Steroids: Usage trends

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 3:37 pm

Scope and severity
AAS usage has increased substantially over the past decade. In the United States, the typical AAS user is male, but usage is growing among females. Although adults make up a majority of AAS users, the estimated use among teens ranges from 2.5% up to 6%, depending on the study and age group. According to the 2001 National Institute on Drug Abuses’ Monitoring the Future study, which tracks drug use and attitudes in adolescents, an estimated 2.8% of eighth, 3.5% of tenth graders and 3.7% of twelfth graders have taken AASs at least once in their lives. This represents a significant 1.2% increase for seniors, and a plateau for tenth graders. Lifetime usage for eighth graders had decreased slightly compared to the prior year (3% in 2000). Not surprisingly, recent use also increased for seniors. Seniors’ use of AASs during the prior year had increased from 1.7% in 2000 to 2.4% in 2001. Other surveys of middle school students and college students in the United States and among Canadian middle and high school students found overall prevalence rates of 2.7% to 2.8%. Higher figures are often found in youth participating in sports. Obtaining anabolic steroids is not difficult. Almost half (44%) of twelfth grade students reported that it is “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get steroids. In an 1992 investigation by U.S. News and World Report, over half of teen AAS users said they were influenced to use the drugs by reading muscle magazines. Four of 10 were influenced because they thought famous athletes were taking them.
It is known that adult bodybuilders and weight-lifters are big users of AASs. Less data exists on the extent of steroid abuse among adults, however, the percentage of adults who have tried AASs appears to be lower than adolescents. In a 2000 Monitoring the Future study that surveyed Americans aged 19-40. 1.4% of young adults (ages 19-28) surveyed reported using steroids at least one time during their lives, and 0.4% reported past year usage. Still AAS use is fairly common in society. About 19% of 19-22 year-olds reported having a friend who was a current AAS user. In addition, experts think the usage figures for both teens and adults are probably considerably higher, because many people hide AAS use.
Age, ethnic, and gender trends
Use in adolescents. Teenage males are most likely to use anabolic steroids; about three times as many male teens use anabolic steroids compared to female teens. The average age of starting AASs is 14, which alarms the medical community because of the stunting of height that can occur. One leading AAS researcher, who bases his estimates on regional and national data, believes that 4-6% of high school boys have taken steroids, and 1-2% of high school girls. This means at least a half million American teenagers have used AASs. Among high school seniors surveyed in 2000, 2.5% of males reported steroid use in the past year compared to 0.9% of females. For tenth graders it was 3.7% of males compared to 0.8% of females. A 1998 Pennsylvania State University study found 175,000 high school girls nationwide had taken steroids at least once in their lifetime. According to the study, more than half have tried AASs before age 16, but some start as young as age 10. In the United States, these adolescents are more likely to use other illicit drugs (particularly cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin), as well as alcohol and tobacco.
Student athletes are more likely than non-athletes to use AASs. Football players, wrestlers, weightlifters, and bodybuilders have significantly higher usage rates than students not engaged in these activities. In one 1999 study of 873 Indiana high school football players 6.3% were current or former AAS users, with the average age at first use being 14 years. Fifteen percent had begun taking AASs before age 10. Almost half the respondents said they could easily obtain steroids and listed athletes, physicians, and coaches as sources. Usage was higher in the South and Midwest than the West and Northeast.
Fewer studies outside the United States are available, but prevalence rates in countries such as Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and Sweden appear to be similar. Primary users in other countries are also male adolescents. One Swedish study showed a higher usage (3.7% prevalence) among 16 year-olds than 17 year-olds (2.8%). These male users tended to strength train but also exhibited self-esteem or school achievement problems and used tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, such as narcotics. Usage among female adolescents in Sweden was nil. Among 13,355 Australian high school students, 3.2% of males and 1.2% of females reported using AASs sometime in their lives. In other countries, such as South Africa, prevalence appears to be less.
Use in adults and ethnic use. Usage among professional athletes is also high, although exact figures are not known. Fifteen U.S. powerlifters who competed internationally participated in a survey that involved an anonymous questionnaire. Of these 15, 10 reported using AASs and five admitted they avoided detection during the International Olympic Committee’s doping control procedures. In a 2000 study, 25 of 75 women athletes from Boston gyms reported current or previous use of AASs, and also reported using many other performance-enhancing drugs.
One interesting finding in women users is the history of rape. One 1999 study of 75 female weightlifters found nine women began or greatly increased weight lifting activities after being raped as a teenager or adult. Five began abusing anabolic steroids and two others began to use another illegal substance called clenbuterol to gain muscle mass after their rape.
Little data exists on ethnic breakdown of AAS usage in teens and adults. In one study, African American and Hispanic girls were less likely than Caucasians to diet and exercise, but were more likely to report behaviors aimed at weight gain.

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