Approximately 3.0% of young Americans have used anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS). A traditional model of adolescent substance use, the gateway hypothesis, suggests that drug use follows a chronological, causal sequence, whereby initial use of a specific drug leads to an increased likelihood of future drug use. Therefore, the use of illicit appearance and performance enhancing drugs (APED), such as AASs, also follows an analogous progression, whereby legal APEDs, (e.g., nutritional supplements) precedes illicit APED use. We examined the relationship between nutritional supplement use, beliefs about APEDs, and APED use in 201 male (n = 100) and female (n = 101) undergraduates. Participants completed measures of muscle dysmorphia (MDDI), body checking (BCQ, MBCQ), eating disorder symptoms (EDE-Q), perfectionism (FMPS), positive beliefs about the efficacy-safety of AAS use and APED use patterns. A series of covariance structure models (CSM) showed body image disturbance, compulsive exercise, illicit drug use, and perfectionism, independent of gender, were significant predictors of positive beliefs about AAS. Those who used both fat burning and muscle building supplements reported the strongest beliefs in AAS efficacy-safety, which was associated with higher likelihood of current illicit APED use. There was evidence of significant indirect relationships between supplement use and illicit APED use through contact with other AAS users and beliefs about AAS. The potential role for nutritional supplement use in the initiation of illegal APED use is discussed. Future prevention efforts may benefit from targeting legal APED users in youth.
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