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Up To A Million Britons Use Steroids For Looks Not Sport
- May 14, 2018 -

Health warnings as image culture drives usage of performance-enhancing drugs


Up to 1 million people in the UK are taking anabolic steroids and other image- and performance-enhancing drugs (IPEDs) to change the way they look, public health experts and doctors have said.

This ranges from teenagers seeking the perfect physique to elderly men hoping to hang on to youthful looks.

Research suggests that appearance rather than sporting performance is the reason for a majority of those now using anabolic steroids and other IPEDs.

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There is growing concern that the desire to conform to a “ripped” male image beloved of people featured in lifestyle magazines and reality television shows is causing tens of thousands of young men to put their long-term health at risk by taking ever more complex cocktails of IPEDs. Many also face complications by mixing steroids with alcohol and drugs such as cocaine.

Police forces and border officials are seeing an increase in the number of underground laboratories “cooking” steroids in the UK and consignments of drugs being imported to the UK from countries where IPEDs can be bought over the counter. The rise of social media has made it easier to swap both information and products.

Josie Smith, the head of the substance misuse programme at Public Health Wales, said there had been extraordinary changes in both the profile of people using IPEDs and the availability of the substances. 


In Wales, which has long been seen as a hotspot for steroid use, boys as young as 13 were known to be using IPEDs. “It has become normal and acceptable,” she said. “From a public health perspective there are genuine and very real concerns.”

Just over half of people who use Welsh needle exchanges – where safe drugs equipment is handed out – are steroid users and in some of the southern valleys the proportion is 75%. 

Frank Atherton, the chief medical officer for Wales, said steroid use was a significant issue. “It’s something we’re monitoring carefully. It’s a cultural thing. Among some young men there’s a desire to be perceived as bulky and muscly. It’s the message we see from GQ and other magazines.”

Police forces are promising to clamp down on dealers. Commander Simon Bray, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for drugs, said: “While the possession of anabolic steroids is not a criminal offence, the sale or distribution of them is and there are significant risks to the health of young people who misuse steroids for non-medical reasons.