Risk factors for illicit anabolic-androgenic steroid use in male weightlifters: a cross-sectional cohort study

Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Feb 1;71(3):254-61. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.06.024. Epub 2011 Aug 12.


Background: Illicit anabolic-androgenic steroid (AAS) abuse, though an important public health problem, remains inadequately studied. Almost all AAS abusers are male and lift weights, but the risk factors for AAS use among male weightlifters remain poorly understood.

Methods: We recruited 233 experienced male weightlifters, of whom 102 (44%) reported lifetime AAS use, and assessed their childhood and adolescent attributes retrospectively, using structured clinical interviews and computerized questionnaires. This cross-sectional cohort approach-a design that we have formally presented in the recent methodological literature-utilizes a study cohort, not selected for outcomes of interest, and assesses exposures and outcomes retrospectively. We hypothesized that conduct disorder and body-image concerns would be major risk factors for subsequent AAS use among male weightlifters.

Results: Within our study population, many attributes showed little association with AAS use, but conduct disorder and body-image concerns showed strong associations. For individuals with prior conduct disorder versus those without, the hazard ratio (95% confidence interval) for subsequent AAS use was 2.2 (1.5, 3.4). For individuals in the middle versus lowest tertile of scores on a retrospective adolescent muscle-dysmorphia scale, the hazard ratio was 1.5 (.84, 2.6); for the highest versus lowest tertile, the hazard ratio was 3.3 (2.0, 5.3); and for the linear trend of hazard ratios, p < .001.

Conclusions: Conduct disorder and body-image concerns represent important risk factors for AAS use among male weightlifters. Thus, assessment of these attributes may help to identify individuals most likely to require interventions to discourage this form of substance abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anabolic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Androgens / administration & dosage*
  • Body Image
  • Cohort Studies
  • Conduct Disorder / complications
  • Conduct Disorder / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Doping in Sports / psychology*
  • Doping in Sports / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Medication / psychology*
  • Self Medication / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Weight Lifting / psychology*
  • Weight Lifting / statistics & numerical data


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Androgens