Some 22% of young adults would consider taking anabolic steroids to enhance physical performance or gain a more muscular physique, new research has found.
This is despite the fact that many people are unaware of the possible side-effects and specific health risks associated with steroid use.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) has launched a new campaign, Zero Gains, aimed at raising awareness of the potentially serious side-effects of using unprescribed anabolic steroids. These can include mood swings, aggression, heart and liver issues, depression, acne, hair loss and infertility.
The sale and supply of anabolic steroids to the public outside of a registered pharmacy is illegal. As authorised prescription-only medicines, they are only available with a prescription from a doctor to treat specific medical conditions.
The campaign is specifically targeting young Irish men and was developed in response to growing evidence of an increased use of steroids for body enhancement.
According to a survey of 1,000 adults carried out on behalf of the HPRA, one in 10 adults would consider using these drugs to enhance physical performance or gain a more muscular physique. However, this figure rises to one in five (22%) among those aged between 18 and 34 years.
However, almost half (48%) of people surveyed were unaware or not sure about the side-effects that can accompany steroid use. Just 19% were aware that these drugs can cause heart problems, while only 8% knew that they can cause mood swings.
Just 7% knew they can be linked to aggression and only 4% knew they can lead to liver damage.
The survey also noted that one in four people knows somebody who has previously used unprescribed anabolic steroids. Meanwhile, one in five people aged 25-34 said they would not be concerned if a loved one was using these drugs.
Three in four people feel social media, magazines, website and TV programmes are pressuring young adults to look a certain way.
The HPRA said it is concerned about the apparent increase in illegal steroid use in Ireland, which is reflected in its rising figures relating to the detainment of illegal products. In 2017, working in conjunction with the Gardai and Revenue's Customs Service, the HPRA detained 449,411 dosage units of illegal anabolic steroids, compared to 109,006 units in 2016 and 38,049 in 2015.
"Our research highlights the social pressure on young people to look a certain way. Young men are seeking to gain muscle and ‘bulk up'. While use of illegal steroids was previously associated with competitive bodybuilding and enhanced sport performance, nowadays, usage appears dominated by the desire to have the perceived perfect body image.
"We are looking to change that attitude and to dispel the myth that non-medical use of these products is safe and that users have nothing to lose by taking them," explained Dr Lorraine Nolan, chief executive of the HPRA.
She pointed out that on the contrary, young men ‘have a lot to lose starting with their health and wellbeing'.
"We believe there are no gains from using substances that have been shown to cause a range of physical, psychological and emotional damage when misused. The real story is that non-medical use of anabolic steroids can have devastating, long-term and life-threatening side-effects," she said.
The campaign was welcomed by John Treacy, CEO of Sport Ireland.
"While the use of anabolic steroids would have traditionally been associated with improving physical performance, it is clear that they are now being taken for other purposes. A core part of Sport Ireland's remit in the area of anti-doping is education and this campaign will assist us in highlighting the consequences of doping, not just from the sporting perspective, but also the serious health implications associated with taking anabolic steroids," he commented.
Dr Nolan added that this campaign does not want to lecture young men. It simply wants to provide the facts about the risks users may be taking with their health.
"We also want to urge anyone who suspects they are suffering health effects from anabolic steroid use to seek medical treatment immediately," she added.
For more information on the campaign, click here
*Pictured is HPRA chief executive, Dr Lorraine Nolan