UK 'sleepwalking' into addiction crisis as experts claim half a million young men hooked on steroids

By George Hancorn, ITV News' Here's the Story

Half a million young men in the UK could face being addicted to steroids - that's the warning from health experts, with fears the country could be "sleepwalking into a crisis".

TikTok is full of videos of young men sharing their "#steroidtransformation", with many users giving advice on how best to achieve the "perfect" body.

Others feature some of the shocking side effects gym-goers have experienced as a result of prolonged anabolic steroid use.

Anabolics mimic the effects of testosterone, which some users take to increase muscle mass and improve athletic performance. Side effects can include severe acne and bloating.

And repeated over-use can even lead to liver and kidney failure.

Anabolic steroids are classified as a Class C drug, meaning they're only available on prescription.

But that's not what's happening. Personal trainers have told ITV News how easy it is for people to get hold of the drugs through social media and online - and warned of the increasing number of young men doing just that.

"It doesn't take long to be in a gym environment before you know who can sort you out or hook you up", James Smith, a personal trainer, told ITV News.

He said: "There's this undertone in the gym of 'you talk to Dave, he'll be able to sort you out'. It's very much a black market of illegal substances".

Anonymous group chats are being used too, as well as a number of social noticeboards.

ITV News also uncovered websites based in the US that claimed to be able to ship products to the UK in just a matter of days.

ITV News has flagged the videos found during the process of our reporting to TikTok.

The Priory Group, a leading provider of mental health care in the UK, has warned how the return of steroids could be linked to the rise in young men being diagnosed with body dysmorphia.

Dr David McLaughlin is a Visiting Consultant at The Priory in Roehampton.

He warned: "For a long time, we've talked about the pressures on women and girls to conform to certain beauty standards, but there are similar pressures that apply to young men and boys.

What we're seeing through social media platforms like TikTok is increasingly there are hashtags like '#steroids' or '#anabolic', which are driving these algorithms and presenting this distorted image to young men of what the ideal physique is."

Estimates suggest 500,000 young men could be abusing steroids - but some fitness experts told ITV News the numbers could be much higher.

Ethan Harris is a fitness coach who trains in south Gloucestershire, and he wants more transparency about the issue.

"There definitely needs to be conversations between friends, family, people in general because it is very demonised, it is very stereotyped," he said.

The 23-year-old explained that with the use of anabolic steroids so common in so many gym-goers, education is the safest way to ensure young men are well informed: "I do think it's right that it's demonised - it is going to shorten your life."

ITV News has flagged the videos found during the process of our reporting to TikTok.

In a statement first issued in January the app said: "The safety and wellbeing of our community is a top priority. Our Community Guidelines are clear that we do not allow the depiction, promotion, or trade of controlled substances, including anabolic steroids, on TikTok."

The statement continued: "We will take appropriate action against any violation of these guidelines, including removing videos and banning accounts."

The videos ITV News flagged to TikTok are still on the app.

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