Using anabolic steroids is linked to antisocial behaviour such as illegal weapon possession and fraud, according a Swedish study published on Monday that provided a fresh warning about the dangers of the muscle-building drugs.
But the researchers said they were somewhat surprised to find that steroid users were no more likely than nonusers to commit violent crimes such as murder and assault. Sexual offenses such as rape and property crimes also were not linked to steroid use, they found.
The researchers examined the relationship between steroids -- already associated with increased aggressiveness and impulsive violent outbursts sometimes dubbed "roid rage" and criminal behaviour. They looked at people using steroids without a doctor's prescription.
"Our findings indicate that the use of (anabolic steroids) is associated not only with impulsive antisocial behavior but also with an antisocial lifestyle involving various types of criminality," some requiring advance planning, the researchers led by Dr Fia Klotz of Uppsala University in Sweden wrote.
The study appears in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.
Among 241 Swedes who came up positive for steroid use out of a sample of 1,440 tested for the drugs from 1995 and 2001 at a laboratory in Huddinge, Sweden, the study found a strong connection to some criminal acts but not others.
The steroid users were roughly twice as likely to have been found guilty of a weapons crime and 1-1/2 times as likely to have been found guilty of fraud.
Anabolic steroids are drugs related to male sex hormones and can be taken through injections or orally. Many athletes, bodybuilders and others, both male and female, use steroids without a prescription to build muscle bulk and strength to look better.
SERIOUS SIDE EFFECTS
Steroids can lead to serious side effects, including liver cancer, kidney disease and bad acne.
For men, steroids can shrink testicles, lower sperm count, raise prostate cancer risk and cause infertility and baldness. For women, they can cause facial hair growth, male-pattern baldness, menstrual problems and a deeper voice. They can stunt the growth of adolescents.
Researchers also have seen among steroid abusers extreme mood swings, impulsiveness, depression, paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions and impaired judgment.
The people in the Swedish study, whose average age was 20, were referred to the laboratory for drug testing by police, customs agents, substance abuse clinics and psychiatric facilities. Only three of the 214 steroid users were women.
As for the statistical association between steroid use and convictions for weapons offenses, the researchers wrote that people committing armed robberies or collecting crime-related debts might feel the need to be more muscular or heavier.
When the researchers excluded steroid users who had been referred for testing by a substance abuse clinic, the statistical link between steroids and fraud disappeared. The researchers wrote that this suggested steroids combined with other drugs might make a person more prone to commit fraud.