There is evidence that children with antisocial behaviors have increased plasma levels of the adrenal androgen dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) and either a decreased level of another adrenal steroid, cortisol, or a decreased cortisol responsivity to stress. Low levels of cortisol have also been reported in antisocial adults but their levels of DHEA-S have not been studied. The present study was designed to perform in adult cocaine addicts simultaneous assessments of DHEA-S and cortisol as a function of a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder (adult symptoms) and of a retrospective diagnosis of conduct disorder (CD). Basal cortisol and DHEA-S were determined in the plasma samples of 40 hospitalized men. The patients’ cortisol responsivity was also assessed while they were being exposed to a stressful situation. Patients who had a retrospective CD diagnosis had significantly increased DHEA-S levels and secreted less cortisol when stressed. Comparisons between patients who did and did not meet the antisocial personality disorder adult criteria did not reveal any significant difference in DHEA-S or in cortisol responsivity. This could be attributed to the nature of the criteria used to define the adult disorder, which focus mostly on a failure to conform to social norms, whereas a number of CD criteria involve displays of some degree of violence. In conclusion, adults who retrospectively qualified for a CD diagnosis had increased DHEA-S levels and a decreased cortisol reactivity, confirming observations made in children and indicating that mechanisms underlying adrenal steroid alterations in childhood could still be at play in adulthood.

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