Bodybuilders with a history of steroid use are more likely to display psychopathic symptoms, risk-taking behavior, and anger problems

Recent findings published in the journal scientific report Shed new light on the risks associated with steroid use among male athletes. This time around, the researchers found that bodybuilders with a history of steroid use were more likely to display psychopathic tendencies, increased risk of sexual and substance abuse behaviors, and anger issues.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids are man-made variations of testosterone, the male sex hormone. Although often used for bodybuilding, steroids have been associated with a variety of health risks, including dependence, medical issues, and psychological problems. Neuroimaging studies have also suggested that steroids may induce structural changes in the brain and affect cognitive function.

A research team led by Brian S. Nelson wanted to investigate a lesser-explored topic – the possible link between anabolic steroids and psychotherapy. Psychopathy is a personality condition defined by a lack of empathy, low emotional sensitivity, and antisocial behavior. An increasing number of studies have found links between anabolic steroid use and psychopathy and even violent crime.

In a cross-sectional study among male bodybuilders, Nelson and colleagues explored whether steroid use was associated with psychopathic tendencies and other problematic behaviors such as risk-taking, anger issues, emotional problems, and cognitive problems.

Researchers distributed an Internet survey among 492 male bodybuilders with an average age of 22. The men reported any previous use of appearance and performance-enhancing drugs (APEDs), and reported their exercise habits and dietary habits. They also indicated whether they had experienced various psychological states (eg, depression, mood swings, aggression) and whether they had engaged in certain risk-taking behaviors (eg, unprotected sex, using over-the-counter stimulants) , drinking alcohol). Finally, they completed assessments of psychopathy, impulsivity, anxiety, depression, and arousal.

After analyzing the data, the study authors found that bodybuilders with a history of steroid use were more than twice as likely to exhibit psychotic symptoms than those with no history of steroid use. They were three times more likely to take a risk in substance abuse, nearly twice as likely to take a sexual risk, nearly twice as likely to report anger problems, and more than twice as likely to report physical problems.

Additionally, bodybuilders who did not use anabolic steroids – but did consider it – were less likely to have psychopathic symptoms, substance abuse or sexual risk-taking, anger issues, emotional stability issues, depressive symptoms, and depression, compared to bodybuilders who did not use anabolic steroids. Those who had never considered using anabolic steroids were more likely to exhibit symptoms and impulsivity.

Furthermore, the likelihood of participants exhibiting psychopathic symptoms increased with the number of steroids they used. For each additional type of APED used, bodybuilders were 19% more likely to have psychotic symptoms.

Overall, the findings provide strong evidence that steroid use is associated with an increased risk of psychopathic tendencies. However, since the study was cross-sectional, the researchers say the direction of this association is unclear. While steroids may contribute to psychopathy, it may also be that psychopathy contributes to steroid use. Since psychopathy is associated with risk-taking 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 may also begin to unravel the causality between steroid use and psychopathy.

the study, “Anabolic-androgenic steroid use linked to psychosis, risk-taking, anger and physical problems”, was written by Brian S. Nelson, Tom Hildebrandt and Pascal Wallis.

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