Steroid users may be more likely to commit crimes involving weapons, fraud

November 06, 2006

The use of anabolic androgenic steroids may be associated with an antisocial lifestyle involving several types of crime, including weapons offenses and fraud, but did not appear to be associated with violent crimes or crimes against property, according to an article in the November issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Non-prescription steroid use has been linked to a number of psychiatric conditions and changes in behavior, according to background information in the article. "Case reports or survey studies of groups using anabolic androgenic steroids (e.g., bodybuilders) have described hypomania or manic episodes, depression or suicide, psychotic episodes and increased aggressiveness and hostility," the authors write. "This aggressiveness appears to occasionally trigger violent behavior, sometimes even including homicide."

Fia Klötz, M.D., Uppsala University, Sweden, and colleagues studied the associations between criminality and steroid use in 1,440 Swedish residents tested for the drugs between 1995 and 2001. Individuals were referred for such testing from inpatient and outpatient clinics, including substance abuse facilities, as well as police and customs stations. Of those screened, 241 (average age 20.5) tested positive and 1,199 (average age 20) tested negative and served as controls. Identifying information gathered at the drug-testing laboratory was used to collect criminal records of all the subjects. Offenses for which participants were convicted were divided into five categories: violent crime, including homicide, assault and robbery; weapons offenses; property crimes, including theft and receiving stolen goods; fraud; and sexual offenses.

Those who tested positive for steroid use were about twice as likely to have been convicted of a weapons offense and one and a half times as likely to have been convicted of fraud. There was no difference in the rate of violent crimes, sexual offenses or crimes against property between those who tested positive for steroids and those who tested negative.

When individuals referred to testing from substance abuse centers were excluded, the association between steroid use and weapons offenses remained significant. "One possible explanation for this finding might be that criminals involved in heavy types of crime, such as armed robbery or collection of crime-related debts, derive an advantage from being muscular and/or having a heavy build," the researchers write. "The well-documented increase in aggressiveness associated with anabolic androgenic steroid use might also be advantageous in carrying out premeditated crimes against people." Also in this analysis, the association between steroid use and fraud disappeared, and the risk for crimes against property became lower among those testing positive for steroids than among those testing negative.

Although steroids are primarily associated with violent outbursts of anger and impulsive behavior, these results suggest that they may also be linked to crimes involving preparation and advance planning, the authors conclude. However, additional research is required to assess the motives behind and effects of steroid use by criminals.
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(Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63:1274-1279. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note: This study was supported by the Swedish National Drug Policy Coordinator. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

For more information, contact JAMA/Archives Media Relations at 312/464-JAMA (5262) or e-mail mediarelations@jama-archives.org.

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