The worrying trend of steroid use in young adults

  • Integrity Blog

In a world where a person’s sense of self-worth is becoming more image based, reports are finding that teens and young adults are resorting to steroids and other performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) to change their physique.

According to the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey of 2019, non-medical anabolic steroid use almost tripled in the 18 years between 2001 and 2019. These prescription-only drugs, which are easily bought online (although illegal to sell in Australia) could well become an ongoing health problem for our young people.

“This goes beyond anti-doping and could well pose a significant health risk to consumers,” said Dr Laura Lallenec, Sport Integrity Australia’s Medical Advisor.

The use of anabolic agents in Australia is illegal without a prescription, has anti-doping implications for athletes and poses significant health risks. Anabolic agents are banned at all times in sport. Anabolic agents refer to steroids as well as Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMS) with both coming under the category of PIEDs.

“SARMs are a very serious growing threat to athletes because they are now the most commonly detected PIED in Australia,” said Dr Lallenec, “With 12 athletes testing positive last year alone in sports ranging from rugby, football, wrestling, lifesaving and weightlifting.”

“Most anabolic agent consumers are males between 20-24 years of age who misuse these substances to build muscle for aesthetic or performance reasons.”

“There is increasing concern regarding a rise in body dissatisfaction in young males particularly around masculinity. Individuals develop an unhealthy obsession with muscle growth and definition and are at risk of over-exercising as well as utilising medications including anabolic agents to achieve their goals.”

“New research by the University of Queensland, the Australian Sports Drug Testing Laboratory and Sport Integrity Australia has used wastewater analysis to assess the spread of use of SARMS in Australia. SARM use was found to be widespread across the Australian community – turning up in virtually every population tested. This is a very worrying trend.”

Anabolic agents work by mimicking the properties of naturally occurring hormones, in particular testosterone.

From a doping perspective, athletes can be drawn to anabolic agents in the hope of increased strength, endurance, or injury recovery, without consideration of the consequences of getting caught, of the health impacts, or the fact that steroid use can actually increase your risk of tendon rupture or other injury. 

A positive anti-doping test for an anabolic agent will almost certainly result in a ban from sport, with the standard sanction a 4-year ban from participating in any sport.

“Misuse of anabolic agents is dangerous to an athlete’s health and should be avoided by athletes of all ages and levels,” said Dr Lallenec.

She suggests that the emphasis must be on educating athletes as well as their support personnel. Education campaigns should focus on highlighting the health risks associated with misuse as well as the specific anti-doping risk for athletes.

“Where possible, sporting organisations should consider educating young people in the school and grassroots setting”, suggests Dr Lallenec.

“The development and implementation of evidence-based prevention initiatives and resources on PIEDs at the grassroots level (e.g. High School sport programs) can have a significant impact on preventing PIED use and to safeguard sport for the future, and Sport Integrity Australia can assist with this.”

Sport Integrity Australia’s e-learning platform has a number of courses to assist athletes and support personnel gain a better understanding in this area.

Athletes that are prescribed anabolic agents for treatment of a legitimate medical condition, may be eligible for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) and should visit the TUE page on the Sport Integrity Australia website for more information.

  • For more information about the world first wastewater analysis refer to the March 2023 issue of Sport Integrity Matters magazine (page 12).
  • Keep an eye out for the June 2023 issue of Sport Integrity Matters magazine for a full question and answer interview with Dr Laura Lallenec on the worrying trend of steroid use in young adults.

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