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Recreational athletes comprise the most prevalent population using illegal Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS). Despite regulatory efforts, substances are widely accessible, and most users report the experience of harmful side effects. It remains unclear why few users seek professional medical help. The aim of this study was to determine AAS users’ experience of side effects and help-seeking beliefs using an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of six interviews. Participants were from the United Kingdom (n = 5) and United States (n = 1), had all experienced side effects, with some reporting prolonged use of AAS (>10 years) and self-manufacturing the drugs from raw ingredients. Results showed that AAS users discredit medical professionals’ competencies, and practice cognitive dissonance by avoiding challenging situations. A microculture for information-sharing has developed among AAS users who initially self-treat to counteract side effects, leaving them vulnerable to further harm. To conclude, there is an urgent need for educational interventions that outline the risky practice of unregulated AAS use and self-treatments, and the need to seek professional help. Such interventions could be developed through a co-production basis, and be implemented by current/former AAS users alongside the medical community.
Gilmore, Shannon, and Breslin are with the Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute, Ulster University, Jordanstown Campus, Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland. Shannon and Breslin are also with the Institute of Mental Health Sciences, Ulster University, Coleraine Campus, Coleraine, Northern Ireland. Leavey is with The Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Ulster University, Magee Campus, Derry, Northern Ireland. Dempster is with the School of Psychology, Queens University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Gallagher is with Claudy Health Centre, Claudy, Northern Ireland.