With the rising use of Image and Performance Enhancing Drugs (IPEDs), research has increasingly pointed to a need for in-depth understanding of users’ consumption behaviours, in order to form effective harm reduction policy. With polydrug use prevalent in IPED-using cultures, both among ‘hardcore’ and non-competitive trainers, it is clear there is a need to understand this use, and its socio-cultural contexts, as well as how drug access and supply occurs within these cultures.
This paper offers an exploration of the motivations and contexts of hardcore powerlifters’ polydrug use, as well as their experiences of IPED and other illicit drug market intersections, through findings drawn from 18 qualitative interviews with participants involved in these lifting cultures and gyms in South-West England, supported by ethnographic fieldwork conducted in nine gyms in the region over a four year period, including five ‘hardcore’ powerlifting and bodybuilding gyms, as well as four commercial gym establishments.
Results first demonstrate how cultural narratives around what is drug ‘use’ versus ‘abuse’ influenced powerlifters’ consumption and perceptions of polydrugs, with a number of illicit drugs and other medicines used by these sportsmen, despite cultural opposition to other drug consumption considered to be harmful, and associated by powerlifters with ‘gym rats’, or YOLO type trainers. This leads into exploration of where powerlifters’ polydrug consumption behaviours present the greatest risk, particularly in relation to the acceptance of benzodiazepine use as a form of ‘steroid accessory drug’ for long periods, as well as the common sharing and use of opioid painkillers to allow continued training through injury, and discussion of where harm reduction policy might therefore be most appropriately targeted for this population.
Findings then turn to an exploration of how polydrug supply occurs within powerlifting culture and gyms, and the intersections between IPED markets and other illicit drug markets perceived to exist in the region. This documents the prevalence of social supply norms of polydrugs following patterns observed for IPEDs in the existing literature, before discussing the extent to which individuals with links to criminal organisations may be ‘pushing out’ culturally-embedded IPED suppliers in the region, and the impacts this is having on risk for IPED buyers. This is followed by further discussion of relevance to policy, and avenues for future research into polydrug use and supply from a harm reduction perspective, as well as the limitations of this study as specific to a remote region of the UK.
University of Lincoln, College of Social Science Research
Luke Turnock, University of Lincoln, School of Social and Political Sciences