow in the law enforcement community despite the illegality of the use of steroids without a prescription and the known dangers of illegal anabolic steroids. Individuals in law enforcement are enticed to use anabolic steroids because of the increased physical requirements of their career. Other professions in which anabolic steroid use is common in order to help individuals keep up with the necessary physical expectations and requirements include bodyguards, construction workers, and members of the military. 
  • Sexually abused individuals – Male steroid users were significantly more likely to have been a victim of sexual assault. Similar findings are true for females also. The traumatic event of a sexual assault may leave the victim with the desire to become bigger and stronger in the hopes that it would prevent future attacks. 

Key Points: Athletes Are Not the Only Ones Using Steroids

Keep the following key points in mind regarding steroid abuse:

  • It is easy to automatically associate athletes and steroids, but anabolic steroids are commonly misused by other groups of people looking to capitalize on the desirable, body-enhancing effects of anabolic steroids
  • Although the exact prevalence of anabolic steroid use is largely unknown, survey data indicates that approximately 1,000,000 Americans have used anabolic steroids at least once in their lives
  • There are many similarities among people who use steroids, including psychological disorders regarding body perception, low self-esteem or self-confidence and the desire to surpass natural physical limitations of strength, endurance and recovery time
  • Some groups that are especially susceptible to steroid use include athletes, law enforcement, people with physically demanding jobs and people who have been sexually assaulted
  • Treatment for anabolic steroid abuse is available and generally involves education, counseling and management of the effects of steroid use