Anabolic androgenic steroid (AAS) dependence is associated with a high prevalence of intra- and interpersonal problems, hence it is central to identify cognitive factors related to the development and maintenance of dependence.
The study explores executive functions (EFs) in a sample of 174 male weightlifters, divided into three groups; 1) AAS dependents; n = 58, 2) AAS non-dependents; n = 38 and 3) AAS non-users; n = 78, using a targeted battery of neuropsychological (NP) tests, and self-report questionnaires assessing EFs in everyday life, ADHD symptoms and psychological distress.
Multivariate analysis of variance showed significant between-group differences on several EFs, including working memory [F (2, 169) = 13.79, p < .001, ηp² = 0.14], mental flexibility [F (2, 169) = 4.82, p = .009, ηp² = 0.05], problem-solving [F (2, 169) = 4.77 p = .010, ηp² = 0.05] and inhibition [F (2, 163) = 4.15, p = .017, ηp² = 0.05]. Additionally, significant between-group differences were seen for self-reported problems with EFs [F (2, 124) = 4.38 p = .015, ηp² = 0.07], ADHD symptoms [F (2, 124) = 7.02 p = .001, ηp² = 0.10], and psychological distress [F (2, 124) = 4.11 p = .019, ηp² = 0.06]. Post hoc tests showed that AAS dependents exhibited poorer EFs and reported more psychological distress compared to non-users.
AAS dependence is associated with executive dysfunction, which might be related to continued abuse despite adverse side-effects and social consequences. Increased awareness of executive dysfunction could have important implications for treatment and rehabilitation.
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