Middle-aged men are increasingly taking potentially dangerous anabolic steroids in a bid to remain youthful, according to a report by The Guardian newspaper. Experts told the newspaper that men were taking the drugs in a similar way to menopausal women receive hormone replacement therapy.
While use of the drugs can help combat weight gain and a lower libido, associated with ageing, misuse can result in moderate to severe side effects. Joseph Kean, a visiting research fellow at Liverpool John Moores University said between 15,000 and 30,000 men over 40 in the UK were taking the drug in response to growing pressure on younger men to look good, which was filtering through to them.
Kean told The Guardian: "Guys are saying they just want to stand a bit taller and feel they can stand alongside the younger generation, who are much more aware of how they look."
Sid Wiffen, a team leader at Sheffield-based service for users of steroids and other image-enhancing drugs The Juice Clinic, also told the newspaper: "Steroid use in older men is often about the youthful effects and about body image and energy levels.
"I hear talk of men feeling more pressure now to look good, so they are more likely to go to the gym and dress well."
The news comes amid growing concern over the impact of social media on young people and an increased pressure on the physical appearance of young men and women. The issue was highlighted by Australian blogger Essena O'Neill in 2015 after she quit Instagram claiming her perfectly posed shots were portraying a false reality.
O'Neill hit out at the "contrived" posts she herself had been responsible for, and commented: "I've spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance."
In addition to the celebrity culture of the "Instagram selfie", popularised by the likes of the Kardashians, users are now bombarded with imagery of bloggers extolling the virtues of exercise and "clean eating". Social media users are therefore exposed to increasing pressure to attain the body beautiful, as well.
What are anabolic steroids?
Anabolic steroids are related to testosterone and do have legitimate medical uses. They can be prescribed by doctors for conditions such as specific types of anaemia, or to help patients gain weight after illness or injury.
The class C drugs can only legally be sold by pharmacists to those with a prescription, but are taken by some as performance-enhancing drugs because they help to increase muscle mass as well as decreasing fat. Possession of anabolic steroids for personal use is in itself not illegal.
The drugs are most commonly injected into the muscle, though they may also be available in other forms. Typically, in order to avoid the undesirable side effects associated with steroid-use, users would inject the drug for a period of time then abstain during a "rest period" before starting again.
However, there can be serious side effects for both men and women misusing the drugs – though they differ depending on gender. Though some men may take the drugs to boost sexual performance, in reality misuse of anabolic steroids can result in a reduced sperm count and infertility for men, as well as shrunken testes, erectile dysfunction, baldness and the development of breasts.
They can also result in heart attack or strokes in users, liver or kidney tumours, and blood clots. Psychologically, users can develop so-called "'Roid rage" or mood swings, including aggressive behaviour.
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