If you have ever taken steroids, or considered taking them, then you have probably read up about the physical impacts of anabolic drugs.
But, you might have overlooked a huge part of the drug’s impact - the behavioral, mental, and emotional effects.
To see the impact that hormones can have on an individual’s behavior and moods, all you have to do is cast your mind back to the joys of puberty - your hormones were going haywire as you changed from a child to an adult and resulted in mood swings.
And behavioral changes that often you couldn’t even explain yourself.
This article will take you through all of the potential changes in behavior changes that a user of anabolic steroids might go through.
Read on to find out all you need to know before making an informed decision.
What Are Anabolic Steroids?
Anabolic steroids are synthetic (i.e., human-made, in a lab) variations of the male sex hormone, testosterone.
Their full scientific name is ‘anabolic-androgenic steroids’ - the lexical ‘anabolic’ component refers to building muscles (which is the main appealing effect of these drugs for many gyms goes), and the ‘androgenic’ component refers to the increase of male sex characteristics.
Medical professionals will prescribe anabolic steroids to their patients for hormonal issues, like delayed puberty.
They can also be used to help lessen symptoms of diseases that result in muscle loss, like cancer, or AIDS.
However, anabolic steroids may be more well known for misuse by athletes and bodybuilders.
This is because the muscle growth that they trigger can boost performance, or improve their physical appearance.
The majority of people who misuse steroids tend to be weightlifters, usually in their young adulthood (approx. 20-30s).
Though it does sometimes happen, anabolic steroid abuse is a lot less common in women.
How Do Anabolic Steroids Affect The Brain?
In contrast to other drugs, anabolic steroids don’t work to produce a high, and do not trigger a rapid increase of the neurochemical dopamine, which plays a big role in feelings of pleasure, and therefore reinforces most other types of drug-taking behavior (resulting in addiction).
That isn’t to say that anabolic steroid use doesn’t have an effect on the brain - it activates/regulates brain pathways that are involved in the development of male characteristics, and activates androgen receptors that then produce a rapid increase in calcium levels in brain cells.
This calcium plays important role in neuronal signaling.
Anabolic steroids also interact with certain types of GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) receptors, which are neural pathways that mediate anxiety responses, and could be the cause of increased anxiety reported by steroid users.
Studies using animals have shown that steroids have an impact on serotonin (which is the neurochemical involved with the generation of feelings of wellbeing and happiness), as well as dopamine levels in reward-related brain regions.
Chronic use of anabolic steroids can result in these pathways starting to dysfunction (in animal test subjects).
For example, rats that were given twice daily nandrolone injections showed a loss of sweet preference four weeks later (which is a sign of reward dysfunction).
They also had reduced dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline neurochemicals in the nucleus accumbens.
There is some scientific evidence (that comes in the form of case studies and small sample studies) that taking anabolic steroids can increase both irritability and aggression in users.
People that misuse anabolic steroids typically report increased feelings of anger, especially when compared with nonusers.
This manifests itself in the form of fights, verbal aggression, and violence directed towards their significant other, which is typically known as ‘roid rage’.
However, there have been some arguments made against this train of thought.
Rather than anabolic steroids increasing the irritability and aggression in users, the populations that are more predisposed to taking anabolic steroids may also have naturally overrepresented personality traits (such as antisocial, borderline, or histrionic personality disorders).
These traits or disorders can make them more irritable and aggressive, even without the anabolic steroids.
They may also be more predisposed to using other drugs, which can also increase their rage, anger, and irritability.
Any behavioral changes that result from anabolic steroid use have been theorized to be the result of secondary hormonal changes.
Testosterone, which is a hormone that increases with anabolic steroid use, is associated with increased levels of irritability and aggression, though the effects are highly variable across individuals.
This has led researchers to the conclusion that some, but not all, anabolic steroids increase aggressive behavior.
In addition to the flagship behavioral change of ‘roid rage’, there are also effects on anabolic steroid users' general wellbeing.
Users report more anxiety than non-users, and moderate/high anabolic steroid doses are associated with major mood disorders, like mania, hypomania, depression, and bipolar disorder.
However, like with aggression and anabolic steroid usage, the effects are not uniform across steroid users, with some individuals experiencing little psychological change, whereas others showed more prominent effects.
In addition to anger and mood disorders, regular anabolic steroid use can cause memory loss.
Studies have shown that gym users who take steroids show far more deficits in memory than gym users who do not take steroids.
Statistically, steroid users were 39% more forgetful in terms of prospective memory (which is the type of memory for things that you plan to do in the future, such as taking medicine in time or putting the bins out on bin day).
They were 28% more likely to forget past memories and facts that they previously knew, and had worse general cognitive performance, performing an average of 32% worse on cognitive tasks.
Previous studies also found deficits in visual and spatial memory, in people who have used steroids long term.
RELATED: Does Anabolic Steroids Work?
The many physical health risks associated with regular, repeated anabolic steroid use have been well documented. However, there is a group of mental, emotional, and behavioral effects that are lesser-known.
Anabolic steroid use, especially when it is long-term usage, can result in reduced cognitive function, increased memory loss, more feelings of anger and irritation, as well as increased potential for developing mood disorders and anxiety disorders.
However, many of the negative mental effects associated with steroid usage have been scientifically documented to affect individuals differently.
The impact they have on an individual's psyche is variable - it can have only a minimal effect, or it can dramatically change someone’s behavior, thought patterns, and emotions.