Depression and the mood swings related to anabolic steroids are topics that people don't discuss very often in the bodybuilding community or on the forums. Embarrassment and a lack of understanding of the factors involved in this phenomena are the main reasons for this. It is important to realize that depression is more common than people in the community think.
Moreover, there are many overblown myths that have been hammered into the minds of the general public outside the community. In this article, I will balance the facts, use actual experiences of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) users, and give advice on how to avoid the roller coaster of emotions and depression that some athletes feel.
What is depression?
Depression is a very complex issue, which doctors still do not fully understand. It is agreed that it can be a genetic trait that can occur even in those with no history of depression at all. Depression is a constant sense of hopelessness and despair. In fact, this sense is so strong, that those who are depressed may find it difficult to study, work, eat, enjoy friends/family, or hobbies in general. Strangely, depression can occur once in your life, or many times over the years.
It is one thing to get sad when your team loses a game, but feeling suicidal and locking yourself in the room to cry is another thing altogether. Remember, there is a difference between clinical depression and having a bad day. The main point is that with depression the person will wake up depressed, and be depressed most of the day for at least 2 weeks at a time.
If you have some of the following symptoms, and they last more than 2 weeks in a row, you are likely to have clinical depression:
- Lack energy almost all the time.
- Almost daily feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
- Major weight gain or loss.
- Frequent suicidal thoughts.
- Diminished interest in activities.
- Insomnia (lack of sleep) or hypersomnia (too much sleep).
According to the NIMH, major depression affects 7% of the adult US population, and 1 out of 4 adults will experience an episode of major depression during their life. Major depression is often undiagnosed and untreated among the elderly and teens/children, even though it occurs in these demographics quiet often.
Factors that increase the chance of depression
Past physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can translate into adulthood as depression.
Certain medications have side effects that cause depression.
Those that have conflicts with family or friends open themselves up for depression, especially if they are genetically vulnerable.
Losing a loved one or someone close to you.
It is considered more likely you will have depression if it runs in your family, although, as mentioned previously, it can still occur in those with zero history. Therefore, individual genetics determine the level of vulnerability to clinical depression.
Change is good, right? Well, with depression that cliche may not translate because getting a new job, moving, getting married or retiring can throw some people into depression, especially those with poor adaptation ability.
Being castoff among family or friends is a big issue. Scientific studies have proven that being ostracized (segregated) from a group can lead to physiological reactions, which can be found in cases of major depression. This means that such social pressure can lead to depression in the long run.
An athlete who is unable to workout can go into depression. Something similar can happen to individuals with major illnesses, such as cancer, that impair their ability to be active. As a matter of fact, there is a technique in psychological practice that is used to treat depression, which is related to this particular aspect of depression. It consists of getting the depressed patient to be active and practice hobbies that used to be pleasant, sports among them.
1 out of every 3 people who abuse substances have depression. If you know someone who does recreational drugs, smokes, or drink alcohol on a daily basis, there is a 30% chance they are in depression. That has to do with the psycho-biological origin of major depression because these substances affect one's system on a biological level.
Hormonal changes in men
A lot of depression symptoms in men are swept under the rug because they are considered "just men being men", or the men are too proud to seek help or even talk about it. Furthermore, men themselves will ignore depression symptoms, even when obvious symptoms arise, and push through the problem more than females will. As a result, the statistics get skewed, where people think only females get depressed, whilst men do as well.
Testosterone's role in depression
Scientists are not completely sure why low testosterone causes depression, but they do know there is a link between the two. When you come off an anabolic steroid cycle, your HPTA (Hypothalamic–pituitary gonadal axis) will not be functioning properly. The reason for this are your pituitary glands, which provide LH to your testes and leydig cells. The pituitary glands will recognize excess hormones and will go dormant during the cycle. This means your body will not be producing testosterone naturally until it can recover, this period is known as post cycle therapy (PCT) and bridge phase. This is the period of time between the moment when your exogenous hormones exit, and you start another steroid cycle. The goal during this phase is to recover your own body's ability to produce testosterone naturally. Many steroid abusers do not take enough time off between steroid cycles, and, as a consequence, their bodies are never able to completely recover. Repeated steroid abuse like will result in permanent HPTA failure, that will cause permanent low testosterone levels and long term depression. To offset this, it is important to run a proper post cycle therapy (PCT) and bridge.
Estrogen's role in depression
Low estrogen levels will cause depression, and high estrogen levels will contribute to spiking prolactin, which can also lead to depression. Men need estrogen to function correctly and there must be a balance. On a steroid cycle, you can expect a rise in estrogen if you run such aromatizing compounds as testosterone, dianabol, deca durabolin, etc. To balance this, you need to run an aromatase inhibitor, like aromasin or arimidex, but it must be run correctly, as running too much will cause estrogen to drop too low.
Diet and lifestyle choices
Diet and lifestyle choices can affect testosterone levels and depression. It is a nasty domino effect that will be triggered by lack of exercise, poor diet, unhealthy sleep, and life stresses. Unfortunately, this is difficult to reverse. People who are depressed tend to be addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and other vices, and the brief dopamine surges they get from using them are their only way out of that depression. To put it simply, an unhealthy and unbalanced body has little reason to produce testosterone as nature would not want you to produce offspring.
A lot of depression symptoms occur when men come off anabolic steroids. Irritability, anger, drug/alcohol abuse are just some of the examples of symptoms manifesting themselves. Repressing their feelings will result in violent behavior directed at themselves and, unfortunately, others. This is known in the bodybuilding community as "roid rage".
There is a lot of humor and joking about roid rage, but it really is no laughing matter. It can land a man in jail, ruin relationships, ruin their jobs, and cause personal physical/mental anguish.
