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'I wanted more and more' - Former steroid user describes the 'insanity' of his habit

Anabolic steroids are class C drugs

There are growing concerns that a desire to conform to a "ripped" body image is causing increasing numbers of young men in Wales to take steroids for looks rather than sport.

Staff at a needle exchange in Newport have told ITV Wales that some of the users they see are now buying and taking the drugs before setting foot in a gym.

There are fears that a lack of understanding amongst some GPs means users are not seeking or receiving the help they need.

'Craig' started taking steroids to bulk up

Craig (not his real name) began using steroids in his twenties.

A keen, but non competitive, bodybuilder, he says a low opinion of his own body image drove him to obsessively bulk up.

I started off quite moderate, and eventually I wanted more and more gains. My doses increases and substances increased.

Some of the substances I was taking aren't even designed for human consumption. That's the insanity of it.

– 'Craig'

More than ten years on, he's now in recovery.

Craig said his steroid use and regime took over his life

Craig says his usage has left him with long-term health problems.

I know for a fact that I have an enlarged heart.

My blood pressure is slightly higher than it should be, and that's consequences of my using at the end of the day.

There has been damage to my liver and kidneys there through use.

– 'Craig'
  • Anabolic steroids are class C drugs, which can only be sold by pharmacists with a prescription.
  • It's not illegal to possess anabolic steroids for personal use.
  • It is illegal to possess, import or export anabolic steroids if it's believed you're supplying or selling them.

At his needle exchange in Newport, centre head Mike Mallett runs a fortnightly drop-in clinic for steroid users.

Staffed by a volunteer team of three, the clinic offers a chance for users to get a check up and talk through their health.

Mike Mallett at his Newport clinic

He says an increasing number of young people are using steroids to enhance their image.

We've got a small but significant culture of young people, who have bought their steroids and they've started using them, and they haven't even got gym membership and they haven't even started going to the gym yet. It's more about aesthetics. It's more about gaining that perfect toned chiselled body.

It's very much about the perception of how they look and how they want to look.

– Mike Mallett, Needle Exchange Co-ordinator

He says there's a reluctance among many users to approach their GPs about any problems they might be having, or even to reveal the fact they're using steroids at all.

Experts fear many steroid users don't realise the long term risks

Josie Smith, Head of Substance Misuse Programme at Public Health Wales, acknowledges that new approaches might be needed to tackle the problem.

We need to train [health practitioners] to make them more aware of the scale of image and performance enhancing drug use, but also that it's a very diverse population.

I think... drug use has been stigmatised, and also stereotyped amongst particularly groups and that's actually not the case.

– Josie Smith, Public Health Wales

The Royal College of General Physicians says its members "non-judgemental atmosphere of mutual trust, recognising that individuals may chose different lifestyles".

It stresses that patients need to be made aware of the "significant health risks" of taking steroids.

Craig says he wishes he'd never taken steroids

Craig now plans to formally train to help other people overcome their addictions.

He regrets his steroid usage, citing the impact it had on his relationships, health and temperament.

"I wouldn't take a steroid again" he adds.

  • Hear his story below:

You can watch the full report below: