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Performance-enhancing drugs can lead to cocaine addiction

A new study of rats has confirmed a theory scientists have long held about humans who use performance-enhancing drugs: steroids are linked to cocaine addiction.

Previous research has found that as many as a third of young people who use steroids and similar drugs also abuse cocaine. That’s much higher than the reverse; only about 5 percent of young people who use cocaine also use performance-enhancing drugs.

To test that link, a team of scientists from the University of Puerto Rico studied the effects of the drugs on female rats.

Half the rats were exposed to nandrolone, which is one of the anabolic steroids most popular among young people. After 10 days, the researchers split the nandrolone group in two, exposing one group to nandrolone only, and the other to both nandrolone and cocaine.

In addition, the group of rats not exposed to the performance-enhancing drugs was also split. Half of that nandrolone-free group was exposed to cocaine only, while the other part acted as the control for the study.

The team of scientists found that the rats exposed to nandrolone were much more sensitive to the effects of cocaine than the rats who had never been given performance-enhancing drugs. The rats exposed to cocaine only didn’t experience that same sensitivity. In short, like alcohol abuse, anabolic steroids can make users more vulnerable to cocaine addiction.

Additionally, the rats exposed to the performance-enhancing drugs, with or without cocaine, saw damage to their ovaries, including new ovarian cysts. That reproductive damage could lead to infertility, the researchers said.

Part of the problem may be that anabolic steroids contain both synthetic and natural androgens, including testosterone. Overexposure to androgens in young people can “modifies the brain circuitry that regulates addictive behaviors, increasing the psychoactive properties of cocaine,” the researchers wrote in a press release.

The study emphasizes why it’s so important to keep young athletes from using performance-enhancing drugs. Not only can it damage their reproductive system, it can also make them even more vulnerable to cocaine addiction.

The researchers will present their findings in Orlando today at Experimental Biology 2019, the American Physiological Society’s annual meeting.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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