Steroids May Cause Brain Damage?

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It is well understood that hormones can influence the brain. The most universally recognized are the effects of sex steroids such as testosterone and estrogen on mood. But the influence of these hormones can go much deeper, and have significant effects on brain structure and function. We focus much of our attention to this on the developing brain, though hormones are known to play important roles here throughout life. Is it a reach then to suggest that anabolic steroids, hormonal drugs, might damage the brains of long term abusers? A recent study suggests not. It points to potentially harmful effects on cognitive function.

The study was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. It used MRI imaging to look at the brain structures of 10 long-term male weightlifters and anabolic steroid users. These were compared with the scans of 10 age-matched controls that were also involved in weightlifting, but reported no history of anabolic steroid use. The scans included an evaluation of the amygdala for resting-state fMRI functional connectivity (rsFC), which measures the interactivity of brain regions when the subject is at rest. The men also underwent tests to evaluate visuospatial memory, or the spatial relationship between objects.

The researchers found significant differences between the groups. The anabolic steroid abusers had a larger right amygdala than the men that reported never taking the drugs. Furthermore, they noted significantly reduced functional connectivity with frontal, striatal, limbic, hippocampal, and visual cortical areas of the brain. There was also a statistically strong association with enlarged left amygdala, suggesting there may be an effect here as well. Chemistry analysis suggested anabolic steroid abusers had increased glutamate turnover in the brain, which might reflect changes in cerebral metabolism. Lastly, the anabolic steroid users had lower scores on the visuospatial memory tests.

The study authors suggest that long-term anabolic steroid abuse is associated with changes in brain structure that may impair cognitive function and have other negative psychiatric effects. This result is alarming, and should be of concern to long term anabolic steroid abusers, or those considering the practice. It is important to point out that this study was not setup to establish causation, but rather correlation. We cannot be clear that anabolic steroid use was actually responsible for these changes. Still, this study and the possibility that AAS abuse could have permanent effects on brain function is quite concerning, and definitely warrants further research. We’ll be sure to keep you posted as more information becomes available. Make sure you sign up to our newsletter and keep with us!


Findings from the study (Summary):

  • Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) cause psychiatric and cognitive abnormalities.
  • We conducted the first systematic brain imaging study of human long-term AAS users.
  • AAS users had larger right amygdalas and reduced right amygdala fMRI connectivity.
  • AAS users also had dorsal anterior cingulate cortex neurochemical abnormalities.
  • AAS use causes brain changes that may underlie psychiatric and cognitive changes.
By | 2017-04-07T01:10:38+00:00 May 26th, 2015|Categories: Topics: Steroids|2 Comments

About the Author:

William Llewellyn is a researcher in the field of human performance enhancement. He is also author of the bestselling ANABOLICS book series, most recently the ANABOLICS 10th Edition. William is an active supporter of the harm reduction community, and currently serves as honorary lecturer at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University.


  1. Heady Muscle August 21, 2015 at 12:46 am - Reply

    Do you know or can you find out who funded this study?

  2. Mia Meyers January 20, 2017 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    My husband used steroids about three years into our marriage. He looks great on the outside but on the inside he is a mess. He suffers from Antisocial Behavior Disorder as well as Sever Anxiety and Depression. He is also a Sex Addict which has completely ruined our marriage. We have 2 teenagers and they have seen him verbally and mentally abuse me and they have both endured his abuse. He is extremely controlling and irrational. He suffers from Fear of Losing his family because of his Lack of Self Control and Abuse. He has also developed alcoholism in the past 5 years. As If being an Overgrown Angry Ape wasnt bad enough not increase his Irrational Behavior with Alcohol. Like pouring gasoline on a fire.
    Girls if you are out there and if you are with a guy doing steroids, Get out and Run Fast. If you have kids get a restraining order because it will not get better before it gets worse. The only way to consider having any form of a relationship with them is if they completely stop using the steroids. And my husband has stopped but he still has the symptoms and a SEVER CHEMICAL IMBALANCE CAUSED BY STEROIDS.
    I know I said for BETTER OR WORSE but all Ive gotten is Worse and he did this all to himself and me and the kids have suffered. The Ego led him to fulfill his desire to look like Schwarzenagger but he lost himself in the process. Not to mention the loss of respect in the community and in the eyes of his children. Oh Yeah the Grunts in Gym still respect him and look up to him and the Town Whores all still chase after him. I guess it keeps his EGO BIG and that is what fuels his fire,
    I used to be mad at him for ruining our life but not anymore. I have accepted it and I have tried to move on but he seems to stop functioning when I left him and claims he becomes suicidal. I know the Depression is sever.
    I used to be upset when he would always work out and then lay out and no matter what those two things took precident over all else in his life or mine. Then I realized that the CHEMICAL IMBALANCE caused by Steroids was a Lack of SERATONIN. I probably mispelled that word. His body has a lack of that and can not receive it as good as normal people because of the Testostarin (SP?) The Testostarin blocks the receptors from receiving the Seratonin and his body does not produce it at a normal level since the steroids started.
    So I now have Empathy for his Disorder and I know that even though I don/t have an ideal life with him he literally Needs to Suntan and Workout and drinking Creatine and Eating healthy are a vital part of his survival to feel good everyday. I know we all need to exercise and eat healthy and suntan to get that healthy glow.. The difference is Moderation is the Key for most people to live a balanced lifestyle. This goes way beyond Moderation or Balance. I used to get mad because it seemed like a selfish unhealthy obsession to me, I thought he was so consumed with his looks he could care less about anybody else, what made us happy or how we felt.
    Now I realize that he struggles everyday to feel good on the inside and its all because of the SELF INDUCED STEROID ABUSE THAT CAUSED HIM TO HAVE A CHEMICAL IMBALANCE. My knowledge and empathy have helped me to endure the life sentence but it has definitely been an uphill battle I face daily. Very exhausting and sometimes I feel threatened, ashamed, embarrassed. Not only for him but that I have allowed myself and my children to endure this lifestyle for so long.
    Every relationship has struggles and conflicts but this is not a Moderate lifeslyle and certainly not ideal.
    If you know someone who is in a relationship with a steroid abuser, advise them to get out. If you love someone who is abusing or considering using steroids, Advise Strongly Against it.
    You may look great on the Outside but it will RUIN you on the Inside..

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