Anabolic Steroids: Is Roid Rage Real?

The war on drugs has lead to a lot of casualties and to a heavy enforcement of the “tough on crime” approach. It’s also lead to skyrocketing prison populations, despite proof that there are huge benefits to legalizing drugs rather than increasing the levels of punishment dished out for drugs. However, while everyone knows that drugs like marijuana (and its non-drug cousin hemp), cocaine, crystal meth and a slew of other drugs are on the list most people might not know that anabolic steroids have become a prisoner of war under the banner of saving the children of the United States from drugs and the danger they possess.

Let’s set aside the hypocrisy of leaving threats like alcohol and any sort of tobacco that you smoke legal for a moment and examine anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids, while the name is scientific and scary, are just artificial hormones. Birth control pills work off of hormones, for instance, which makes them a steroid.

Now, if you paid attention in sex education you’d know that men and women produce sex hormones testosterone and estrogen respectively. Most steroids that we’re concerned about, the ones used to boost performance and muscle building, are simple artificial versions of testosterone. You see, testosterone helps your body develop and it is responsible for the addition of muscle mass. So by pouring more testosterone into your system, you’re flooding it with hormones that helped you grow your muscles as you matured, and it helps you add more muscle even if you’re already an adult (though you’ve still got to work out hard and maintain your physique).

Now, steroids are used in a variety of settings to treat diseases and medical concerns, which is a situation where they’re perfectly legal (though they’re far from hard to get even without a prescription). And as with any drug there are a slew of possible negative side effects of steroid use. Acne is a potential side effect, as is gynecomastia (a nice way of saying that a man grows enlarged breasts), shrinking of the testes, and the additional growth of hair over the body.

Another potential side effect that’s been blown way out of proportion in the media is a phenomenon known as “roid rage.” According to the media viewpoint, an individual can (though it’s strongly suggested that every user of anabolic steroids will) lose control of their tempers and fly into a berserker fury; posing a danger to anyone and anything nearby. However, there’s science to get in the way of this true to life Incredible Hulk story.

It’s true that people who use anabolic steroids will feel increased aggression; that’s part of what testosterone does whether it’s natural or artificial. However, increased aggression and even agitation isn’t the same as suddenly losing all sense of self control. Increased aggression and agitation may also be caused by downing an energy drink too quickly and slamming too much caffeine through your system. Scientific studies have agreed that increased agitation and mood swings, along with aggression, often accompany the use of steroids; but they state that the cases of individuals losing control and becoming violent only happens in a markedly small percent of all test populations. Just as how a portion of the population not on steroids will occasionally take out their anger on anyone or anything near them.

There is a theory that explains why so often violent behavior is linked to steroid use. Put simply, if a person isn’t very big, but they happen to be a huge jerk, then they will keep those violent or aggressive thoughts to themselves. However, if you take that same aggressive jerk and you add 100 pounds of muscle and a lot of time in the gym, compounded by feelings of being tough and strong, he’s more likely to assault other people and act out. Immature jerks don’t stop being immature jerks because they’ve taken steroids, which explains that so much of the research shows that steroids are a purely physical drug, having no effects on the user’s brain or psychology in any way. Which means that roid rage, like uncontrollable passion, heat of the moment and even the controversial “black rage,” are nothing more than people trying to get a pass for their actions.

Sources:

“Is Roid Rage Real?” by Cecil at The Straight Dope
“Roid Rage, Myth or Real Danger?” by Anonymous at Steroids Live
“Roid Rage,” by Anonymous at Steroids