Anabolic Steroids May Be Addictive, Study Finds

Hamsters Demonstrated Addictive Behavior in Experiment

Man Injecting Steroids
Are Steroids Addictive?. © Getty Images

Although people who use anabolic steroids to enhance their physical performance deny that they are addictive, a research study at the University of Southern California showed that animals exposed to steriods demonstrated addictive behavior toward them over time.

"Most people use anabolic steroids to enhance their physical performance, but they deny that steroids may be addictive," noted lead researcher Ruth Wood, PhD, Professor of Cell and Neurobiology at USC.

"Unlike other commonly abused drugs, the primary motivation for steroid users is not to get high, but rather to achieve enhanced athletic performance and increased muscle mass.

Trying to Determine Addictive Properties

"The complex motivation for steroid use makes it difficult to determine the addictive properties of anabolic steroids in humans. Our goal was to create an experimental model of addiction where athletic performance and other reinforcing effects are irrelevant."

Wood's study is among the first to examine the potential for anabolic steroid addiction, according to a news release from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology's annual conference. The research was modeled after well-established methods used to study highly addictive drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.

Self-Administered Commonly Abused Steroids

According to the researchers:

  • Hamsters were implanted with small cannulas for self-administration of commonly abused steroids into their brains. The animals then spent four hours per day in a chamber with access to two delivery mechanisms.
  • When the hamster operated the active mechanism, he received 1 microgram of testosterone, or one of several commonly abused steroids: nandrolone, drostanolone, stanozolol, or oxymetholone. The inactive mechanism produced no response.
  • A computer recorded the number of times each animal used the active and inactive delivery mechanisms. Overall, the animals showed a marked preference for testosterone, nandrolone or drostanolone, engaging the active delivery mechanism twice as often as the control.
  • However, not all steroids are rewarding: hamsters did not voluntarily inject the weak steroids stanozolol or oxymetholone.
  • By isolating the animals, researchers were able to remove the possibility that the hamster's decision to take the drugs would be affected by any social or behavioral factors.

Potential for Addiction

"Cleary the animals perceive the steroids to be rewarding," said Wood. "This preference demonstrates the drugs' potential for addiction. In other words," Wood explained, "steroid users feel better on the drugs than they do off of them."

"The findings demonstrate that anabolic steroids do have the potential to be addictive," Wood concluded. "Coaches and athletes need to be aware of this potential, and add it to the list of dangers associated with using anabolic steroids."

Source: The results of the study was released at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology's (ACNP) 2005 annual conference.

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