The Truth About 'Roid Rage
When Rebecca Fletcher’s fiancé, 38-year-old James Watters, started taking anabolic steroids to boost his bodybuilding, she was alarmed to see her usually caring and attentive partner had become increasingly aggressive and even verbally abusive towards her. But she had no idea just how close to the edge he had come until November 7, 2010. During an argument, Watters grabbed Rebecca by the throat, threw her on the bed and threatened her with a knife. Over the next two days, Rebecca was held hostage in her own home, in Hamilton, Canada, as Watters swayed between anger and remorse. At one point, he brandished an empty syringe and sobbing, threatened to end his own life by steroid injection. It wasn’t until the following day that Rebecca was able to convince her partner to take her to a nearby hospital, where she contacted police. After his arrest, Watters pleaded guilty to two counts of assault on his fiancée, blaming the attack on his steroid use.
Unfortunately, assaults like these are increasingly hitting the headlines, with steroid use being blamed for bringing on rage in users. Last December, a Californian couple were left hospitalised after they were set upon by a bodybuilder as they arrived home. Ruben Arzu, 22, savagely beat 35-year-old Leo Rubio in his front yard, breaking his jaw, before turning on Rubio’s wife, 34. He picked her up and threw her around repeatedly, leaving her with a fractured skull. The attack eventually ended after four policemen wrestled 136kg Arzu – who was believed to be acting under the influence of steroids - to the ground with Taser guns.
‘Roid Rage Atrocities
Even more shocking, British gunman Raoul Moat, 37, who shot his ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart and killed her new partner, Chris Brown, 29, before shooting and blinding police officer David Rathband in July 2010, was believed to be addicted to steroids. Meanwhile, mass killer Anders Breivik was reportedly pumped full of steroids when he slaughtered 68 people in Norway, last year. However, Dr Warren Willey, an osteopathic physician and author of Better Than Steroids, believes blaming these kinds of atrocities on steroid use is more to do with clever legal play than any real medical proof. “Lawyers, in their attempts to cast blame and therefore exonerate their clients, are much quicker with the term ‘roid rage’ than doctors are,” says Dr Willey. “There are obviously some underlying issues far beyond the steroid use involved in these violent acts, as the reality is, anabolic steroid use is rampant, but thankfully these events are few.”
Anabolic steroid researcher and author of Anabolics, William Llewellyn, agrees that steroids can’t be solely to blame in these incidents. “Steroid abuse might increase aggression in some men, but it does not impair rational thought. There is no evidence it would cause an otherwise sane person to commit murder. The individual is responsible in these cases, not the hormones,” he insists.
But Llewellyn does concede that a steroid habit can have a dramatic affect on someone’s personality. “Size and strength are very important for the social hierarchy of men, especially in youth,” he says. “Sometimes people’spersonalities seem to change after anabolic steroids, simply because their physical size has changed so much. I've crudely called the phenomenon the ‘bigger idiot’ factor. Simply put, some people are much more prone to act out with aggression and violence when they have the muscle to back it up. These same people might be much more timid were they in fear of physical retribution.”
Katie*, 35, from England, knows only too well the devastating impact steroids can have on a man’s personality. She witnessed her ex-boyfriend Colin* transform from placid to fiery in a matter of months after he was introduced to steroids by a friend at the gym.
“Months after Colin started working out at the gym, I noticed his temper starting to flare up more easily. At first, I put it down to stress at work, until one day when he was on his computer and getting really frustrated just because the internet was going slowly. Within seconds, he got so furious that he picked up his PC and threw it on the ground, breaking it. It was only then that he admitted he’d been taking steroids.”
After Katie tried unsuccessfully to get Colin to quit taking the drug, his outbursts became more and more frequent – and increasingly violent. “His temper was so wild that I began to dread coming home. He’d call me names or yell at me if the tiniest thing went wrong,” recalls Katie. “He was never physically abusive, but I knew it was only a matter of time. One day, he punched the wall so violently that his fist went right through it.”
Llewellyn explains that this type of personality change can result from a surge in testosterone caused by steroid abuse. “All anabolic steroids are based on testosterone, a hormone linked to male aggression. Abuse of these drugs does make some people more argumentative and prone to conflict.” He adds: “For a small percentage of abusers (approximately 1 in 20), we see more severe psychological changes. This person may be more likely to exhibit violence, or what some people have dubbed ‘roid rage’.”
So what are the early signs that your partner may be using steroids?
“Warning signs to look for are if someone is uncharacteristically aggressive or argumentative,” warns Llewellyn. “If someone is normally calm and pleasant, and suddenly starts punching walls, breaking windows, and getting into violent altercations, steroid abuse may be a factor.”
Unfortunately, once someone has become hooked on steroids, it can be extremely difficult for them to break the habit. “Steroids are addictive in that their symptoms include craving, binging, withdrawal and cross-sensitisation,” says Dr Willey. “Studies show that testosterone acts through the mesolimbic-dopamine system, similar to other drugs of abuse.”
Katie discovered the addictive power of the drug when she gave Colin an ultimatum. “I couldn’t go on walking on eggshells not knowing when he was going to erupt next,” she says. “I gave him a choice: steroids or me. Sadly, he said, he wasn’t prepared to go back to being what he called his old weedy self. So I left him.”
Llewellyn says the psychological impact of quitting steroids can be too much for some men to face. “When you stop taking steroids, there is usually a rapid loss of muscle size and strength,” he explains. “This is especially pronounced if you are a highly developed bodybuilder. It can be very tempting to keep using these drugs, so the physical benefits are maintained.” So how can you limit the kind of outbursts experienced by Colin? “Increased aggression can be dose dependent, so taking lower amounts may reduce the psychological impact,” says Llewellyn. “It is a small percentage of abusers that notices extreme emotions or anger that they have difficulties controlling. For these individuals, steroids should never be used outside of a clinical setting.” But Dr Willey insists there’s only one real solution. “How do you avoid falling off a cliff? Stay away from cliffs! Avoiding anabolic steroids completely is the only answer.”