“Gear is the Next Weed”
: A Qualitative Exploration of the Beliefs, Attitudes and Behaviours of Performance and Image Enhancing Drug Using Subcultures in the South-West of England

  • Luke Turnock

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Performance-enhancing drugs until relatively recently have been seen to be the preserve of sport-focussed athletes, but in recent years there has been an apparent increase in use amongst the general population, with individuals now using PIEDs not only to increase athletic prowess, but for image-conscious reasons entirely divorced from such ‘competitive’ notions.
This research explores the different types of PIED user training in gym environments today, identifying differences in ‘ethnopharmacologies’ between these groups, allowing them to be categorised by their beliefs, attitudes, and patterns of use, based on qualitative data gathered ‘in the field’ from a total of 27 respondents, including 14 in-depth interviews. This exploration further evidences the extent to which a ‘normalisation’ of PIED use is occurring.
Results suggest PIED users can be split into three categories, ‘sport-oriented’, ‘image-oriented’ and ‘hedonic’, with sport-oriented users conducting the most research, and having the most rigid cultural ‘disciplines’, and ‘hedonic’ users the least. This is evidenced through exploration of participants’ ‘decision to begin using’, their processes of ‘learning to use’ and their ‘longer term use’ of PIEDs, all of which suggest that patterns of use exist on a spectrum, from informed and cautious use employed by the most serious sport-focussed PIED users, to high-risk, high time-preference use associated with ‘hedonic’ users.
This divergence in ethnopharmacologies and behaviours between groups evidences the need for such a categorisation of users in future research and policy, particularly for harm-minimisation purposes, as well as offering in-depth qualitative contributions to findings reported in recent longitudinal studies. Further, these elements of use evidence an increasing normalisation of PIEDs, which appears to have been largely achieved, excepting a perception of ‘stigmatisation’ still faced by users, principally stemming from media portrayals of ‘roid rage’. This limitation to cultural acceptance is therefore addressed, with evidence suggesting ‘roid rage’ is a ‘myth’, and further that this stigmatisation is likely to decline as knowledge is transferred from using populations to their non-using peers, indicating ‘normalisation’ is occurring.
Date of Award15 Oct 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorAdrian Barton (Supervisor), Caroline Andow (Supervisor) & Matt Clement (Supervisor)


  • ethnography
  • youth subculture
  • maculinity
  • drugs
  • normalisation
  • performance enhancing drug
  • steroid
  • PIED
  • IPED

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