The Anabolic 500 Survey

I’ve been around long enough to know there usually is very little published research that shows any type of positive view point on prohormones, steroids, and even supplements.  So it was no surprise to see the newest study published on anabolic steroid users, which concluded [1]:

“AAS misuse is prevalent among older men and is associated with polypharmacy, more aggressive alcohol use, and a higher incidence of substance dependence and anxiety disorders compared to nonusers. “

[Sigh] right?  Of course I had to dig into this paper and see where the data came from…and guess what?  You provided the data!  How you ask, well in 2009 the lead author of this study, and many other studies asked you to participate in this study on various bodybuilding forums.  The data was collected with a survey on steroid use.  Each participant simply had to answer 99 questions online.  Here are a few of his requests:

And the list goes on an on (38 different forums in total).  One forum even hosted a banner for the survey.  The result of this survey is what is called the “Anabolic 500 Survey”, which collected 2,380 survey attempts, and 1,519 good surveys (completed).  It was called the Anabolic 500 survey because over 500 self reported users of steroids completed the survey.

How did they get such high participation?

What is odd about all this is they got over 500 steroid users to admit to steroid use.  This is primarily because the steroid survey was anonymous, so there was no (or perhaps little) risk of legal blowback.  Still they garnered a lot of trust in a short amount of time.  They did this by implementing a “12 Step Strategy” to fit in to the online bodybuilding world.  The strategy is called the “Tuoro 12 Step” which is  based on a published paper [2], and describes each step as follows:

The Touro 12-Step Process

  1. Use an internet search engine (e.g. to search for websites that have discussion boards which suit your study’s topic (e.g. “bodybuilding forums,” “weightlifting forums,” “steroid discussion boards”).
  2. When an appropriate website discussion board is found, determine if the discussion board has an adequate number of members/views/activity.
  3. Sign up as a member of that discussion board (create a user name and password).
  4. Look for a discussion section that is most appropriate to introduce the survey (e.g. “Bodybuilders,” “Powerlifting,” “Anabolic Steroid Discussion,” “Female Bodybuilders”).
  5. Create a simple yet accurate title for the thread (e.g. “Exercise Study” or “Steroid Survey”).
  6. Post an introduction thread that explains the research objectives and facilitates feedback/questions from the discussion board users. Include the actual name and credentials of the researcher involved, but avoid using the prefix “Dr.” as this may appear less personable. It should be emphasized: Do not include the research survey link in the first post. Website moderators and members often do not trust a researcher who is a first-time poster and may even perceive that individual as an outsider or an “intruder,” potentially altering the discussion board environment. At best, the thread may be removed—and there is a likely chance that your username and IP address will be permanently banned from the website. It is important to develop a rapport with the website members and administrators before attempting to post the survey link.
  7. Subscribe to the created thread so that instant e-mail notification can be received anytime a website member posts a response. Timely responses (ideally within 12-24 hours) are valuable as this demonstrates to other website members the seriousness and willingness to address their concerns.
  8. Only post the survey link when support of the discussion board members and moderators has been clearly established. This will increase the chances of having a high participation rate and prevent the survey link from being prematurely removed.
  9. Create an active and ongoing discussion. Asking board members questions and soliciting feedback will create enthusiasm about the research topic and survey.
  10. As days and weeks transpire, answering posts from members provides two benefits: a) continuing to increase interest in the survey and b) “bumping” or moving the survey thread back to the top of the discussion board (improving visibility of the thread).
  11. Be courteous. Thank participants when they make a post stating that they have completed the survey (e.g. “Thanks for supporting our survey!”). Website members appreciate the politeness and just as importantly, the “thank you” post will bring the thread back to the top of the discussion board forum (again improving visibility).
  12. Don’t go overboard. If there has been no activity or replies on the thread, wait at least 5-10 days before reposting (more frequent attempts to promote the survey may become an annoyance to discussion board members). Some sites may be fine with “bumping” or promoting survey participation more frequently, so pay attention and acquire a feel for the particular forum group. Try to provide value when reposting to move the thread back to the top (e.g. post progress on survey participation or provide an update on reaching the survey recruitment goal). This is especially useful towards the end of data collection to create a strong, final push.

