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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