I know it is not popular to express skepticism at claims that anabolic steroids lead to suicide or suicidal behavior. But the media has once again embraced a of a teenager who blames steroids as the cause of his/her psychological state without question.
A former cheerleader and gymnastto injecting ever other day for a five week period when she was in high school. She claims the steroid caused her to experience “ ” and experience suicidal thoughts and behavior.
“I was definitely suicidal,” she said. “I just was so upset the smallest thing would set me off. And I’m just like, ‘I want to die.’ Like, maybe if something happens to me, I’ll get the attention I need. I was, like, looking for something and I certainly didn’t find it.”
Certainly, the use of the anabolic steroidwas one of many potential causes associated with this behavior including emotional contagion (Taylor Hooton committed suicide 11 miles away during the course of her five week steroid cycle) not to mention her admitted pre-existing binge eating (and possibly bulimic) behaviors.
To isolate steroids as the specific cause for her psychological reflects bias more than science. This is exemplified in the Taylor Hooton case, as described by Dr. , at the and Director of Interventions at the in his article on steroids and suicide:
Taylor Hooton reportedly “colored his hair and looked twice when he passed a mirror (Longman, 2003)” and “…was always concerned about his looks (Kix, 2004). In combination with a reported desire to be bigger suggests potential body dissatisfaction (e.g., Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000) which is associated with both AAS use (Cafri, Thompson, Ricciardelli, McCabe, Smolak, & Yesalis, 2005) and suicide (as a form of “socially-prescribed perfectionism”; Boergers et al., 1998). He had “low self-esteem” (Longman, 2003), a family history of depression (mother) and suicide attempt (sister) (Longman, 2004) and was taking anti-depressant mediation (Lexapro) (Ardis, 2005). [Interestingly, a Mail Tribune (8-10-2004) headline (Landers, 2004) seemed to echo the parents’ sentiments in these cases, reading “Drug leads to son’s suicide, family says” – but it was actually referring to Lexapro. See both Garland, 2004 and Valuck, Libby, Sills, Giese, & Allen, 2004 for a discussion of antidepressants and adolescent suicide]. His AAS use was allegedly motivated by wanting to excel at baseball (Numerous sources including father’s testimony), although some sources have suggested it had more to do with personal appearance and status.
If such a case history could truly prove causation, then the brief review above has identified several potential “causes”. But such a “psychological autopsy”, which is commonly used to investigate suicides, cannot show causation. It can suggest that many warning signs can be identified, any one (or combination) of which might be associated with suicide, but none of which can be definitively shown as a cause. In this case, to single out one might reflect other than scientific issues.
In spite of my skepticism that steroids cause suicide, I believe that teenage use of anabolic steroids is infinitely riskier than adult use of these drugs. Unlike adults, teenagers are undergoing radical and important developmental changes. The use of anabolic steroids could have persistent or permanent effects on the developing body and particularly the .
The side effects of steroids in adults, for the most part, tend to be transient and. There is limited published by the to suggest this isn’t the case with regard to brain development in teens. Even in the absence of more scientific information about the effects of steroids in teenagers, we should make our best efforts to reduce teenager steroid use in a rational, scientific approach to steroid education.