Androgenic anabolic steroid exposure during adolescence: ramifications for brain development and behavior

Horm Behav. 2013 Jul;64(2):350-6. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2012.12.009. Epub 2012 Dec 26.


This article is part of a Special Issue "Puberty and Adolescence". Puberty is a critical period for brain maturation that is highly dependent on gonadal sex hormones. Modifications in the gonadal steroid environment, via the use of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS), have been shown to affect brain development and behavior. Studies in both humans and animal models indicate that AAS exposure during adolescence alters normal brain remodeling, including structural changes and neurotransmitter function. The most commonly reported behavioral effect is an increase in aggression. Evidence has been presented to identify factors that influence the effect of AAS on the expression of aggression. The chemical composition of the AAS plays a major role in determining whether aggression is displayed, with testosterone being the most effective. The hormonal context, the environmental context, physical provocation and the perceived threat during the social encounter have all been found to influence the expression of aggression and sexual behavior. All of these factors point toward an altered behavioral state that includes an increased readiness to respond to a social encounter with heightened vigilance and enhanced motivation. This AAS-induced state may be defined as emboldenment. The evidence suggests that the use of AAS during this critical period of development may increase the risk for maladaptive behaviors along with neurological disorders.

Keywords: Adolescence; Aggression; HPG; Plasticity; Sex behavior; Testosterone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / drug effects*
  • Adolescent Development / drug effects*
  • Anabolic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Androgens / adverse effects*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Steroids / adverse effects


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Androgens
  • Steroids