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Chris Benoit: Was Roid Rage to Blame?

Pro Wrestler's Alleged Murder-Suicide Spurs Questions About Roid Rage and Anabolic Steroids
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Pro wrestler Chris Benoit apparently was taking testosterone before his death, toxicology tests show.

Benoit, his wife, Nancy, and their son, Daniel, were found dead in their home in Fayetteville, Ga., near Atlanta in late June. The deaths are suspected to be a murder-suicide that began when Benoit allegedly killed his wife and son and ended when Benoit hanged himself.

Toxicology tests performed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) show that Chris Benoit had the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the painkiller hydrocodone in his blood, and elevated levels of testosterone in his urine.

Benoit's Xanax and hydrocodone levels were in line with typical therapeutic doses of those drugs, but the testosterone levels indicated that Benoit had been taking testosterone for some unknown time before his death, according to GBI officials.

No other steroids were found in Benoit's urine.

When the Benoit family deaths were first discovered, many people speculated about whether Benoit had been taking anabolic steroids and whether he might have experienced "roid rage" triggered by steroids.

In a June interview with WebMD, Gary Wadler, MD, answered questions about roid rage and anabolic steroids, which are synthetic substances related to male sex hormones.

Wadler is a clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University's medical school. He is an expert on roid rage and also a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency, and author of the textbook, Drugs and the Athlete.

What is roid rage?

Roid rage, in many ways, I would characterize as a form of loss of impulse control. It provokes overreactions via a stimulus that normally doesn't produce such a severe reaction.

So say somebody says something to you that you don't like. You may put your fist through a wall. The impulse is there; it's overreaction. Forget the roid, for the moment. It's a rage ... and that rage is precipitated by the brain being exposed to anabolic steroids.

How common is roid rage?

I don't think there's really good data on how common [it is]. It's not rare by any means, that's probably fair to say. It's not extraordinarily common.

I think a better way to view this is a spectrum of behaviors by people on anabolic steroids ranging from being somewhat more assertive, moving up one notch to being frankly aggressive, and moving up another notch to actually having this roid rage. It's really an extreme of a spectrum of kind of behavioral things that you see with anabolic steroids.

Could anabolic steroids account for severely violent acts?

Yes. It's been implicated in a number of murders and can result in extreme aberrations of behavior including the taking of one's life.

Another thing you have to be mindful of -- it may unmask an underlying psychiatric disorder that has been basically kept in check until the individual is exposed to this category of drugs. And so what you may be seeing is unmasked psychiatric disorder.

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