Are bigger muscles worth the life-threatening effects? The Truth about Steroids

By Andrea Byrne

The last decade has seen a complete transformation of the fitness industry in Ireland. Our country is now filled with commercial gyms, boxing clubs, training academies and smaller, private gyms. However, with this surge in health and training, there is now more pressure for men and women to feel like they must look a certain way, causing them to consider using steroids.

In Ireland, the sale of anabolic steroids is governed under the the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2018. It is illegal for them to be sold in gyms, online or anywhere outside of a pharmacy.  According to www.health.gov.ie, article 12 of the principal regulations deals with the documentation which must be received by persons supplying controlled drugs e.g. pharmacists, pharmaceutical wholesalers etc.

A public information campaign to raise awareness of the potentially serious side effects and health risks of using unprescribed anabolic steroids has been put in place by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).  The campaign ‘Zero Gains’ was developed in light of growing evidence of an increased use of anabolic steroids for body enhancement as well as new research showing a significant lack of awareness of the serious health complications posed by these products.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority ‘Zero Gains’ campaign
Photo Credit – HPRA.ie

Dr Lorraine Nolan, Chief Executive of the HPRA, said that anabolic steroids can result in a range of serious health side effects, many of which can be life-threatening with long-term use. 

“The HPRA believes that the usage of anabolic steroids has been increasing in Ireland in recent years as the volume of illegal anabolic steroids detained by authorities increased ten-fold between 2015 and 2017,” said Dr Nolan.

“Growing evidence ranging from the increasing levels of illegal products detained by the HPRA each year, as well as needle exchange figures and a number of tragic deaths highlighted in the media in recent times, point to a growth in non-medical use in Ireland.”

“The HPRA…detained 449,411 dosage units of illegal anabolic steroids”

Dr Lorraine Nolan Chief Executive of the HPRA

Dr Nolan continued, “The HPRA states that, in 2017, working in conjunction with An Garda Síochána and Revenue’s Customs Service, it detained 449,411 dosage units of illegal anabolic steroids, compared to 109,006 units in 2016 and 38,049 in 2015.”

Dr. Nolan added: “Our research highlights the social pressure on young people to look a certain way. Young men are seeking to gain muscle and bulk up, and whilst use of illegal steroids was previously associated with competitive bodybuilding and enhanced sport performance, nowadays usage appears dominated by the desire to have the perceived perfect body image. 

“The research outlined in the launch of Zero Gains showed that 3 in 4 adults feel social media, TV shows, magazines and websites are pressurising young adults to look a certain way.”

Anabolic androgenic steroids have two main modes of action in the body, one being androgenic effects, which are generally considered to be similar to testosterone (masculinisation) and anabolic effects, which are associated with protein building in skeletal muscle and bone.  Men and women may appear healthy on the outside using anabolic steroids but according to Dr. Nolan, this isn’t always the case.

“The real story is that non-medical use of anabolic steroids can have devastating, long term and life threatening side effects”

Dr. Lorraine Nolan Chief Executive of the HPRA

“We believe there are no gains from using substances that have been shown to cause a range of physical, psychological and emotional damage when misused,” said Dr Nolan. “The real story is that non-medical use of anabolic steroids can have devastating, long term and life threatening side effects.”

In discussion with Psychologist Susan Eustace about the effects social media may have when taking anabolic steroids, she said: “We know social media plays a significant role in triggering and maintaining many forms of self-harm and damaging behaviour including steroid use.

“Platforms and sites using images appear to be particularly influential as they act as potent triggers for steroid users, for those not currently engaging in the behaviour, and for those who are attempting to give up or stay away from steroids. Social media also amplifies the influence of unhealthy gym culture which can be a major promoter of steroid use.”

“We know social media plays a significant role in triggering and maintaining many forms of self-harm and damaging behaviour including steroid use”

Psychologist Susan Eustace

Speaking to Kyle Mullen, an Irish influencer with over 27 thousand followers, he discussed his experience in the fitness industry and whether he has ever felt pressured to use anabolic steroids.

“No, I personally have not felt pressured, however, I’ve thought of using them, every single male gym goer does. I would say that some do feel pressured by some influencers as often times the lads with the best physiques get the followings and the fame so I’m sure lots feel that they need to use them if that’s their goal. For myself, however, I don’t feel those same pressures as I know of the negatives drugs can bring.”

Photo Credit: Kyle Mullen Youtube

Even though Mullen doesn’t take steroids himself he knows many others who have. “

“Yes I know a lot of people all using to gain for different reasons,” said Mullen. “Whether it’s keeping up appearances for social media, for competitive reason or only for personal goals in fitness … it’s easily noticeable in physical changes, the mental/ emotional changes vary from minor to dramatic depending on the person and the amount they are taking but yes some are noticeable.”

“From my understanding it’s very very easy to get your hands on them. However, as it is illegal and unregulated a lot of the time you don’t know what you are getting.

A lot of people get sold essentially nothing, they think they are on steroids but have been sold water or whatever the concoction may be. But yes, they are very easy to get, no harder than booking a hotel or flight online.”

“They are very easy to get, no harder than booking a hotel or flight online”

Fitness influencer Kyle Mullen

A recent RTÉ Investigates found steroids being sold for as little as €40 for a six-week course which could produce dramatic physical and psychological results. During the course of their investigation they found these products being supplied and sold in car parks, on Irish classified websites and outside gyms.

“The HPRA’s Zero Gains campaign aims to inform and discourage people from using anabolic steroids,” said Dr Nolan.  “And from buying these products online or from other illegal suppliers, where it is believed many of these products are sourced.”

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