Steroid users might have a higher risk of going on to addictive drugs such as heroin, according to a report in a medical journal.
"Steroids may serve as "gateway' drugs to opioid dependence," said the letter in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers looked at 227 men admitted for dependence on heroin or similar drugs in 1999 at Sunrise House, an inpatient facility in Lafayette, N.J. They found 9.3 percent had a history of steroid use. In contrast, among 197 similar admissions in 1990, only .5 percent reported steroid use.
The men indicated they were introduced to the harder drugs through the bodybuilding community, the letter said. Eighty-one percent of the 1999 patients bought both drugs from the same supplier, it said.
The men said they used the drugs to deal with steroid-related problems such as irritability while on steroids or depression after they gave up steroids.
"It's almost become the same now _ the drug culture is the gym culture," said Drew Arvary, a substance-abuse counselor at Sunrise House and co-author of the article.
Steroids themselves are not physically addictive but when users go off the drugs, the shrinkage of muscle can be hard to handle, Arvary said.
"They don't feel pumped; they don't feel their muscles are full," Arvary said. "The only way they can go out to function is some kind of narcotic _ mainly heroin, in this case."