Psychological Characteristics of Adolescent Steroid Users

Article excerpt

While anabolic-androgenic steroids have been used since the early 1950s to enhance athletic performance, the incidence of use appears to have increased considerably in recent years (Buckley et al., 1988; Duda, 1988; Johnson, Jay, Shoup, & Rickert, 1989; Nightingale, 1986; Office of The Inspector General (OIG), 1990; Tierney & McLain, 1990; Windsor & Dumitru, 1989; Yesalis et al., 1989). Particularly disturbing is the increased frequency of their use among adolescents.

Although there are no definitive national statistics, the estimated incidence of use by adolescents in the United States ranges from 6.6% of male 12th grade students (Buckley et al., 1988; Johnson et al., 1989; OIG, 1990) to 11.1% of male 11th grade students (Johnson, 1990). It has been estimated that at least 700,000 high school students use anabolic steroids (Tierney & McLain, 1990) and that at least two thirds begin use by 16 years of age (Johnson, 1990; OIG, 1990; OIG, 1990; Yesalis et al., 1989). Among both adults and adolescent steroid users, the majority increase the dosages, variety, and length of time drugs are taken while on a steroid use cycle (Neff, 1990; OIG, 1990). Many users also engage in a practice known as "stacking"; that is, using several steroids at once (Bohigian et al., 1988; Donohoe, Blackwell, & Johnson, 1986; Pope & Katz, 1988a).

There have been reports of addictive behavior and habituation among both adult and adolescent steroid users (Brower, Blow, Beresford, & Fuelling, 1989; Scott et al., 1990; OIG, 1990; Taylor, 1985; Yesalis et al., 1988), as well as reports of affective and psychotic symptoms, often characterized by impulsive, aggressive and violent behavior (Lubell, 1989; Pope & Katz, 1988a; Pope & Katz, 1990b).

Adolescent steroid users appear to be at special risk for many of the adverse psychological and physical consequences of steroid use (Nideffer, 1989; OIG, 1990). Recent literature clearly shows that adolescent users believe that steroids produce the physical effects they desire, and approximately 86% of those cited in the 1990 study of the OIG have no plans to stop using steroids. Nearly all the adolescent users interviewed in the OIG report (93%) stated that starting steroid use was a good decision (1990). Recent studies also indicate that many adolescent users are either unaware or unconvinced of negative physical and psychological effects of steroids (Dunsky, 1990).

The growing evidence of habituation among adolescent steroid users, and the powerfully reinforcing properties of the drugs, have created a pressing need for more information about the psychosocial characteristics of the adolescents who use these drugs. Such information would serve an important role in the development of effective intervention and prevention programs. Thus, the goals of the present study were to systematically assess a wide variety of psychosocial characteristics in both steroid-using and nonsteroid-using adolescents and to determine if any of these characteristics might prove useful in differentiating between these groups.

METHOD

Subjects

Participants in this study consisted of 72 male adolescents ranging in age from 16-19. Of these, 24 were self-identified as serious weight trainers or bodybuilders who reported using steroids and were currently either on asteroid use cycle or between cycles. Another 24 consisted of adolescents who identified themselves as serious weight trainers who reported no use of anabolic steroids. Serious weight training was defined as participating three or more times per week. The third group of 24 adolescents consisted of nonathletic, nonweight trainers who did not participate in competitive, organized sports. Only male subjects were chosen to control for the possible confounding effects of gender.

Both the athletic steroid user and nonuser samples were secured through the junior author's personal contacts with operators of various gyms in the South Florida area, through contacts with athletes at those gyms, and through contacts with athletes at bodybuilding events. …