The Influence of Competition and Lack of Emotional Expression in Perpetuating Steroid Abuse and Dependence among Male Weightlifters

Article excerpt

Addiction to anabolic-androgenic steroids among male weightlifters has historically been conceptualized and treated from a substance abuse-recovery model. This study, in contrast, examined steroid abuse and dependence through a men's issues model. Specifically, this qualitative investigation examined several themes related to competition, lack of emotional expression, body image, aggression, and the endorsement of the traditional male sex-role in perpetuating steroid abuse and dependence. Using a case study methodology, two male weightlifters in their mid-20s (who had discontinued steroid abuse for several years) served as participants (informants). Each informant was interviewed twice. Three risk factors of steroid abuse that stemmed from a men's issues model were identified and discussed. Clinicians who work with male athletes (at risk for steroid abuse) are encouraged to. be cognizant of such risk factors.

Key Words: male weightlifters, steroid abuse, competition, lack of emotional expression, body image, aggression, traditional male sex-role, addiction

Within the past two decades, researchers have examined the so-called "masculinity crisis" among many American men (e.g., Levant, 1992, 1997). The crisis for these men involves society's devaluing of the traditional masculine roles that men have been trained to value and uphold. Such roles, for instance, include being a family's sole financial provider while delegating domestic chores to one's wife, fathering children in a detached and disinterested manner, and competing with other men in competitive work environments.

Society now pressures men to adopt new, often contradictory roles involving more emotional expression, more expression of vulnerabilities, less competition with other men, less violence and aggressiveness, and stronger partnership with their wives. These newer roles include, namely, to commit to relationships, to communicate one's innermost feelings, to nurture children, to share in housework, to integrate sexuality with love, and to curb aggression and violence. Indeed, these new roles, which are in stark contrast to the roles of the traditional male sex-role, have left many men feeling disoriented, baffled, bewildered, and unsure of their masculinity, prompting some researchers to call for a re-examination of the psychology of men and masculinity (Levant & Pollack, 1995).

Consequently, researchers have recently begun to question the psychological value of men's traditional masculinity (Levant & Pollack, 1995; Nardi, 1992; Pleck, 1981). Beginning with Pleck (1981), they have challenged the belief that men need to identify with a traditional masculine gender role in order to facilitate proper personality development. They have even challenged the psychological utility of attitudes, values, and behaviors of men socialized in the traditional male sex-role (Nardi, 1992; Pleck, 1995).

Although researchers have questioned various aspects of the traditional male sex-role, relatively few have examined which components of the traditional male sex-role perpetuate substance abuse and substance dependence among men. Even fewer have examined which aspects of the traditional male sex-role contribute to the abuse and dependence of performance-enhancing drags within competitive athletic environments.

The purpose of this investigation was to understand how steroid abuse and steroid dependence were perpetuated by two components of the traditional male sex-role: an emphasis on competition and a lack of emotional expression. More specifically, the study examines men's need to be competitive with one another in various athletic environments (e.g., on the football field, in the weight room). The influence of men's emotional inexpressiveness on the initiation of steroid use was also examined. Finally, this study explored why men of relatively small stature sought to prove to themselves and to society that a significant increase in their body size translated to a feeling of being "more manly. …