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Psychological Ramifications of Steroid Abuse


Last updated 9/1/2015 at 9:34am

A myriad of articles have been written discussing the adverse physiological effects experienced by those who abuse anabolic steroids. One of the earliest and most prominent cases attributed to these deleterious effects was that of Lyle Alzado. A professional football star who died at the age of 43 from an “extremely aggressive form of brain cancer.” Alzado believed that his cancer was caused by the massive doses of steroids he took while in college and professional football. While little proof existed at the time, researchers have since linked massive steroid ingestion with hormonal, cardiovascular and liver ailments (including some forms of cancer).

Although the physical damage caused by large doses of steroids has been thoroughly documented, ascertaining psychological issues has been less of a priority. In the past, researchers debated the addictive properties of the compounds, but more recent evidence has surfaced that addiction (both physical and psychological) does exist in some cases. Along with this, steroid rage, manic episodes, depression and anxiety have been catalogued.

Behavior is a complex system of hormones, memories, thoughts, neurotransmitters and physical reactions that determines personality. When an outside agent disrupts the proper function of this delicate system it can be catastrophic. Alcohol is addictive because it physically interacts with systems in the body creating a physical need for the substance. However, even if this physical need is not present, the positive psychological changes engendered may trigger a psychological need. With steroids, some validity has been established regarding physical addiction, but, primarily, Anabolic Androgenic Steroid (AAS) addiction is emotional. The properties of addiction (craving, withdrawal, etc.) can be seen at any time during the individual’s use, but are more common when the substance is discontinued.

When a heavy steroid user stops using, he or she is likely to suffer from some form of depression. It is unknown whether this is due to a lack of the drug itself or because the individual has associated their use with an enhanced body image. For many this is a temporary condition, but it can also lead to more aggressive symptoms depending on the type of AAS used, the dosage consumed, and the duration of use. Studies have confirmed depression in steroid users, but it seems to be a factor more closely associated with certain types of AAS.

Likely the most publicized side effect of steroid abuse is the so-called “‘roid rage”. This could also be described as a hypomanic effect. When in this state, an individual will be unreasonably agitated and could turn violent at the slightest provocation. The question then becomes, is this a real or imagined state.

A great deal of research has been conducted to determine if AAS have any rage-inducing effect. Many studies have reported that when an individual ingests a significant amount of steroids over a period of time they are more apt to be aggressive. In a double-blind study, a group was given doses of an anabolic steroid with dosages increasing to 600 mg/week. A control group was administered a placebo following the same dosage pattern. At the conclusion of the study, it was found that some participants did experience statistically significant changes in their rage/manic symptoms profile.

The conclusion that these and other studies have reached is that excessive use of steroids does effect an individual’s personality. It can cause mania, depression (usually upon withdrawal) and signs of addiction. Although it has to be noted that adverse psychological effects did not occur in every individual tested and some steroids seem to cause psychological symptoms more than others, the fact that prolonged use can cause these issues should be alarming.

Dr. Evan Miller is the CEO and Founder of Akua Mind & Body, Inc.  Dr. Miller is considered a leader in the field of addiction and men’s studies. He has an extensive background in addiction program development, evidence-based treatment initiatives, and athletic performance enhancement. Dr.Miller lectures nationally and internationally on addiction and has been featured in television and print media as an expert in the field.

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