Most steroid users are not athletes: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Contrary to the popular image of the typical steroid user -- a teenage athlete trying to get an edge or a professional competitor who wants to win -- many users are in their 20s and 30s, well-educated and don’t even play sports, a study suggests.

In a survey of nearly 2,000 U.S. men who used anabolic steroids, researchers found that the majority began using the hormones as adults, and most were not motivated by sports.

Instead, the typical user was a white male around the age of 30 who was educated, earned an above-average income and was not particularly athletic. In fact, most men abused steroids to look better, the researchers report in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

“In total, our findings belie the images of (steroid) users as mostly risk-taking teenagers, cheating athletes, and a group akin to traditional drug abusers,” according to Jack Darkes of the University of South Florida, Tampa, and co-investigators.

For the study, the researchers recruited 1,955 male steroid users from Web sites dedicated to strength training and muscle-enhancing substances, mass emails and print media. The men completed surveys on their background, lifestyle habits and the history of their steroid use.

On average, the study found, steroid users were 31 years old, and three quarters were college graduates. Most had “white-collar” jobs and relatively high incomes.

When asked about their motivation for using steroids, most said they wanted to boost their muscle mass, strength and physical attractiveness.

Only 6 percent said their steroid use was driven by bodybuilding or sports. In fact, most said they had never been in organized sports, even in high school.

The results suggest that most efforts to prevent steroid abuse, by focusing on young athletes, have misses the mark, according to the researchers. “The targeting of athletes through drug testing and other interventions does little to address use among non-competitive users,” they write.

Steroid abuse, the researchers point out, has held steady, if not increased, in the U.S. This, they add, may be related to the fact that the largest segment of steroid abusers -- adult non-athletes -- has been “virtually invisible.”

SOURCE: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, online October 11, 2007.