Do Nutritional Supplements Open the Door for Steroid Use in Youth?

Young adults are under an immense amount of social and peer pressure. The ideal body image portrayed to most young adults is one with lean muscle mass and minimal body fat. Achieving this type of body requires extreme discipline and attention to diet, exercise and sleep. However, our culture conveys the image that this type of physique can be achieved through dietary supplements and pills alone. Teens and young adults who strive to attain this type of unrealistic body image may see their peers, mentors, and even celebrities using and even endorsing nutritional supplements. This climate of acceptance increases the chance that young adults who are concerned about their physical appearance will begin to experiment with appearance and performing enhancing drugs (APEDS). Individuals who are active in sports may also be exposed to people who regularly use anabolic-androgenic steroids (AASs). Because nutritional supplements and APEDS are legal, the leap from APEDS to AASs is a small one for people who are overly conscious of their physical appearance.

When used correctly, APEDS can help individuals lose weight, increase muscle tone, and maintain good health. However, AASs are often abused and can lead to psychological problems such as increased aggression, violence, and hostility. The majority of young adults who abuse AASs are those with underlying mental health issues, such as eating and food problems, body image distortion, and other forms of substance dependency. Understanding which young adults who use APEDS are at risk for AASs was the focus of a recent study conducted by Tom Hildebrandt at the Weight Disorders Program of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Hildebrandt and his colleagues evaluated a group of 201 undergraduate students to determine their use of and attitudes towards APEDs and AASs.

Hildebrandt found that the young adults who believed that APED use was safe and effective were most likely to be at risk for APED abuse and eventual ASS use. Specifically, those participants with friends or family members who endorsed APED and ASS use were less concerned with the physical and mental health risks related to them than the participants who did not associate with APED users. The results also revealed that the male participants were more likely to use APEDs and ASSs than the female participants. APED use in females was primarily found only in the women with eating and body image issues. Hildebrandt believes that these findings show that perceptions about safety and the legality of nutritional supplements increase the risk for APED and ASSs misuse. He added, “Future prevention efforts may benefit from targeting legal APED users in youth.”

Hildebrandt, T., Harty, S., Langenbucher, J. W. (2012). Fitness supplements as a gateway substance for anabolic-androgenic steroid use. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027877

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  • sean


    May 3rd, 2012 at 11:16 AM

    We have to teach kids the difference between right and wrong, so I think that it’s important for us to talk about these performance enhancing dangers and what it can do to their bodies in a very bad way. But with that being said I think that it is also important to remember that every nutritional supplement out there is not all bad. There are some very good products on the market which only help to enhance all of the work you should be putting into your body anyway. They are not meant to be a substitute for eating right and exercising, but many of them can help to do just that, supplement, what you are already doing and giving you a boost. I would never try anything that was illegal or that was harmful to me, and I think that it is a good idea to stress this time and again to these young athletes. But not all of them are bad, but like anything else you have to do your research before trying them and find the ones that are going to be the best suited to fit your own needs and what you are trying to achieve.

  • Janey Rebecca

    Janey Rebecca

    May 3rd, 2012 at 12:14 PM

    i suppose that anything could be a “gateway” of sorts to steroid use and abuse, but what i ultimately think that it will all boil down to is this happens when someone is not happy with who they are, on the inside and the outside, those are the ones who tend to get wrapped up in this sort of stuff

  • WaltD


    May 4th, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    Kind of an unfair take on this subject. It is up to us to decide the things that we want to let into our bodies and the things we don’t. You have to do your research a little better than I am going to take this because so and so does. That’s stupid.

  • Matilda


    May 5th, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    Shouldn’t there be some kind of age limit before kids can just walk into any GNC and buy these products off the shelf?
    Maybe there is one and I don’t know about it. But what I do know is that if the parents are the ones supplying them with this stuff then they should be ashamed of themselves.
    How about teaching them the virtues of leading a healthy lifestyle, eating right and exercising, instead of relying on some magic pill in a bottle to make it all okay?
    I have never really bought into this myth of the easy way out, which is what most of these supplements perpetuate and that more and more people are finding themselves cought up in.

  • sheree Bain

    sheree Bain

    May 6th, 2012 at 12:50 PM

    There are a lot of coaches of young kids, high school and college kids, who push this stuff like this will make them the next Michael Jordan. We know that’s not true, but what do kids know? They are eager to please and being like Mike doesn’t sound half bad. But then they take one thing and then someting supposedly better comes along and they have to try that too. It’s all about trying to please that person in a position of power and to advance their skill. Many of them get into the mindset that they will practically do anything to be the best, and many of them suffer as a result of that goal.

  • Penny


    May 7th, 2012 at 4:23 AM

    Have all of these pro and college athletes getting into trouble for these supplements not been enough to deter others from using? Guess not.

  • Martin


    May 7th, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    We are so obsessed with looks as a society, and add to that the level of demand that we place on athletes, I am baffled that there aren’t more of them who have problems with these drugs. This is serious business for many schools and pro teams, their bread and butter so to speak, so I am not saying that they are encouraged to use, but you know that there probably aren’t that many necessarily discouraging them. And if the problem starts early, then it is going to be even more of an issue.

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