A growing number of middle-aged men - holding down professional careers - are turning to muscle-building anabolic steroids to make them look and feel more youthful.
There has been an unprecedented surge in the amount of steroids seized by the authorities, with figures in 2017 up an average of 300pc on the previous year.
While it is widely known a distorted body image can be a problem, particularly for younger women, there is now growing evidence that 'men of a certain age' are battling similar pressures.
They feel that not only must they shed any excess pounds but that they also have to appear fit and physically dynamic. In Ireland, as in other countries, this is being reflected in an alarming rise in obsessive weight training.
Men in their 40s and early 50s are a growing market for potentially lethal drugs, commonly used by bodybuilders.
Anabolic steroids are manufactured drugs that mimic the effects of the male hormone testosterone. However, long-term use can carry huge risks, such as a weakened heart.
Studies also show use of the drug appears to contribute to artery clogging. It has been linked to elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels - which are both danger signs for heart disease. Dr John Sheehan, a Cork city GP, said middle-aged men were much more "body conscious" than previous generations.
"Real steroids - and, increasingly, fake steroids -are available freely online," he said. "And because they're so easy to buy on the internet the temptation to use them is huge.
"I have treated a number of men who have used steroids and who then find it very difficult to come off them.
"Their partners find their mood swings difficult to deal with. Some users can turn very aggressive.
"In one case, the person involved had to move out of his home for a period of time due to the effect of the drug use."
He said he has treated men in their 40s suffering the effects of steroid use.
Dublin-based personal trainer and sports science specialist Dominic Munnelly said that men in their middle years who were self-medicating with steroids were playing 'Russian roulette' with their health. "It's something that's creeping in more and more and it's very dangerous," Mr Munnelly said. "You're down the rabbit hole of people doing things based on hearsay."
He added: "Maybe they're taking a steroid that has more side effects and is more powerful, simply because their buddy in the gym recommended it."There are also women now taking these drugs because of fat loss benefits."
Mr Munnelly also pointed out that steroids can bring about serious psychological problems, such as dependence, depression and body image disorders. He added: "Lifestyle isn't helping. People are not getting enough sleep, are constantly on the phone, and stressed out with work. Ten years ago, middle-aged men might have bought a €5,000 bicycle and that was their 'proof' that they still had it. "Now they've just swapped one hollow promise for another."
Other effects of steroids in men can include reduced sperm count, infertility, shrunken testicles, erectile dysfunction and breast development.
Users also risk baldness, prostate cancer, severe acne and stomach pain.
By Mark O'Regan
Source: Independent 31st. December 2017