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Disorders Linked to Steroid Use

By Beverly E. Pozuelos, Contributing Writer

A new study has found that people with conduct disorder, body image disorder, or both are more prone to become dependent on anabolic steroids, according to Harrison G. Pope ’69, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study.

Conduct disorder is the juvenile version of antisocial disorder, and body image disorder is an unhealthy obsession with the size and appearance of one’s body.

These two factors were found by interviewing and examining the medical histories of 134 weight lifters, who were categorized into three groups—non-steroid users, steroid users with no dependence, and steroid users that had developed dependence.

Pope said more studies are needed to fully uncover the consequences of steroids.

“Steroids are a fairly new phenomenon in the drug abuse scene,” he said. “Science is only now beginning to answer many questions about the effects, especially the long-term effects.”

But contrary to previous beliefs, the study suggested that steroid users do not have an increased risk of prostrate cancer, but are more likely to suffer from cardiac disease and mood disorders.

Some of the effects may be reversible once steroid intake is stopped, but things like cardiac effects may not, since there is the possibility that steroid use hardens arteries and damages the muscle layer surrounding the heart.

The study, published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, also found that those who developed steroid dependence shared similar backgrounds, including a single-parent home, an immediate relative with an addiction, and no college degree.

People who become dependent on anabolic steroids are also more at risk of being dependent on another drug, in particular opiates, said Pope.

Studies with hamsters have revealed that when given an unlimited amount of testosterone, hamsters will dose themselves repeatedly until they die, as with opiate drugs.

Interestingly enough, when hamsters were given opiate blockers, they were not susceptible to dying from an excess of testosterone injections.

Although no conclusions can be drawn from this fact, the next most important step is to do further research, according to Pope.

Pope said he hopes that his study inspires others and raises awareness about anabolic steroids since so little is known about them.

“Doctors know a lot about alcohol problems and addiction to profitable street drugs, but they know little about anabolic steroids, they’re poorly understood,” he said. “This is an area where [the scientific community] needs to be educated as this problem comes over the horizon.”

For recent research, faculty profiles, and a look at the issues facing Harvard scientists, check out The Crimson's science page.

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