Psychological Implications of Steroid Use

Psychological Implications of Steroid Use

Photo: 3 pro Jiu-Jitsu fighters suspended for steroids: 1. In 2012, RousimarPalhares tested positive for elevated testosterone levels in his post-fight drug test in the UFC. 2. Robert Drsydale failed 2 drug test in the UFC for an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio of 12:1. 3. After winning the IBJJF world Jiu-Jitsu championships, Felipe Pena faced a 1 year ban from USADA sanctioned competition for a positive result for testosterone.


Yesterday a new picture of Polaris Pro 3 fighter Rousimar Palhares surfaced on the internet. Attention of many was instantly drawn to his inhuman proportions. Given his suspension for unsanctioned testosterone use in 2012 it’s more than likely these are a result of systematic use of performance enhancing drugs.


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What are some likely psychological implications of injecting enough chemicals to look like that?

One usually hears about the detrimental physiological effects but here are some of psychological changes you could expect of an individual taking PEDs: aggressiveness, euphoria, diminished fatigue, changed libido and mood swings (Kibble and Ross, 1987).  Diminished fatigue is the most common because it’s present even in studies done with very low doses.

Expecting that one’s spectacular muscle growth spurt will go unaccompanied psychologically is unrealistic. If especially unlucky, you might also find that person incredibly irritable, with paranoid ideas and experiencing heavy bouts of depression (Pope and Katz, 1988). There is some evidence testosterone even plays a role in schizophrenia explaining why men are generally about 40% more susceptible to it than women.

One long term study even went so far as to confirm a significant increase in hostility for steroid users at all time (not just during the 3 cycles observed). Psychological interviews done with steroid users also highlight newfound sense of grandiosity, feelings of power, paranoia and violent aggression. Anybody who watches Palhares’ matches won’t be surprised with much of this. His unsportsmanlike conduct is well documented over the years.




Use of PEDs also has significant connections to anger, violence, drug abuse and dependence. But surprisingly, some of these manifestations are much more prominent in women (Gruber & Pope, 2000). And abuse of PEDs isn’t limited to the professional sports circuit – as many as one million highschoolers in USA have taken nonmedical steroids for at least a cycle* (Weaver, 2005).

*Cycle usually lasts between 8-12 weeks 

AS users are 6 times as likely to have driven after binge drinking and almost 80% are likely to admit using one or more illicit drugs in the past year.  So what happens in competition?

Anabolic steroids also impact how an individual interprets social situations and what he attributes to the other participant of interaction as well as a response pattern. Biologically speaking, testosterone has behavioral activating, aggression inducing and reward sensitizing properties with correspondent reductions in fear and social avoidance (Putman and van Honk, 2006). So, when we jack up testosterone we end up reducing sensitivity for social punishment as well as accenting reward approach over punishment withdrawal.

This is how a fighter gets tempted to gouge the eyes of an opponent. Not a crime of an opportunity but one where reward is all that matters and there’s no accompanying dreading of social punishment because at the end of the line, he doesn’t feel it.  Not to mention his opponent is somewhat dehumanized in his eyes…

It’s hard not to see how this could be an exciting approach to a fight, after all Brazilian jiu-jitsu needs for fights to end in submissions, it needs the bloodthirsty to end the rain of buttscooters! It needs to attract the objectifying gaze of an unfamiliar spectator… or does it?

Well, not really. But it’s certainly a view held by many in the community.  This is where I have a personal issue. A game equally reliant upon intellect and athletic abilities shouldn’t be about callousness but about the risk-rewards system. This is why Eddie Bravo invitationals are working thus far – if the reward is grandiose enough even the unmedicated might be tempted to put their wellbeing on that one move that could win them the game.

Come April 2nd, I stand with Gary Tonon because he’s man enough to put it all out there.

And still care.

Written by Iva Djokovic.


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