Athletes who take steroids to build up their muscles may trigger mental problems ranging from deep depression to impulsive buying sprees and outbursts of violent rage, doctors conclude in a new study.

The medical hazards of anabolic steroids have been widely publicized, but the researchers said the psychiatric side effects are probably even worse."This is a phenomenon that is probably common and gone unrecognized for a long time," said Dr. Harrison G. Pope Jr., the study's director. "There is a far higher incidence of psychiatric symptoms attributable to anabolic steroids than any of us previously thought."

Pope, himself a body builder, found that a substantial minority of athletes who take steroids suffer delusions, hallucinations, manic episodes and other temporary mental illness. Such symptoms occurred in one-third of the users he and a colleague interviewed.

One of these steroid users said he bought an old car and deliberately drove it into a tree at 40 mph while a friend videotaped him. Another became enraged when a driver in front of him accidentally left his turn signal flashing. At the next stop light, he leaped from his car and smashed the driver's windshield.

Another young man bought a $17,000 sports car while taking steroids. When he stopped taking the drug, he realized that he could not afford the payments, so he sold the car. A year later, while taking more steroids, he impulsively bought a $20,000 sports car.

One user had the grandiose delusion that he could pick up a car and tip it over. Others became paranoid, believing that friends stole from them, or became euphoric, convinced that nothing could hurt them.