Steroid Use and Aggression

by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from, September 11, 2001

October 1, 2001 is Domestic Violence Awareness Day. This is a good opportunity to look at an issue of growing importance. In an effort to build muscle mass and strength, some people have turned to the illegal use of anabolic steroids. What does this have to do with the subject of habits? Well, I think this is an example of body building habits taken to extreme, sometimes to the point of bringing on danger to self, and possibly to others.

Anabolic steroids are a group of drugs that include testosterone, a male hormone, and synthetic derivatives of testosterone. Legally, they are only available with a prescription, and are sometimes used to treat body wasting in patients with AIDS or to treat conditions when the body produces abnormally low amounts of testosterone, such as delayed puberty and some types of impotence. Illegally, they have been used by athletes and body builders to increase the size of their muscles and enhance athletic performance.

The use of anabolic steroids can have many side effects. In addition to other medical adverse reactions, research is showing that psychiatric side effects can result from the use. Aggression and extreme mood swings can occur. Researchers have also found paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, impaired judgment, and feelings of being invincible. When the drugs are withdrawn, depression can result, and this can lead to more drug use. Users sometimes use other illegal drugs to relieve some of the side effects. One study showed that 9.3 percent of men being treated in a private treatment center for dependence on heroin or other opioids had abused anabolic steroids before trying any other illicit drug. 86 percent of that 9.3 percent had first used opioids to counteract the insomnia and irritability resulting from anabolic steroid use. (NIDA, National Institute of Drug Abuse, NIH, Infofax website)

In Anabolic Steroids and the Mind, Brian Corrigan divides the psychological changes that can occur as a result of anabolic steroid use into three groups, representing mild to severe changes that can occur on a continuum with larger doses or extended use.

1.         Mood changes, euphoria, increased confidence, energy and self-esteem, enhanced motivation and enthusiasm, diminished fatigue, sleeplessness, ability to train through pain. Libido can increase or decrease. There can be irritability, anger, agitation, and a “strange edgy feeling.

2.       Loss of inhibition and lack of judgement, mood swings, grandiose ideas. Users can become suspicious, quarrelsome, impulsive and more aggressive.

3.         Violence, hostility, antisocial behavior.

Among steroid users, there is even a name for the violent, antisocial behavior – “Roid Rage.” Domestic violence, child abuse, assaults, murder and suicide can result. No one knows how often these severe reactions occur because they aren’t always reported. Rage is probably more likely when anabolic steroids are taken in high doses for quite a while, but there are reports of rages in people taking low doses. In the United States, twenty cases of murder have been linked to the use of anabolic steroids. Pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity have never been upheld though.

“Roid Rage” doesn’t occur in everyone who tries using anabolic steroids, probably only a small percentage, but it is a real danger for those affected. For some, the desire to increase muscle mass is putting lives at danger. I find it interesting that studies have shown that a greater percentage of women actually prefer men with more normal looking muscles, rather than big muscled hunks. A good book exploring body image obsession in men is The Adonis Complex, The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession by Harrison G. Pope, Jr., M.D., Katharine A. Phillips, M.D., and Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D.


Further information:

National Institute of Drug Abuse – Steroid Abuse Website. This website has a large amount of information about steroid use and abuse. It also includes links to information outside the NIDA.

Anabolic Steroids & The Depression Connection by Mark J. Occhipinti, M.S., Ph.D. An interesting article about the depressive and aggressive effects of anabolic steroid use.

Steroids: Play Safe, Play Fair. Interesting article on the American Academy of Pediatrics website. I thought it was interesting that anabolic steroids, even in small doses, can stop growth too soon.

Anabolic steroids and the mind by Brian Corrigan. An interesting article from the The Medical Journal of Australia.

Be sure to check out The Habit Change Workbook:
How to Break Bad Habits and Form Good Ones