Anabolic androgenic steroid dependence is associated with impaired emotion recognition

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Abstract

Rationale

Illicit use of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) has grown into a serious public health concern throughout the Western World. AAS use is associated with adverse medical, psychological, and social consequences. Around 30% of AAS users develop a dependence syndrome with sustained use despite adverse side effects. AAS dependence is associated with a high frequency of intra- and interpersonal problems, and it is central to identify factors related to the development and maintenance of dependence.

Methods

The present study investigated the ability to recognize emotion from biological motion. The emotional biological motion task was administered to male AAS dependent users (AAS dependents; n = 45), AAS non-dependent users (AAS non-dependents; n = 38) and a comparison-group of non-using weightlifters (non-users; n = 69).

Results

Multivariate analysis of variance showed a general impairment in emotion recognition in AAS dependents, compared to the non-using weightlifters, whereas no significant impairment was observed in AAS non-dependents. Furthermore, AAS dependents showed impaired recognition of fearful stimuli compared to both AAS non-dependents and non-using weightlifters. The between-group effect remained significant after controlling for Intelligence Quotient (IQ), past 6 months of non-AAS drug use, antisocial personality problems, anxiety, and depression.

Conclusion

AAS dependents show impaired emotion recognition from body movement, fear in particular, which could potentially contribute to higher frequency of interpersonal problems and antisocial behaviors in this population.

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Fig. 1

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Funding

This research was funded by grants 2013087 and 2016049 (Dr Bjørnebekk) from the South-Eastern Norway Regional Health Authority, and internal research grants from the Division on Mental Health and Addiction (Dr Bjørnebekk).

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Correspondence to Lisa E. Hauger.

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Hauger, L.E., Sagoe, D., Vaskinn, A. et al. Anabolic androgenic steroid dependence is associated with impaired emotion recognition. Psychopharmacology 236, 2667–2676 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-019-05239-7

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Keywords

  • Anabolic androgenic steroids
  • Testosterone
  • Dependence
  • Social cognition
  • Body language
  • Emotion processing
  • Emotion recognition