The report found that anabolic steroid (AS) use among regular gym clients is common, and drugs are cheap and plentiful, with many people taking excessive doses of two or more at the same time. Many are ignorant about side-effects, and some who inject are sharing equipment.
As such, they represent a 'new client group' for health educators and drug agencies, the report said, but they do not see themselves as 'traditional abusers' and cannot always be reached by existing services.
In a survey of 21 gyms in England, Scotland and Wales, AS was used by members in all but three of them. In one gym almost half of respondents reported using AS; in four gyms the figure was between 24 and 46 per cent and in six it was between 5 and 17 per cent.
Of 110 users interviewed face to face for the Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour, 97 were men aged 17 to 56, and 13 were women aged 18 to 35. They came from a range of social backgrounds and included a builder, a diplomat, a doctor and a policeman.
Some admitted to sharing needles to inject AS, putting themselves and others at risk of HIV infection. The researchers said that this was a surprising finding with far-reaching 'public health implications'. More than half the users who took part in the study and had regular sexual partners said that they never used condoms. Of those who had casual partners, fewer than half 'always' used a condom.
Of the 1,669 gym users who completed questionnaires, almost 8 per cent said they had used AS at some time, and 5 per cent were current users. More than 80 per cent said they had suffered side-effects, including shrinking of the testicles in men and voice deepening and growth of body hair in women. The psychological effects were both positive - increased sex drive and confidence linked to improved body appearance - and negative, with feelings of aggression.
The report found no evidence that AS use is spreading outside the gym, as has been suggested by some drug agencies, to be used by men and women who want to improve their appearance without excessive training.
Anabolic Steroid Use in Great Britain - an exploratory investigation; Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour, 200 Seagrave Rd, London SW6 1RQ; pounds 20.Reuse content