Recent findings published in the journal Scientific reports shed new light on the risks associated with steroid use in male athletes. This time, researchers found that bodybuilders with a history of steroid use were more likely to exhibit psychopathic tendencies, risky behaviors related to sex and substance use, and anger issues.
Anabolic androgenic steroids are man-made variants of testosterone, the male sex hormone. Although often used for bodybuilding, steroids have been linked to various health risks, including addiction, medical problems, and psychological problems. Neuroimaging studies have even suggested that steroids may induce structural changes in the brain and affect cognitive function.
A research team led by Bryan S. Nelson wanted to investigate a less explored topic – the potential link between anabolic steroids and psychopathy. Psychopathy is a personality condition defined by a lack of empathy, low emotional sensitivity, and antisocial behavior. A growing number of studies have found associations between anabolic steroid use and psychopathy and even violent crime.
In a cross-sectional study of male bodybuilders, Nelson and colleagues explored whether steroid use was associated with psychopathic tendencies and other problematic behaviors like risk-taking, anger issues, emotional issues, and cognitive problems.
The researchers distributed an online survey of 492 male bodybuilders with an average age of 22. The men reported any previous use of appearance and performance enhancing drugs (APED) and reported their exercise habits and dietary habits. They also indicated whether they had experienced various psychological states (e.g. depression, mood swings, aggression) and whether they had engaged in certain risky behaviors (e.g. unprotected sex, use of over-the-counter stimulants, use of ‘alcohol). Finally, they performed assessments of psychopathy, impulsivity, anxiety, depression, and aggravation.
After analyzing the data, the study authors found that bodybuilders with a history of steroid use were more than twice as likely to exhibit psychopathic traits as those without a history of steroid use. They were also more than three times as likely to take risks with substance use, almost twice as likely to take sexual risks, almost twice as likely to report anger issues, and more than twice as likely to report physical problems.
Additionally, bodybuilders who hadn’t used anabolic steroids – but thought about it – were more likely to have psychopathic traits, substance use or sexual risk-taking, anger issues, stability issues emotional, depressive symptoms and impulsiveness compared to bodybuilders who had never considered using anabolic steroids.
Additionally, participants’ odds of exhibiting psychopathic traits increased with the number of steroids they used. For each additional type of APED used, bodybuilders had a 19% higher likelihood of psychopathy traits.
Overall, the results offer strong evidence that steroid use is linked to an increased risk of psychopathic tendencies. However, since the study was cross-sectional, the researchers say the direction of this association is unclear. Although steroids can contribute to psychopathy, it could also be that psychopathy contributes to steroid use. Since psychopathy is associated with risky behavior (including substance use), bodybuilders who decide to take steroids may have pre-existing psychopathic tendencies.
The authors speculate that psychopathic tendencies may be an underlying mechanism linking steroid use to anger issues, although future research is needed to explore this. With longitudinal studies, researchers could also begin to unravel the causality between steroid use and psychopathy.
The study, “The use of anabolic androgenic steroids is associated with psychopathy, risk taking, anger and physical problemswas written by Bryan S. Nelson, Tom Hildebrandt and Pascal Wallisch.