Although physical training remains the primary way of changing and developing our appearance, there is a range of substances being used by some to enhance training. Testosterone and drugs that act like testosterone in the body are called anabolic steroids. The word anabolic refers to their ability to promote muscle growth. Steroids continue to be popular amongst some gay men who use the drugs to improve their sporting performance, or simply to change their appearance. The scientific community is still divided on whether these drugs actually work, but for those who use steroids on a regular basis they totally believe in their power to bulk them up.

Testosterone is usually released at a constant level by the testes, and if a doctor prescribes the drugs for medical purposes, they are provided at steady, low levels. This is not how recreational steroid users use the drugs. Usually they are taken by way of stacking -“ a cycle that lasts from four to 12 weeks (although many last far longer), starting with low doses of several steroids, gradually building up the dose each week. The amounts they take are far greater than those prescribed by a doctor.

Unlike most other drugs, we know very little about the illicit use of steroids in Australia. The 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that 0.3 percent of the Australian population has used steroids but experts believe that this is an underestimate. This is a hidden population and many steroid users are reluctant to come forward to talk about their drug use. In 1997, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) conducted a study of the use of anabolic-androgenic steroids and related substances to enhance appearance or performance. They found that many of the people they interviewed were well-educated professionals who believed that the perceived positive benefits far outweighed the negative effects they experienced.

The centre is currently undertaking a similar study, with a view to comparing whether trends in use have changed since 1997. Researchers at NDARC would like to talk to people who use anabolic steroids or any other performance and image-enhancing drugs (PIEDs) such as growth hormone, human chorionic gonadotrophin, insulin, insulin-like growth factor or clenbuterol. People may choose to use PIEDs for a variety of reasons including water loss, strength gain, endurance and muscle mass. They may also be used to counteract the adverse effects of steroid use.

We understand that the use of many of these substances may be illicit. The study is confidential, and participants will remain anonymous. The face-to-face interview lasts about one hour. We ask about people’s experiences of the benefits and effects, and some general questions about price and availability.

All participants are reimbursed $50 for out-of-pocket expenses. To find out more about the study, contact Briony at NDARC on 02 9385 0241 or 0424 448 824.

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