None of what you see above is vastly different than what it takes to gain the trust of online bodybuilding forums for any new member.  In fact, it’s a bit funny they needed this guidelines to learn to communicate with others online.  Only on the internet…

Survey on Steroid Use Says…

If you read through some of the forum messages created by the authors of the study, you would have noticed they pitched the survey as an attempt to “dispel real world myths” about steroid use.  It seemed as if they really wanted to portray a positive light on the why of steroid use.  Unfortunately I’m not so sure that happened.  While the studies are interesting, here were some of the conclusions from studies published on the results of this survey:survey on steroid users

  • Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine 2010 – This was an analysis of 12 female steroid users who completed the survey, vs. male steroid users, and female non-steroid users (polypharmacy means unnecessary drug use).

“Female AAS users practice polypharmacy. Female AAS users are more likely to have qualified for substance-dependence disorder, have been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness, and have a history of sexual abuse than both male AAS users and female non-AAS users.”

  • Journal of Pharmacotherapy 2011 – This is the primary study that resulted from the survey on steroid use.  It simply compared men who use steroids, vs. men who do not.

“The weekly dose of 1188.2 ± 1077 mg administered by the AAS users in this study is more than 10 times greater than the recommended dose for testosterone replacement therapy in patients with clinical hypogonadism.”

“Despite using multiple agents and administering large doses of AAS, most AAS users were methodic in their approach. In fact, AAS users spent over 260 hours of research on the topic before taking their first AAS dose.”

“Finally, the AAS users were not reckless regarding injection practices, as not a single AAS user reported ever sharing a used needle or syringe with another person.”

“However, AAS users were more than twice as likely than nonusers to have used cocaine within the past 12 months.”

“Only 8.8% of respondents believed that physicians and pharmacists were knowledgeable regarding AAS and PEAs.”

“Most of the AAS users in this study were recreational exercisers who practiced polypharmacy. The AAS users were more likely than nonusers to meet criteria for substance dependence disorder, report a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, report recent cocaine use, and have a history of sexual abuse. The information uncovered in this study may help clinicians and researchers develop appropriate intervention strategies for AAS abuse.”

“The average insulin user also used anabolic steroids (95.1%) and practiced polypharmacy by incorporating 16.2 ± 5.6 PEDs in his or her yearly routine.”

“Strategies aimed to prevent insulin misuse are needed.”

  • Pharmacotherapy 2012 – This paper described the drug dependence that a sub-group of anabolic steroid users.  This particular group was diagnosed as most likely to have a drug dependence.

“Data from the Anabolic 500 survey showed that almost one quarter of AAS users were dependent on these drugs. These AAS-dependent users had a higher rate of heroin use as well as anxiety and major depressive disorders compared with AAS-nondependent users.”

“AAS users were more likely to binge drink and report heavy alcohol use within the past 12 months than nonu-sers. AAS users were also more likely to meet the criteria for SDD and report a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.” (SDD = substance dependence disorder)

As you can see above, the survey on steroid use had some general themes.  Primarily that most men who used steroids were caucasian, fairly educated, cared about their body, and used steroids for personal goals rather than competitive athletics or competitive bodybuilding.  This is likely counterintuitive to what the general public believes.  Under the eyes of the general public, and influential corporate media, steroid users are juice up competitive bodybuilders and professional athletes.  Of course I have yet to see any media outlet even acknowledge this backwards thinking.

There were several other interesting findings from this survey on steroid users.  Perhaps I will outline those at a later date.  But more interesting than all of that was perhaps your participation in compiling some actual research on steroid users.  I’m certainly a little surprised that some men admitted their past recreational drug abuse, and sexual abuse history.  But the majority of steroid users had no such issues.  I guess my point here today is whether these surveys accurately portray steroid users.  What do you think?  I’m interested to hear others thoughts.  Feel free to comment below this post.

By Travis DeGraff


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