The Impact of Anabolic Steroids on the Brain

The misuse of anabolic steroids can completely alter the production and release of neurotransmitters in the brain. This has a great impact on mental health and brain functionality.
The Impact of Anabolic Steroids on the Brain
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 29 August, 2023

Anabolic steroids not only have an impact on the body of the user: their brain is also affected. Changes in mood, depression, anxiety, and even cognitive impairment are some of the consequences. Furthermore, as the individual’s physical anatomy gains in muscle volume, many neurological areas lose their connectivity and the person starts to age prematurely.

Not everyone who takes these synthetic versions of testosterone is aware of these long-term disturbances. Although these substances are used for treating children with genetic disorders, their administration outside the medical field for non-clinical reasons is dangerous. We’re going to explore further.

Individuals who consume steroids in excessive doses may experience symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and psychotic reactions.

Anabolic steroids

When you hear the term anabolic steroids, you probably immediately associate it with the world of sports and fitness. However, these synthetic substances have been used for a long time in treating conditions such as Turner syndrome and other conditions involving a delay in growth.

Some athletes and bodybuilders are particularly interested in these products.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone, the male sex hormone. Its main effect is anabolic. This means it increases muscle mass and physical performance. As indicated in a study published in the journal, Healthcare, it’s estimated that between one and three percent of the population of the United States uses anabolic steroids, and ignores their side effects.

In the short term, these drugs increase strength between five and 20 percent, as well as increase the volume of lean body mass. However, their long-term effects aren’t so positive. In fact, these man-made substances alter every tissue and organ in the body, including the brain.

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The most common health effects of anabolic steroids

The misuse of anabolic steroids causes various significant health problems. They’re as follows:

  • Acne.
  • Hypertension.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Hair loss.
  • Renal problems.
  • Stomach ache.
  • Fluid retention.
  • Breast growth.
  • Risk of prostate cancer.
  • Possible heart attacks.
  • Smaller-sized testicles.
  • The appearance of blood clots.
  • Low sperm count.

Dependence symptoms linked to anabolic steroids

Dependence on these drugs is more frequent than you might think. The problem is that those who consume them seek help for the physical effects, but not for the psychological kinds or their addiction to these substances.

The University of Oslo (Norway) conducted a study that claims individuals give up looking for treatment options in this area. The following symptoms are associated with dependence.

  • Fatigue.
  • Sweating.
  • Nervousness.
  • Greater aggressiveness.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Cognitive problems.
  • Lack of sexual desire.
  • Irritability and aggressiveness.
  • Changes in mood.
  • Need to increase the dosage due to tolerance.

The impact of anabolic steroids on the brain

Weightlifters, bodybuilders, boxers, sprinters. We can all remember the name of at least one athlete who cut their career short due to these substances. Indeed, although anabolic steroids are prohibited in the world of sports, many people still consume them.

In fact, it’s a backroom business in gyms and young people are increasingly turning to them in their desire to quickly achieve statuesque bodies.

They also mistakenly consider them to be non-toxic drugs and minimize the serious effects they cause over time.

If we were to take one of these guys and give him a brain MRI, after ten years of regular anabolic steroid use, the results would be scary. An analysis published in the scientific journal, Biological Psychiatry provides useful data in this regard.

Taking anabolic steroids for more than ten years has serious effects on an individual’s physical and neurological health.

Brain aging

Astrid Bjørnebekk, the lead author of the study and director of the Anabolic Androgenic Steroids Research Group at Oslo University Hospital, stresses that the impact of these substances is immense. The changes observed are as follows:

  • Memory problems.
  • Difficulty recognizing patterns.
  • Reduced ability to solve problems.
  • Faster-aging brains.
  • Lower speed of information processing.
  • A higher number of neuronal deaths and less neuronal connectivity.
  • Changes in the volume and density of various brain regions.
  • Alterations in the production and functionality of neurotransmitters.

Furthermore, those who use anabolic steroids for more than ten years exhibit a clear dependence on these substances.

Psychiatric problems

The consumption of anabolic steroids in pills, injectables, or creams, in a sustained manner over time, also impacts mental health. Brain deterioration always correlates with psychiatric problems.

An article published in the journal, Scientific Reports, states that the use of these synthetic substances is linked to risky behaviors and problems regulating anger.

Most striking is the display of psychopathic behaviors. Although this data still needs to be confirmed with more studies, it’s a remarkable finding. Most frequent in the long term in these individuals are mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Therapies for treating anabolic steroid addiction and improving brain health

Anabolic steroids change the brain and lead the individual to a state of great psychosocial exhaustion. This addiction puts their life at risk and affects their psychiatric state. Their levels of aggressiveness impact their environment and leave them trapped in mental states marked by suffering and helplessness.

One way of addressing these self-defeating dynamics is via cognitive behavioral therapy and group therapy. In addition, the support of other medical professionals such as nutritionists is recommended. This is because these men and women take many vitamin supplements, which completely alter their diet.

Other strategies for promoting brain health after using anabolic steroids

The brain is extremely plastic. While psychological therapy and cognitive training favor recovery in patients addicted to the consumption of anabolic steroids, there are also other strategies they can employ immediately. They’re as follows:

  • Lean on their environment.
  • Understand that they may experience ups and downs.
  • Find new incentives and interests.
  • Start cognitive stimulation programs.
  • Initiate individual and group psychological therapy.
  • Recognize that they have an addiction problem.
  • Start treatments recommended by nutritionists.
  • Put aside the stimuli that encourage the use of steroids.

Finally, the individual mustn’t give up and must work on a daily basis to improve their mental and physical health. Change is always possible.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.