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Men and Body Image: Steroid Abuse

New research by both the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Harvard Medical School indicates that many young, non-athlete men are using androgenic-anabolic steroids (AAS) and other appearance and performance enhancing drugs. Androgenic-anabolic steroids are synthetic variations of testosterone, the male sex hormone. Many believe that they can avoid unwanted side effects of steroid abuse by taking them in various ways (such as combining steroids, stopping and restarting use, and/or slowly increasing their dose). However, steroids affect not only one’s muscles but also the brain and can trigger extreme paranoia, irritability, delusions, or impaired judgment. Further, long term steroid abuse can lead to kidney and liver problems, as well as heart problems. Men also can experience baldness, breast development, increased risk for prostate cancer, decreased sperm count, and/or shrinking testicles.

However, abuse still exists despite the awful side effects and many are beginning to realize that it has to do with an increase in attention by the media on the male body. The trend may be driven by an idealized male image shown in the media that increasingly concentrates on bulkiness, sturdiness, and muscularity. The rise in the number of young men who report dissatisfaction with their body size and shape and concern about body and muscle mass is very concerning. Just as we must emphasize to young women that they have worth and beauty no matter what their shape or size, the same must be related to young men: their muscle mass and size doesn’t determine their worth. How they treat others and conduct themselves is what makes them who they are and abusing steroids is not a solution to poor body image.