The risk environment of anabolic–androgenic steroid users in the UK: Examining motivations, practices and accounts of use
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Background The numbers using illicit anabolic–androgenic steroids are a cause of concern for those seeking to reduce health harms. Using the ‘risk environment’ as a conceptual framework to better comprehend how steroid users’ practices and perspectives impact on health risks, this paper examines steroid user motivations, patterns of use, and the ways in which these practices are accounted for.
Methods As part of a wider mixed-method study into performance and image enhancing drug (PIED) use and supply in one mid-sized city in South West England, qualitative interviews were undertaken with 22 steroid users. Participants were recruited from a local safer injecting service, rather than bodybuilding gyms, in order to access a wider cross-section of steroid users. A limitation of this approach is potential sample bias towards those showing more health optimising behaviours.
Results The research findings highlight that patterns of steroid use varied according to motivation for use, experience and knowledge gained. Most reported having had little or no knowledge on steroids prior to use, with first use being based on information gained from fellow users or suppliers—sometimes inaccurate or incomplete. In accounting for their practices, many users differentiated themselves from other groups of steroid users—for example, older users expressed concern over patterns of use of younger and (what they saw as) inexperienced steroid users. Implicit in these accounts were intimations that the ‘other’ group engaged in riskier behaviour than they did.
Conclusion Examining social contexts of use and user beliefs and motivations is vital to understanding how ‘risk’ behaviours are experienced so that this, in turn, informs harm reduction strategies. This paper examines the ways in which use of steroids is socially situated and the implications of this for policy and practice.
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