Animal models show that anabolic steroids flip the adolescent brain's switch for aggression

Anabolic steroids not only make teens more aggressive, but may keep them that way into young adulthood. The effect ultimately wears off but there may be other, lasting consequences for the developing brain. These findings, published in February's Behavioral Neuroscience, also showed that aggression rose and fell in synch with neurotransmitter levels in the brain's aggression control region. Behavioral Neuroscience is published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Neuroscientists are deeply concerned about rising adolescent abuse of anabolic-androgenic steroids (AASs), given the National Institute on Drug Abuse's estimate that nearly half a million eighth- and 10th-grade students abuse AASs each year. Not only do steroids set kids up for heavier use of steroids and other drugs later in life, but long-term users can suffer from mood swings, hallucinations and paranoia; liver damage; high blood pressure; as well as increased risk of heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. Withdrawal often brings depression, and recent research suggests that some AASs may even be habit-forming.

Overseen by Richard Melloni Jr., PhD, of Northeastern University in Boston, the current study of 76 adolescent hamsters compared how individual hamsters behaved when another hamster was put into their cages. Normally mild-mannered hamsters still defend their turf, learning aggression during puberty by play-fighting, much like humans. Their roughhousing normally includes wrestling and nibbling pretty tame stuff.

However, hamsters injected with commonly used steroids (suspended in oil) became extremely aggressive. Even after the drug was withdrawn, the newly vicious hamsters attacked, bit and chased the intruders. In fact, their aggressiveness measured ten times greater than that of control hamsters injected with oil only. Their full-blown aggression clearly drug-induced -- lasted for nearly two weeks of withdrawal, the equivalent of half

Contact: Pam Willenz
American Psychological Association

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