Drugs and Society – Anabolic Steroids and “‘Roid Rage”

You may have heard the term “roid rage”to describe a sudden eruption of intense anger or .violent behavior by someone taking anabolic steroids. Case reports have documented instances in which violent outbursts appear to be linked to heavy steroid use. One extreme case is described in Katz and Pope (1990). Mr. X, as he is referred to, was a 23-year-old male who had been bodybuilding for 5 years.

While in high school and prior to beginning his use of steroids, Mr. X drank alcohol socially and occasionally snorted cocaine with friends. He had no history of psychiatric illness, nor was he known to have ever committed a violent act. Indeed, his father was a minister, and Mr. X himself had been an active member of the church’s youth ministry. He was described by friends as a considerate, religious person.

At the age of 21, Mr. X began the first of two cycles of anabolic steroid use in order to improve his competitive standing as a bodybuilder. During this time, he started to experience severe mood swings, including noticeable increases in irritability and argumentativeness. Quoting Katz and Pope,

“On more than one occasion he tore chunks of aluminum out of cans with his teeth to intimidate bystanders. He also ripped telephones out of the wall on impulse. At this time, he met DSM-III-R criteria for a manic episode with decreased desire and need for sleep, explosive temper, extremely reckless behaviors with a high potential for dangerous and undesirable consequences, continued irritability, and grandiosity that reached delusional proportions. While out one weekend evening with some friends during the second course of anabolic steroids, the group stopped at a small market. While in the parking lot,

Mr. X, without known or observed provocation, suddenly wrapped his arms around the telephone booth, tore it from its base, and threw it across the lot.The group left immediately and soon thereafter saw a hitchhiker on the road. Mr. X told the driver to stop. After the hitchhiker, a stranger to all present, entered the vehicle, Mr. X instructed the driver to  drive to a remote spot in the  woods. Once there, without insti­gation, Mr. X beat the victim repeatedly, tied him between two poles, smashed a wooden board over his back, and kicked him.The hitchhiker was found dead the next morning, (p. 220).”

Mr. X was arrested, convicted, and incarcerated for his crime. Once off steroids, however, he reverted to his previous personality traits. In prison he was described as quiet, modest, and accommodating. Indeed, he was astonished at the acts he had committed that fateful evening.

While case reports such as this do not prove an association between anabolic steroids and violent behavior, they suggest that such an association may occasionally occur. Nevertheless, such extreme ‘roid rage is a rare event even among heavy users. Controlled studies of steroid administration indicate that some individuals appear to be particularly susceptible to steroid-induced aggressiveness (see text), and we might speculate that steroid users who engage in violent acts (such as Mr.X) are among the susceptible group.

Jean-Paul Marat

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