Treatment of anabolic-androgenic steroid dependence: Emerging evidence and its implications

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2010 Jun 1;109(1-3):6-13. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2010.01.011. Epub 2010 Feb 25.


Currently, few users of anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) seek substance abuse treatment. But this picture may soon change substantially, because illicit AAS use did not become widespread until the 1980s, and consequently the older members of this AAS-using population - those who initiated AAS as youths in the 1980s - are only now reaching middle age. Members of this group, especially those who have developed AAS dependence, may therefore be entering the age of risk for cardiac and psychoneuroendocrine complications sufficient to motivate them for substance abuse treatment. We suggest that this treatment should address at least three etiologic mechanisms by which AAS dependence might develop. First, individuals with body image disorders such as "muscle dysmorphia" may become dependent on AAS for their anabolic effects; these body image disorders may respond to psychological therapies or pharmacological treatments. Second, AAS suppress the male hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis via their androgenic effects, potentially causing hypogonadism during AAS withdrawal. Men experiencing prolonged dysphoric effects or frank major depression from hypogonadism may desire to resume AAS, thus contributing to AAS dependence. AAS-induced hypogonadism may require treatment with human chorionic gonadotropin or clomiphene to reactivate neuroendocrine function, and may necessitate antidepressant treatments in cases of depression inadequately responsive to endocrine therapies alone. Third, human and animal evidence indicates that AAS also possess hedonic effects, which likely promote dependence via mechanisms shared with classical addictive drugs, especially opioids. Indeed, the opioid antagonist naltrexone blocks AAS dependence in animals. By inference, pharmacological and psychosocial treatments for human opioid dependence might also benefit AAS-dependent individuals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anabolic Agents*
  • Androgens*
  • Body Image
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Steroids*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Androgens
  • Steroids