Anabolic-androgenic steroid dependence? Insights from animals and humans

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2008 Oct;29(4):490-506. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2007.12.002. Epub 2008 Jan 3.


Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) are drugs of abuse. They are taken in large quantities by athletes and others to increase performance, with negative health consequences. As a result, in 1991 testosterone and related AAS were declared controlled substances. However, the relative abuse and dependence liability of AAS have not been fully characterized. In humans, it is difficult to separate the direct psychoactive effects of AAS from reinforcement due to their systemic anabolic effects. However, using conditioned place preference and self-administration, studies in animals have demonstrated that AAS are reinforcing in a context where athletic performance is irrelevant. Furthermore, AAS share brain sites of action and neurotransmitter systems in common with other drugs of abuse. In particular, recent evidence links AAS with opioids. In humans, AAS abuse is associated with prescription opioid use. In animals, AAS overdose produces symptoms resembling opioid overdose, and AAS modify the activity of the endogenous opioid system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anabolic Agents / adverse effects
  • Anabolic Agents / metabolism
  • Anabolic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Androgens / adverse effects
  • Androgens / metabolism
  • Androgens / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Athletic Performance
  • Behavior / drug effects*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Doping in Sports
  • Humans
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Self Administration
  • Substance-Related Disorders*


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Androgens
  • Neurotransmitter Agents