Professional wrestler Chris Benoit committed a murder-suicide, and the media automatically blamed steroids for it. However, we know that he also suffered from clinical depression. Did the steroids make his situation worse? Maybe, but it seems like his situation was a disaster waiting to happen, where the steroids may have merely helped speed up the process. But did they really? It was later revealed that Chris Benoit was abusing pain killers and recreational drugs, so the case is not clear at all.
In theory, Roid rage impairs impulse control and provokes overreactions. If someone says something to you, there is more chance of you being aggressive, rather than to simply walking away. While this is an example of “men being men”, in reality it's just immaturity. Essentially, if you were a hothead before steroids, then steroids will make you a bigger hothead. If you have any signs of impulsive behavior, and/or depression, that has been characterized above, you are a prime candidate to suffer from major depression and roid rage when using anabolic steroids. Certain individuals, like Benoit, should not be using steroids in the first place – period. Furthermore, all of us probably know someone who shouldn't be using anabolic steroids, but we do nothing about it.
The Bodybuilder life
Many bodybuilders who are obsessed with the lifestyle tend to have physical insecurities, which manifest themselves in mental insecurities. Perhaps when younger they were picked on for being skinny or fat, or maybe they are short in height. It's possible that they have a small 'package' and use bodybuilding as a way to compensate.
Bodybuilding is a way out, and it is likely a big reason why these obsessed bodybuilders turn to anabolic steroids - to reach their goals faster and in an exaggerated manner. When steroids are stopped, or an injury takes place and interferes with their ability to make gains, the athlete can fall into depression.
Dopamine, prolactin and sex
Dopamine rules when it comes to our sexual desires and survival needs. It motivates us to do almost everything we do to get rewarded, and all mammals are bestowed this neurotransmitting chemical. Dopamine is behind the desire to have sex or eat a yummy NY style pizza. It also is the pleasure/reward center for gambling, shopping, smoking, and even computer games. You get a bigger blast of dopamine from eating that slice of pizza than you do eating a plate of raw broccoli; therefore, it isn't the pizza that you love, it is that dopamine rush you get when you bite into it.
Humans have evolved to make more babies with different partners to create more genetic variety among your offspring, and dopamine is the driving force. Hence, those with higher dopamine will get bored very fast of having sex with the same partner who bores them with the same sexual positions. In regards to sex, they will seek other partners, or desire other fetishes that they may find immoral when dopamine drops back down. Swinging is a perfect example, as the participants will get a rush during the event, but may have regrets after the dopamine has worn off.
I could write an entire book on prolactin, but basically it is a hormone protein, which enables female mammals to produce milk to breastfeed. In males, it will spike when dopamine drops because it has an inverse relationship. High prolactin levels in men will drive down libido and desire for sex.
When we have an orgasm, 2 things happen in relation to dopamine and prolactin. Dopamine drops as we get our release, and prolactin will spike for up to two weeks (refractory period). The lack of desire to have sex after orgasm in males is directly linked to this phenomenon. Interestingly, this occurs with any type of dopamine related desire. Have a pizza? Feel better, don't want pizza for a period of time. Down a shot of alcohol? Feel better, don't need a shot for X amount of time. Dopamine literally runs the life of people with major addictions and depression. Many people become a slave to whatever vice can make them feel guilty, ruin jobs/relationships, and put them into a deeper hole with regards to depression.
Dopamine link to steroids
When anabolic steroids are used, they will affect the dopamine neurotransmitter systems. Those with too much dopamine tend to have more anxiety, aggression, addictions, compulsions, sexual fetishes/addictions, and take bigger risks. On the flip side, depression may occur when the roller coaster of coming off steroids occurs and dopamine drops. This leads to seeking of addictions to get a relief from depression, antisocial behavior, low libido/ED (erectile dysfunction), and lack of motivation/ambition. This is why you may notice some guys who use anabolic steroids are in the gym almost everyday, but when they come off steroids they disappear. After cycle without a proper pct, they totally lose their drive. In fact, it is very likely they had low dopamine prior to steroid use, being, therefore, prone to depression as it is. As a result, the steroid abuse (not using pct) sent them on an emotional roller coaster, and without steroids they just cannot find the motivation anymore to get off the couch.
Steroids and Addictions
Trenbolone and androgenic steroids
It is important to note that trenbolone not only will increase dopamine, but it will also increase prolactin. This can negatively affect those prone to aggression and 'roid rage', and most certainly those who are unbalanced prior to steroid use should avoid using trenbolone. Otherwise, they may end up in jail or easily ruin a relationship.
In addition, it has been proven in studies that androgenic compounds can activate functions for both dopamine and serotonin release. Serotonin spikes can also influence mood and aggressiveness. So, if you have major aggression issues, androgenic compounds should be avoided.
Those prone to addictions will find anabolic steroid use detrimental. Using steroids and spiking dopamine can cause more anxiety and addiction. Furthermore, stopping steroids and having dopamine tank can cause depression linked addictions. Therefore, either way, an addict will become more addicted to their vice of choice.
We know that most gamblers lose money, so why do they do it? Because of the dopamine rush they get, it is as simple as that. Almost every gambler out there has a dopamine imbalance of either too much or too little. Until they balance that, they are headed to being broke eventually. Add steroids to the mix, and a gambler will become even more reckless in the casino.
FAQ about Depression
Who is most likely to get depression after steroid cycles?
Those that have existing addictions, and/or have existing depression issues, are almost certain to become more depressed when they come off anabolic steroids. Those that fail to run a post cycle therapy (PCT) and just stop steroids cold turkey without any planning, are much more likely to lose motivation and the power of will to workout. Unfortunately, there are too many athletes who do not bother to workout when they aren't on steroids because they fall into depression from a lack of dopamine and testosterone. The underlining cause of all this is the lack of knowledge to use a proper post cycle therapy to recov