Steroids, properly called Anabolic–androgenic steroids (AAS), are commonly used drugs in some populations of young men. Several studies have found an association between illicit drugs, such as heroin and other opiates, with steroid use. There are various possible explanations for the connection between steroid use and illicit drug use:
- a) Both may be associated with criminality and deprivation;
- b) Heroin might depress certain hormones resulting in a decrease in testosterone, which may predispose a person to replacement through AAS (steroids);
- c) Both may share similar pleasure-seeking neuropathways, which could be the reason for findings showing a high prevalence of opiate users in a group of steroid users with characteristics of dependence compared to a group of steroid users who did not show characteristics of dependence; and
- d) An association between heroin and steroid (AAS) use may be due to social and cultural contexts.
In an urban area in the North East of England, the authors used several focus groups (total of 30 participants) to look at the socio-cultural links to steroid use (AAS) and the link between steroid use and heroin.
- Participants, including those who were heroin users, viewed heroin use with a great deal of stigma.
Hiding weight loss
- Due to the association of heroin with weight loss, participants associated heroin recovery with weight gain. They commented that recovery involved stopping heroin, going to the gym, eating more and becoming bigger in size and more muscular. One participant commented that he used steroids partly to make his family believe that he was recovering from heroin.
- Several participants felt that in order to function well in their social environment (e.g. drug dealer or other roles) they needed steroids for intimidation purposes. The increased strength and increased physical size, helped heroin users to function well within their social context. Participants commented that they used steroids for both intimidation purposes and for progression to being a more effective drug-dealer.
- Participants who had been in prison said that limited opportunities to do other things and boredom contributed to their focus on increasing their size and strength.
Other studies also, have found that steroids were used for reasons such as “to feel brave” and as an attempt to hide the effects of heroin.
There are important socio-cultural reasons for the association between heroin and AAS use, which include the need to function through intimidation, and to hide the stigma associated with heroin use. It is important to note that most steroid users do not use heroin and most heroin users do not use steroids. Further research could focus on determining which heroin users are at risk of using steroids and of those who use them, investigating who is at the greatest risk for developing dependence on steroids.
Cornforda, C.S., Keanb, J., and Nash, A. (2014). Anabolic–androgenic steroids and heroin use: A qualitative study exploring the connection. Journal of International Drug Policy. Vol. 25, Issue, 5. Pp. 928-930.