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Frequency of using doping substances in Finland

August 23, 2019

The frequency of doping outside the field of world-class sports has been an issue in the public eye since the beginning of the 1990s. At that time, observations about the use of anabolic steroids among athletes raised concern especially among doctors interested in the topic and got them to voice assessments of the frequency of the phenomenon. In the absence of scientific data from Finland, they used international surveys and reports as references, especially those conducted in the United States. These assessments marked the beginning of the care discourse, which is often carried on in the public eye, and according to which doping outside the field of world-class sports is becoming a public health issue. [1]

Until the turn of the millennium, little scientific data about the frequency of doping was available in Finland. Surveys mainly mapped the frequency of use among special groups, such as prisoners, conscripts, and students. According to an unpublished survey, approximately 1.5 percent of the conscripts in 1993 reported that they had used anabolic steroids at one time or another [2]. Another study published in 1996 showed that doping was particularly prominent among the prisoner population [3]. According to yet another study, the results of which were published by the Finnish Student Health Service in 2004, a little less than one percent of the students had used doping substances at one time or another [4].

Finally, the “Health 2000” survey conducted in 2000 brought some of the first population level research results concerning the frequency of doping outside the field of world-class sports [5]. According to the results, approximately one percent of the population between the ages of 18 and 29 had used anabolic hormones at one time or another for other than medical purposes. Based on this survey and the ones earlier, a picture of the Finnish anabolic steroid user began to be rendered. The users were mostly men between the ages of 18 and 40. The proportion of female users was very minimal and still is.

In the 2000s, the frequency of doping was investigated mainly among students and conscripts [6, 7]. According to the results, the frequency of use seemed to have stabilized to the level of approximately one percent in both populations. The picture of doping outside the field of world-class sports was further amplified when a study conducted with data provided by the Adolescent Health and Lifestyle Survey showed that 0.3 percent of young people between the ages of 12 and 18 had tried anabolic steroids in the period 1991–2005. Doping is therefore very rare among young people.

At the end of the first decade of the new millennium, the frequency of doping outside the field of world-class sports arose to become an issue of political concern. In a column published in the newspaper “Turun Sanomat” in 2007, as well as in a bulletin by the Ministry of Education and Culture, Minister of Culture and Sport Stefan Wallin expressed his concern about the growing frequency of doping [9, 10]. At the initiative of the Ministry, a research project on the topic was launched in the Finnish Youth Research Network in 2009. The project mapped the frequency of use, but also the culture of doping substance use outside the field of world-class sports in greater depth.

The research project published its first results about the frequency of doping in “Nuorisobarometri”, a publication of the State Youth Council, in 2009 [11]. According to the results, less than 0.5 percent of Finns between the ages of 15 and 29 had tried a doping substance at one time or another. In 2010, the research project of the Finnish Youth Research Network conducted the first survey on the frequency of doping in the whole population. The survey was part of a drug survey conducted by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). The questionnaire named testosterone, anabolic steroids, the growth hormone, clenbuterol, and ephedrine as doping substances. Of the Finns who answered the survey, approximately one percent said they had used one or more of these substances at one time or another during their lives. The results showed that the frequency of use in Finland was at a very low level and that the political concern had no scientific basis.

After 2010, the questions about doping became a standard part of the THL drug survey. The survey was repeated in 2014 and 2018 [13, 14]. The Finnish Youth Research Network was in charge of the survey part related to doping. Like in the survey 2010, so in the surveys 2014 and 2018, approximately one percent of the respondents said they had used doping substances at one time or another during their lives. The results showed that the frequency of doping stayed on the same level throughout the 2010s.

The issue of the frequency of doping outside the field of world-class sports emerges in politics and the media from time to time. The topic is also addressed on the political forums of the European Union, among others. In these debates, claims are often made about the expansion and increasing frequency of use. At least for the time being in Finland, none of the reliable indicators point to any increasing frequency of use.

Mikko Salasuo
Doctor of Political Sciences (D.Pol.Sc), Docent, Senior Researcher
Finnish Youth Research Network


[1] Salasuo, M. & Piispa, M. (2012) Kuntodoping – näkökulmia dopingaineiden käyttöön huippu-urheilun ulkopuolella. Helsinki. Nuorisotutkimusverkosto, Tiede-julkaisusarja. (Saatavana avoimesti verkosta: is external))

[2] Seppälä, T. (2012) Anabolisten aineiden väärinkäyttö. is external) (Referenced 7 February 2012).

[3] Korte, T., Pykäläinen, J., Lillsunde, P., & Seppälä (1996) Huumausaineita ja rauhoittavia lääkkeitä käytetään runsaasti vankiloissa. Kansanterveys-lehti 10/1996, 9–10.

[4] Kunttu & Huttunen (2004) Yliopisto-opiskelijoiden terveystutkimus 2004. Helsinki: YTHS, tutkimuksia 40.

[5] Pirkola, S. & Seppälä, T. (2005) Huumausaineiden ja anabolisten hormonien käyttö. In Koskinen, Kestilä, Martelin & Aromaa (eds.) Nuorten aikuisten terveys. Terveys 2000 -tutkimuksen perustulokset 18–29-vuotiaiden terveydestä ja siihen liittyvistä tekijöistä. Helsinki: Kansanterveyslaitos, publications B7/2005, 65–70.

[6] Kunttu, K. & Huttunen, T. (2008) Korkeakouluopiskelijoiden terveystutkimus 2008. Helsinki: Ylioppilaiden terveydenhoitosäätiön tutkimuksia 45.

[7] Mattila, V., Rimpelä, A., Jormanainen, V., Sahi, T. & Pihlajamäki, H. (2010) Anabolic-androgenic steroid use among young Finnish males. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science 20:2, 330.

[8] Mattila, V., Parkkari, J., Laakso, L., Pihlajamäki, H. & Rimpelä, A. (2009) Use of dietary supplements and anabolic-androgenic steroids among Finnish adolescents in 1991–2005. European Journal of Public Health 20:3, 306–311.

[9] Wallin, S. (2007): Dopingista kansantauti? Turun Sanomat, column. 26.9.2007.

[10] Wallin, S. (2007) Dopingista kansantauti? Opetusministeriön tiedote 26.9.2007. Http:// is external). (Referenced 12 December 2009.)

[11] Myllyniemi, S. (2009) Aika vapaalla. Nuorten vapaa-aikatutkimus 2009. Nuorisotutkimusverkosto/Nuorisotutkimusseura, publications 92.

[12] Hakkarainen, Metso & Salasuo (2011) Hamppuikäpolvi, sekakäyttö ja doping. Vuoden 2010 huumekyselyn tuloksia. Yhteiskuntapolitiikka 76:4, 397–412.

[13] Hakkarainen, P., Karjalainen, K., Ojajärvi, A. & Salasuo, M. (2014) Huumausaineiden ja kuntodopingin käyttö ja niitä koskevat mielipiteet Suomessa vuonna 2014. Yhteiskuntapolitiikka, 80:4, 319-333.

[14] Hakkarainen, P. & Karjalainen, K. & Salasuo, M. (2019) Suomalaisten huumeiden käyttö ja huumeasenteet 2018. Helsinki: THL – Tilastoraportti 2/2019 is external) (Viitattu 20.8.2019).