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Home   /   OPINION: Steroids, the stigma and the dated narrative

Anabolic steroids, despite their dangers, have found themselves an ever-growing niche market in the fitness industry, with their purpose now going far beyond bodybuilding competitions.

In modern society, there is an increasing focus on the aesthetic of the individual, with social media and personal ‘image’ having a perceptually large level of importance. Advancements in Western culture has led to body dissatisfaction tripling over the last three decades (Yu, 2015). So, it comes as no surprise that within the UK alone, up to a million people have admitted to using anabolic steroids (Morris, 2018), with that number almost certainly rising with each passing year, there has been an increased focus on the usage of the performance enhancing drug and the, slightly outdated, perception that comes alongside it.  

Instagram, despite the dangers associated with over-indulgence (such as with pretty much anything), is one of the most powerful forms of advertisement in the modern world. For thousands, Instagram is their main form of income, gathering revenue through sponsorships. Anabolic steroids, due to their obvious effects on muscle growth, can enhance an individual’s ‘brand’, due to the way they look, that may be via Instagram or another social media platform. Whether you agree or disagree with the morality behind it, being an aesthetic individual on social media, can make you money, anabolic steroids can just be one of the ways of maintaining that for some people.

Within the current media stratosphere, it has never been easier to find an abundance of knowledge on a topic, within a short time frame. Due to computer algorithms, after researching around this topic, I will probably have advertisements on “How To Get Jacked In 8 Weeks” on advertisement boxes on YouTube. The point being, if you want information on something, you can find it, even if it is on how to safely administer a class C drug.

The video above shows a fitness influencer and competitive bodybuilder, Thomas Maw, discussing steroid use. Thomas, also known as TMCycles has his own “members site” where you can subscribe, become a ‘member’, and receive dietary and fitness plans, but also, can pay for a fitness and lifestyle plan, based solely around ‘cycling’ anabolic steroids. This includes weekly check ins with his clients, ensuring the drug is being administered safely, and that they are adapting their lifestyle accordingly. Having competed in bodybuilding for many years, he possesses the knowledge needed to pass on to others who may not know exactly what they’re doing when starting to use anabolic steroids for the first time. Thomas is a modern example on how using a platform correctly can not only educate others on a sensitive topic but assist in changing the traditional perception on a widely known subject.

In a study carried out by The National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Males who are more likely to use steroids tend to have poor self-esteem, higher rates of depression, more suicide attempts, poor knowledge and attitudes about health, greater participation in sports emphasizing weight and shape, greater parental concern about weight, and higher rates of eating disorders and substance use.” this encapsulates the ‘everyday’ current opinion on anabolic steroid use, and the view that has been transmitted onto the general population.

The example of Thomas Maw disproves this, showing that someone has made a successful business out of teaching others how to safely use steroids. What the report doesn’t tell us, is the stigmatization behind steroids in comparison to other, more harmful drugs. There is greater stigmatization around anabolic steroids than there is around marijuana (Grifiths et al 2016), despite marijuana being known to have long lasting psychological damage, and zero physiological benefit. The media contribute towards this narrative, in a slightly more subliminal way than an academic research (as you would expect, given the nature of the two reports).

The Guardian, when reporting on the dangers of steroids claimed that, “many also face complications by mixing steroids with alcohol and drugs such as cocaine.” When, in reality, those who are serious enough about their physique are unlikely to be abusing their bodies with other substances to that extent, undoing the hard work they have done, and money they have spent.

On researching fatal incidents linked to anabolic steroids and alcohol consumption, I found only a select number of cases linked to deaths via steroid abuse. However, in the UK alone last year, there were over 7400 deaths linked to alcohol abuse (BBC). Guess which one is a heavily frowned upon class C drug, and guess which is a socially accepted, nationwide practice, which makes the Government over £12billion per year through taxes (Statista). I am not for one second suggesting alcohol should be illegalised, but the common opinion surrounding steroids, in context, is so dated.

The Guardian, at a later date, published an article (seen above), stating, “the old archetype of the IPED user, of a beefed-up thug shooting up before throwing weights around a backstreet gym, garage or garden shed, is changing.” They interviewed John, “one of a new breed”, “in his spare time he works hard, not only on pumping iron but on understanding what each of the IPEDs he uses does.”

John, Thomas and thousands of other steroid users up and down the country have masses of information on performance enhancing drugs at their disposal. Anabolic steroids, when used in moderation, have and can continue to make people a living.

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July 2024