Does ‘Roid Rage’ Exist?

Roid Rage

You’ve probably heard of roid rage, either anecdotally “Yeah that guy got serious roid rage and smashed up his last gym when he couldn’t use the leg press” or on TV.

When WWE wrestler Chris Benoit tragically killed his family and himself steroids were found in his body and the media speculated that he had suffered from roid rage.

But does roid rage actually exist? Is there scientific evidence that taking steroids leads to increased aggression that can result in violent attacks?

This article will look into whether roid rage exists or not.

What are Steroids?

Anabolic steroids are a synthetic testosterone derivative that are used to increase strength and hypertrophy in muscles.

They are legally used to treat hormonal issues or diseases that can reduce muscle, for example AIDS. They are illegally used by gym goers looking to rapidly increase their muscle size.

Anabolic steroids are often used by bodybuilders, fitness models, and regular gym goers for both performance and body composition changes.

The most commonly used Anabolic Steroid is Testosterone, its popularity is due to the impact of Testosterone on muscle and fat.

Taking Testosterone will lead to increased muscle mass, particularly when combined with a high volume training program [1]. It will also lower body fat significantly. It will increase strength [2] and muscle fibre size [3] it does this by having a positive effect on muscle protein synthesis [4].

Some studies have seen strength gains of around 5-20% and increases of lean body mass totalling up to 2-5kg [5].

What is Roid Rage?

Anecdotally, roid rage has been described as unprovoked aggression rather than an overly aggressive response to situations.

So for example, the steroid abuser would get absolutely furious for no reason. This is not the same as getting angrier than you should, this is getting angry for no reason at all. It is important to make this distinction, and you will see why later.

The common belief is that having high levels of Testosterone can increase aggression, this is why men are more typically aggressive than women. But is this actually the case?

A 1996 study by Schaal et al (1996) found that high school males with high testosterone levels were more socially dominant but actually showed low physical aggression [6].

This seems to disprove the belief that high testosterone levels cause aggression.

And studies that have actually looked into steroid use (like the one by Bhasin et al in 1996) have actually found no evidence of changes in mood [7]. A common argument for Roid Rage says that studies that don’t find an effect on mood or behaviour are not using the high levels that bodybuilders typically use.

What’s interesting about the study by Bhasin et al is that they used very high doses of Testosterone and still did not see an influence on mood or behaviour.

There have been studies that have shown increased aggression in rats who are given high levels of Testosterone, for example a study by Breuer et al (2001) found that testosterone increased the likelihood that the rats would “respond with aggression/dominance in a provoking situation” but that “chronic exposure to [testosterone] does not eliminate the ability to discriminate between social or environmental cues, as might be expected if it induces a ‘roid rage’” [8].

What this means is that high testosterone abuse could lead to someone reacting to provocation in a more aggressive or dominant way, but the person would have to be provoked like anybody else. Roid Rage is typically characterised by unprovoked anger.

So does Roid Rage exist?

After reviewing the evidence it is impossible to say, roid rage in the typical sense seems to be a myth.

Guys who are sitting alone in a room becoming ridiculously aggressive for no reason may exist, but there is no proof that the steroids are responsible.

Even if they are it doesn’t mean that every man or woman who takes steroids will react like this.

But very high levels of testosterone might make users react to situations in a more aggressive way than they would have without the steroids.

Did Chris Benoit kill his family due to roid rage? It seems unlikely that it was solely the steroids, maybe they were the straw that broke the camel’s back. But it is more likely that the tragic events were caused by possible mental health issues.

At the end of the day, there are enough reasons not to take steroids as it is. They can lead to heart failure. If you are already an angry guy, dosing yourself up on Testosterone might not be a good idea.

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[1] Nordstrom, A., Hogstrom, G., Eriksson, A., Bonnerud, P., Tegner, Y., Malm, C. 2012. Higher Muscle Mass but Lower Gynoid Fat Mass in Athletes Using Anabolic Androgenic Steroids. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 26(1): 246-250
[2] Yu, J., Bonnerud, P., Eriksson, A. Stal, P., Tegner, Y., Malm, C. 2014. Effects of Long Term Supplementation of Anabolic Androgen Steroids on Human Skeletal Muscle. PLoS One 10;9(9): e105330
[3] Handelsman, D. 2006. Testosterone: use, misuse and abuse. The Medical Journal of Australia 185(8): 436-439
[4] Griggs, R., Kingston, W., Jozefowicz, R., Herr, B., Forbes, G., Halliday, D. 1989. Effect of Testosterone on muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis. Journal of Applied Physiology 66(1): 498-503
[5] Hartgens, F., Kuipers, H. 2004. Effects of androgenic-anabolic steroids in athletes. Sports Medicine 34(8): 513-54
[6] Schaal, B., Tremblay, R., Soussignan, R., Susman, E. 1996. Male Testosterone Linked to High Social Dominance but Low Physical Aggression in Early Adolescence. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 35(10): 1322-1330
[7] Bhasin, S., Storer, T., Berman, N., Callegari, C., Clevenger, B., Phillips, J., Bunnell, T., Tricker, R., Shirazi, A., Casaburi, R. 1996. The Effects of Supraphysiologic Doses of Testosterone on Muscle Size and Strength in Normal Men. The New England Journal of Medicine 335: 1-7

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