Double trouble? A mixed methods study exploring experiences with combined use of anabolic-androgenic steroids and psychoactive substances among women / Ingrid Amalia Havnes, Marie Lindvik Jørstad, Astrid Bjørnebekk. - (Performance Enhancement & Health (2021) 100198 (5 September);
- DOI: 10.1016/j.peh.2021.100198
Concurrent use of anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) and psychoactive substances (illicit drugs and alcohol) is found common in studies among men and involves a higher risk of adverse events than AAS use alone. However, women who use AAS represent an understudied group, and little is known about their pattern of psychoactive substance use and possible links to AAS use. The aim of this mixed methods paper is to a) examine lifetime and problem use of psychoactive substances and AAS, and b) explore experiences of AAS and psychoactive substance use including understandings of how these substances may be related among women with current or previous AAS use.
Among sixteen women with current or previous AAS use, lifetime psychoactive substance and AAS use, AAS dependence and problem drug and alcohol use were assessed. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted, audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed thematically within a biopsychosocial framework applying pharmacological agency; the concept of bodily surveillance of effect and the ability to handle substances instrumentally to feel oneselves/ones bodies better.
Twelve participants reported lifetime substance use, where cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines were most commonly used. Substance use problems were found among eight participants; five had lifetime AAS-dependence and clinically significant drug and/or alcohol dependence scores, two had lifetime AAS dependence, and one had clinically significant drug dependence scores. Psychoactive substance use was experienced as unrelated to AAS use or it could be used to counteract side effects of AAS. On the contrary, AAS was used to cope with the bodily and emotional change following withdrawal from psychoactive substances and to counteract bodily effects of long-term substance use. Being in substance use disorder (SUD) treatment after detoxification with affected mental health, a passive lifestyle and experiencing a transition from having an emaciated body, gaining weight and becoming unfit, was experienced to motivate AAS initiation during treatment.
The polysubstance nature of AAS use including use of psychoactive substances and risk of developing SUDs poses a significant health risk. Health professionals need to understand motivations for combined use of AAS and psychoactive substances among women to be able to prevent harms and address individual treatment needs.