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15 December 2005
Anabolic Steroids Appear To Be Addictive
by George Atkinson

The annual conference of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology has been told that new experimental evidence indicates that androgenic-anabolic steroids may be addictive. The study, by researchers at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, found that hamsters exposed to steroids demonstrated addictive behavior.

Lead researcher Ruth Wood said that the addictive qualities of anabolic steroids were likely quite different from other drugs of addiction. "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. 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," she explained.

Consequently, Wood designed her experiment using already established methods used to study drugs such as cocaine and heroin. In the experiment, the hamsters were implanted with small drip tubes that allowed for the self-administration of steroids into their brains.

The animals then spent regular periods in a cage with two delivery mechanisms. When the hamster operated one of the mechanisms, he received a 1 microgram dose of testosterone, or one of several other steroids: nandrolone, drostanolone, stanozolol, or oxymetholone. The other (control) mechanism produced no steroids.

Wood said that the animals showed a marked preference for testosterone, nandrolone or drostanolone; engaging the steroid delivery mechanism twice as often as the inactive control mechanism. But not all the steroids attracted the same response. The hamsters did not voluntarily inject the weak steroids stanozolol or oxymetholone.

The animals clearly perceived the steroids to be rewarding, said Wood. "This preference demonstrates the drugs' potential for addiction." She also noted that the pattern of abuse suggests that a commonly held belief about steroids is true: rather than a brief high like that of cocaine or heroin, steroid abusers experience a long-term sense of well-being. "In other words," Wood explained, "steroid users feel better on the drugs than they do off of them."

"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 steroids." She also noted that psychiatrists should be aware of the finding, as men who use anabolic steroids to change their appearance may have a serious mental condition known as body dysmorphic disorder.

Based on material from the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine

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