Bodybuilding is a very expensive activity. The costs can quickly add up whether it’s as a recreational pursuit or a competitive pursuit. This is especially true if anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) become part of the formula for bodybuilding success.
It should come as no surprise that many a bodybuilder has learned then can sell their extra steroids to help fund their own use. Any bodybuilder who trains regularly at a commercial gym or is active in the bodybuilding community knows that the demand for steroids is always high. If you look like someone who uses steroids, you will inevitably attract other athletes who are interested in using steroids. It will be only a matter of time before you are approached with potential buyers.
The temptation to sell steroids is great particularly among those struggling to afford the expensive hobby. The extra cash often allows a bodybuilder to pay for his own steroid cycles plus he gains the satisfaction of helping his friends achieve their muscle-building and performance goals.
Since steroid use is so normalized within bodybuilding circles, it is not seen as a real crime. Most such bodybuilders don’t even consider themselves “steroid dealers” since they are not really interested in selling steroids for financial gains.
Unfortunately, the law makes little distinction based on the motivations of sellers involved. Steroid distribution is a felony and prosecutors tend to treat steroid dealers similarly.
The failure of government agencies to distinguish between individual bodybuilders who sell steroids to fund their own participation in the sport versus members of organized criminal groups who sell steroids primarily for financial gain has been criticized by a new academic study.
Dr Katinka Van de Ven, Lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University, and Kyle Mulrooney, Doctorate in Cultural and Global Criminology fellow at the University of Kent, studied the individual reasons and motivations for selling steroids in the bodybuilding community. The researchers analyzed 64 criminal cases in The Netherlands and Belgium and conducted 47 semi-structured interviews with steroid dealers and steroid users alike. Their findings were published in a research article titled “Social suppliers: Exploring the cultural contours of the performance and image enhancing drug (PIED) market among bodybuilders in the Netherlands and Belgium” appearing online in the International Journal of Drug Policy on August 27, 2016.
— Katinka van de Ven (@KatinkavandeVen) August 29, 2016
The main finding was that most bodybuilders who sold steroids had customers that were “more likely to consist of friends or ‘friends of friends’ tied together by threads of collective meaning found within the bodybuilding subculture.” The bodybuilders were primarily motivated to sell steroids to support their own training and/or to enhance their status within the bodybuilding community.
The researchers identified three types of steroid dealers varying by their degree of “social and cultural embeddedness in the bodybuilding subculture”:
- Market oriented dealers – Less embedded in bodybuilding culture but aware of entrepreneurial opportunities;
- Social-commercialist dealers – Heavily embedded in bodybuilding culture but aware of money making opportunities through sale; and
- Minimal commercialist dealers – Heavily embedded in bodybuilding culture but normally sell to help friends, build contacts or ensure high quality products are used.
Mulrooney criticized current anti-steroid legislation for indiscriminately targeting all three types of steroid dealers as if they were organized criminal groups motivated primarily by financial gain.
“It is much too simple to point to organized crime and criminal groups and to respond with zero-tolerance and criminal justice measures,” Mulrooney said of the finding. “The fact is we know very little about the illegal market for performance and image enhancing drugs. Our point here is to indicate that there are different rationales and motivations for selling these substances and as such policy should likewise reflect this plurality of drivers.”
Van de Ven went even further and suggested that government policymakers abandon law enforcement efforts targeting highly-embedded “minimal commercialist dealers” and instead take advantage of the community networks of these “steroid mentors” to promote harm reduction in the bodybuilding subculture.
“For these people that currently cannot stop or wish to continue, it is important to reduce harms as much as possible, and have proper harm reduction measures in place, like we do for recreational drug users,” said Van de Ven.
“For example, some of these suppliers in bodybuilding subcultures, often referred to as ‘steroid mentors’, have a high status in these communities. Instead of driving them away, by targeting them with law enforcement measures, this may offer a potential opportunity to deliver accurate information via an established and credible communication network, and may help in providing accessible and acceptable health-related information.”
— Kyle Mulrooney (@CriminologyGuy) September 7, 2016