TEENAGERS as young as 17 are dabbling with steroids in the hope of improving their physical appearance.
That’s according to respected personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach Ainle Ó Cairealláin who said that men are turning to steroids in a desperate bid to improve their self-esteem.
Mr Ó Cairealláin is the former strength and conditioning coach to Cork’s Gaelic footballers and owner of ACLAI Personal Training on Bishop Street.
“That’s been part of the subculture of bodybuilding since it began,” he said.
“However, if you walk into a number of gyms now you will see that young males are not doing it for sport or to compete. Their motivation is purely aesthetic. The fact that increased steroid use coincided with a rise in mental health issues and social media activity is no coincidence. All these things must be connected in some way.”
He said that young males are often naive or uneducated about the potentially devastating effects of steroids.
“The misconception is that the risk is low and there are no real long-term health effects associated with steroids, but this is not the case. A number of young people now have a set of values that are both unhealthy and unrealistic. They don’t realise that the pictures we see in magazines and on social media are not the norm. The people we see in these images are either airbrushed or an exception to the rule.
“Everyone has their ups and downs in life but you don’t get this picture through social media. These perfect images we see are designed to pressurise people into consuming more products. Unfortunately, it’s the people at the end of these advertising campaigns who hurt the most.”
He urged gym owners who may suspect steroid misuse to be proactive.
“We need to realise the damage this can do to a person. It can lead to long-term health problems or even death. If you’re not actively part of the solution then you’re contributing to the problem. This is the case in certain places. There is a responsibility on gym owners not to turn a blind eye to this when it’s happening within their walls.”
He described the most common instances of steroid misuse.
“It’s important to separate the three different categories of steroid use and draw a clear line between them,” he added.
“The chance of a bodybuilder taking steroids is high, but there is also a high chance that they are doing it in a monitored way that’s educated and informed. Within the sporting community, they can be used for sports enhancement.
“This is probably the smallest demographic.
“Then there are the young males, independent of sport or bodybuilding, who are taking them for no other reason but to look a certain way.
This is the most dangerous group, as the steroids are sourced from a friend or online.”
However, he emphasised that their approach is misguided.
“They are focusing on what will make them feel better as opposed to what will make them a better person. When users realise steroids are of no benefit, that’s when the real problems kick in. It’s like climbing to the top of a ladder only to realise it’s against the wrong wall.”
Mr Ó Cairealláin spoke of the divisive effect misuse can have on families.
“The saddest thing about this situation isn’t that steroids are becoming more widely available, but that people feel the need to do them at all. This can have devastating consequences for the community that we live in. If people feel worthless it affects families and that’s my biggest fear. People need to be willing to talk about this and not demonise those who are suffering. I’m not in any way condoning illegal steroid use, but we have to be open to talking about it.”
He stressed that self-esteem issues in young men have reached crisis point.
“We can’t continue in a direction where the self-worth of the young male population is getting lower and lower. It’s these kind of feelings that can push them to turn to steroids. Young people need to have an awareness around the dangers of this drug and recreational drugs now more than ever. For many young people recreational drugs can be easier to get than alcohol. When purchasing alcohol one has to present identification which you don’t have to do with drugs.”
The owner of ACLAI Personal Training on Bishop Street is proud of the natural approach he takes with his clients.
“Everyone wants a sense of purpose,” he said. “They want to feel good about themselves and benefit from a sense of achievement. All we do is try to give them that sense of purpose. This is what changes their mindset. It’s a misconception to feel like steroids are going to do that.”