Background: Although numerous studies have documented the psychiatric and physiological effects of anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) in males, virtually no studies have investigated the effects of illicit AAS use in women. Methods: We performed psychiatric and medical evaluations of 75 dedicated women athletes, recruited by advertisement primarily from gymnasiums in the Boston, Mass., area. Results: Twenty-five (33%) of the women reported current or past AAS use. Users were more muscular than nonusers and reported use of many other ‘ergogenic’ (performance-enhancing) drugs in addition to AAS. Some described a frank syndrome of ergogenic polysubstance dependence, often with significant morbidity. Fourteen (56%) of the users reported hypomanic symptoms during AAS use and 10 (40%) reported depressive symptoms during AAS withdrawal, but none met full DSM-IV criteria for a hypomanic or major depressive episode. Nineteen (76%) users reported at least one adverse medical effect associated with AAS use. Perhaps the most interesting findings were several unusual psychiatric syndromes reported by both the AAS users and nonusers. These included rigid dietary practices (which we have termed ‘eating disorder, bodybuilder type’), nontraditional gender roles and chronic dissatisfaction and preoccupation with their physiques (a syndrome which we have termed ‘muscle dysmorphia’). Conclusions: Dedicated women athletes exhibit not only AAS abuse, but use of many other ergogenic drugs, sometimes associated with significant morbidity. In addition, these athletes frequently display several psychiatric syndromes which have not previously been well described.
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