WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Young men who use anabolic steroids are twice as likely to engage in violence than those who do not use the muscle-building drugs, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.
While many scientists believe anabolic steroids — synthetic drugs related to male sex hormones — are linked to aggressive behavior, research has been limited. Some users refer to so-called “roid rage” fueled by the drugs.
“We’re finding that steroid users are more likely to become violent, even above and beyond their prior levels of violence,” said Kevin Beaver of Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, whose study appears in the American Journal of Public Health.
“That would tend to suggest that there is something about steroid use that increases violence,” Beaver said in a telephone interview.
Beaver’s team looked at data on a nationally representative sample of 6,823 young men who were tracked from 1994, when they were in middle school or high school, through to 2002.
The men who used anabolic steroids either in the past year or at any time in their lives were about twice as likely to have committed at least one violent act in the past year than men who never used them — even when statistically accounting for other drug use or prior violent tendencies, Beaver said.
The violence included fights, shootings, stabbings or injuring another person badly enough to need medical attention. The men reported their own drug use and violence.
The issue of violence and steroids got heavy attention in June 2007 after Canadian-born professional wrestling star Chris Benoit killed his wife and 7-year-old son and then committed suicide outside Atlanta.
An autopsy showed Benoit had large amounts of anabolic steroids and other drugs in his system.
“So if you know someone who is taking steroids, does that mean they’re going to become violent? No,” Beaver said. “Does it mean that they have a greater likelihood than if they had abstained from using steroids? Yes.”
The study’s design did not allow researchers to conclude definitively than steroids were the cause of the increased violent behavior, he said.
The study also did not look at women who use steroids.
Some athletes and bodybuilders use the drugs to build muscle and improve athletic performance and physical appearance. In the United States, anabolic steroids are legally available only by prescription from a doctor.
Steroids have been linked to numerous medical issues such as heart problems, liver disease and acne.
In men, they also have been linked to breast growth and shrinking of the testicles. In women, they have been linked to deepening of the voice, enlargement of the clitoris and body hair growth.
Beaver said he was interested to see what evidence there was for violence associated with steroid use, noting that some previous studies had not found the drugs to be linked to aggression or violence.
In the case of Benoit, other experts have pointed out that he also had extensive brain injuries suffered in wrestling matches that might have contributed to his actions.
Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and John O'Callaghan