3 Reasons People Use Steroids Despite the Risks

4 min read
Dollar Gil / Unsplash

Dollar Gil / Unsplash

Many dedicated lifters acknowledge the rush of adrenaline that can come from lifting weights—but the spike from steroids is another story. What does research indicate about the psychological pull of these substances?

A 2023 report sheds light on the rising interest in steroids among fitness enthusiasts on TikTok. Videos glorifying these potentially harmful bodybuilding drugs—and in some instances directing users to sellers—have racked up an astounding 587 million views in America over a mere three-year span. What’s perhaps more concerning is that a whopping 420 million of those views came from young individuals aged 18 to 24.

Is the resurgence in the popularity of steroids due to a quest for the perfect physique? The story seems to delve deeper than surface aesthetics. Let’s explore the underlying psychological drivers in more depth.

1. There’s a Tendency to Link Self-Worth Directly to Size in Bodybuilding Circles

When you picture a bodybuilder, images of Herculean physiques and unwavering discipline likely come to mind. However, a classic study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders reveals another side to this world: Bodybuilders, more than their athletic peers in running and martial arts, face a heightened struggle with body dissatisfaction. This isn’t just about the chase for the elusive “perfect” body. It’s about a deep-rooted psychological tug-of-war.

Bodybuilders report significant drives for bulk and thinness, reflective of not just fitness goals but societal beauty standards and internal battles for self-worth. Unlike runners and martial artists, who might train for the sheer love of the sport or personal milestones, bodybuilders’ motivations are often twined with a complex web of self-image issues.

Add steroids into the mix, and you’ve got another layer of concern. Many bodybuilders lean towards these substances primarily in the hopes of enhancing their looks which, ultimately, boosts their self-worth.

The trend on social media to normalize steroid use in non-competitive bodybuilding underscores a powerful societal influence and a failure to recognize that body image, at its core, is a mental construct, often distorted by external pressures.

2. It’s Hard to Look Past the Immediate Positive Reinforcement and See the Long-Term Side Effects

The concept of “positive reinforcement” means that when an action produces a favorable outcome, the behavior is likely to be repeated. Steroid use can provide a burst of rapid gains, creating a powerful feedback loop: the more gains one sees, the more they’re tempted to continue or even increase the dosage. This cycle can overshadow the potential long-term damage.

A 2015 review revealed that steroids have also been linked to a physiological reward system, making their effects even more addictive and reinforcing the positive feedback loop. To make things worse, side effects like liver damage, hormonal imbalances, cardiovascular issues, and mental health problems are not immediately visible, making them easier to ignore in the short term.

3. Steroid-Using Bodybuilders Tend to Be Distrustful of Healthcare Providers

A 2022 study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that, compared to natural bodybuilders, steroid-enhanced bodybuilders show more characteristics of cluster B personality disorders, including narcissistic, borderline, and antisocial personality disorder. And while we can’t ascertain if steroid users are predisposed to such characteristics or if usage leads to the development of such characteristics, there are some common attitudes and beliefs held in the steroid-enhanced bodybuilding community that discourage young people from getting sound medical advice.

A 2020 study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health indicated that a majority of the 2,385 participants surveyed did not reveal their steroid use to their healthcare providers, with 56.1 percent keeping it a secret. Even among those who did disclose their usage, more than half reported feeling discriminated against by medical professionals.

This creates a barrier to obtaining reliable health information and medical supervision, further escalating the risks associated with recreational steroid use. Such an environment of distrust and misinformation underscores the urgency of educating both users and healthcare providers about the nuances and complexities surrounding steroid usage.

Body Image Essential Reads


The allure of steroids, particularly among young men, is undeniably powerful. Behind every individual’s choice to use lies a quest for validation, a desire to align with societal standards, and an internal battle with self-worth.

We must remember that steroid use is not a simple quest for physical perfection but a reflection of deeper psychological needs and vulnerabilities. As we seek solutions, compassion, understanding, and education are paramount. Only by addressing these deeper psychological factors can we hope to offer meaningful support and guidance to those who grapple with the choice to use steroids.

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours