What Is Steroid Withdrawal?

People addicted to anabolic steroids may experience withdrawal if they suddenly stop taking the drug or rapidly reduce their dosage. This happens because of the hormonal imbalance caused by steroid abuse. Steroids mimic the male sex hormone testosterone. The bodies of steroid users become used to having an increased level of testosterone. The use of steroids can result in an unnatural increase of testosterone levels, which, in turn reduces the body’s ability to produce testosterone on its own.

The withdrawal symptoms from steroids are a result of low levels of natural testosterone in the body. These symptoms persist until the body can restore its normal production of testosterone.

Although the physical effects of withdrawal are rarely dangerous, many users go into major depressive episodes and have suicidal thoughts.

Those who are coming off steroids suddenly should be carefully monitored for suicidal behavior. People with a history of depression should consider checking into inpatient rehab for treatment where doctors can prescribe medications to lessen withdrawal symptoms.

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Withdrawal Symptoms

Anabolic steroids can produce effects such as increased energy, libido, concentration and a sense of confidence. However, the withdrawal symptoms of steroids are essentially the opposite of the drug’s effects.

Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of appetite
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Decrease in blood pressure
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Drug cravings

While symptoms of steroid withdrawal are discomforting, there is very little risk of severe injury or death from stopping anabolic steroid use/abuse. Stopping use may prevent some of the major side effects that can occur.

Withdrawal Duration

The duration of withdrawal symptoms from steroids varies from user to user. Many factors influence the timeline and severity of withdrawal symptoms from steroids, such as

  • How long a person has been using anabolic steroids
  • Their average regular dose of anabolic steroids
  • How frequently they took anabolic steroids
  • Whether they combined anabolic steroids with alcohol or other drugs
  • Their person’s mental health and medical history (i.e. gender and body weight)
  • How they administered anabolic steroids

Withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from several days to two weeks.

Other factors that impact the duration of withdrawal are the types of steroids the user was taking. Not all steroids are created equally—some stay in the user’s system longer. Steroids that stay in the body longer take longer to leave the body.

The time over which a steroid stays in a user’s body is known as the drug’s half-life. It takes longer to withdraw from steroids with longer half-lives. The half-lives of some commonly abused steroids include:

  • Equipoise (veterinary steroid) – 14 days
  • Deca-durabolin – 14 days
  • Durabolin – 4.5 days
  • Winstrol – 24 hours
  • Anavar – 9 hours
  • Anadrol – 5 – 9 hours
  • Dianabol – 4.5 – 6 hours

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Withdrawal Timeline

Days 1-2 The first symptoms of withdrawal begin at some point within five days of the user’s last dose, depending on the half-life of the steroid. Symptoms start faintly and may include irritability, headache and nausea.
Days 3-5 Once withdrawal symptoms start ramping up, former steroid users experience decreased energy and alertness. Psychological symptoms like depression and anxiety also start getting worse during this time.
Days 6-7 Withdrawal symptoms often peak the second week after the user’s last dose of steroids. Abdominal pains, nausea and weight loss are common. Steroid users may also reach the height of a depressive episode and struggle with insomnia.
Week 2 Minor withdrawal symptoms may persist after the second week of quitting steroids, but these symptoms pale in comparison to the previous week. Soon, withdrawal symptoms fade out completely.

Anabolic Steroid Detox

Steroid detox is the process of the drugs leaving the body. Getting steroids out of a user’s body is the first step toward recovering from an addiction to these drugs.

When you completely stop [taking steroids], you might find yourself prone to mood swings, sleeplessness. And then, I found myself emotionally sensitive. But it only lasted about two weeks. And then it was sort of back to normal.

- Former bodybuilder Eugene Robinson, NPR, 2014

A doctor-assisted detox is recommended for people who heavily abused steroids. Doctors can prescribe medications during detox to lessen withdrawal symptoms. Some drugs can help restore normal hormonal balances and mitigate symptoms such as pain and depression. Doctors may recommend a tapering-down strategy as part of detox for those who used extremely high doses of steroids. Tapering-down allows users to gradually reduce their dose over time to prevent a drastic shift in their hormone balance.

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Treatment For Steroid Withdrawal Symptoms

Individuals should seek treatment for structure, support and encouragement while their hormones and various brain receptors return to a normal level to help prevent relapse. Treatment also provides relapse prevention skills, stress management, and education on the disease of addiction.

There are multiple inpatient and outpatient rehabs that can guide users safely through withdrawal. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also an effective treatment for those overcoming an addiction to steroids, as it targets the underlying reasons for steroid use like body image issues and depression. If an underlying problem goes untreated, a relapse into steroid use is more likely. Contact a treatment provider to learn more about steroid withdrawal and your treatment options.

 

Published:

Author

Jeffrey Juergens

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  • Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

Theresa Parisi

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  • Theresa Parisi is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) with over 12 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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