Exercise reinforcement, stress, and β-endorphins: an initial examination of exercise in anabolic-androgenic steroid dependence

Exercise reinforcement, stress, and β-endorphins: an initial examination of exercise in anabolic-androgenic steroid dependence / Tom Hildebrandt, Sydney Shope, Eleanna Varangis, Diane Klein, Donald W. Pfaff, Rachel Yehuda. - (Drug and Alcohol Dependence 139 (2014) 1 June; p. 86-92)

  • PMID: 24690349
  • PMCID: PMC4039319
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.03.008


Background: Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AASs) are abused primarily in the context of intense exercise and for the purposes of increasing muscle mass as opposed to drug-induced euphoria. AASs also modulate the HPA axis and may increase the reinforcing value of exercise through changes to stress hormone and endorphin release. To test this hypothesis, 26 adult males drawn from a larger study on AAS use completed a progressive ratio task designed to examine the reinforcing value of exercise relative to financial reinforcer.

Method: Sixteen experienced and current users (8 on-cycle, 8 off-cycle) and 10 controls matched on quantity×frequency of exercise, age, and education abstained from exercise for 24 h prior to testing and provided 24-h cortisol, plasma cortisol, ACTH, β-endorphin samples, and measures of mood, compulsive exercise, and body image.

Results: Between group differences indicated that on-cycle AAS users had the highest β-endorphin levels, lowest cortisol levels, higher ACTH levels than controls. Conversely, off-cycle AAS users had the highest cortisol and ACTH levels, but the lowest β-endorphin levels. Exercise value was positively correlated with β-endorphin and symptoms of AAS dependence.

Conclusion: The HPA response to AASs may explain why AASs are reinforcing in humans and exercise may play a key role in the development of AAS dependence.

Original document


Research / Study
19 March 2014
Hildebrandt, Tom
Klein, Diana
Pfaff, Donald W.
Shope, Sydney
Varangis, Eleanna
Yehuda, Rachel
United States of America
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Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS)
James J. Peters VA Medical Center
New York University (NYU)
Rockefeller University
Doping classes
S1. Anabolic Agents
Tetracosactide (ACTH)
Medical terms
Addiction / dependence
Health effects
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Scientific article
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Pdf file
Date generated
4 November 2020
Date of last modification
6 November 2020
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