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What Is the Withdrawal Timeline from Anabolic Steroids?

Athletes and other individuals concerned with daily physical performance are sometimes tempted to use anabolic steroids to improve that performance.

These drugs, based on the male hormone testosterone, help to build muscle and can improve both athletic performance and physical appearance, as described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

However, continued abuse of these drugs can cause unwanted side effects, including irritability, aggression, delusions, paranoia, and impaired judgment. Nevertheless, some individuals struggling with abuse of these drugs hesitate to stop using the drug because of concerns about withdrawal symptoms. Others may try to quit cold turkey, which can cause additional problems. Understanding the effects of detox from anabolic steroids can help individuals make informed decisions about how to stop use of these drugs.

Detox and Withdrawal from Anabolic Steroids

It is understandable that individuals would have concern about symptoms of withdrawal from anabolic steroids. Particularly after long-term use of the drugs, a variety of symptoms can occur during withdrawal, as described by an article published on the National Library of Medicine website PubMed. These include:

  • Mood disorders, including suicidal ideation
  • Sleep disorders
  • Loss of libido
  • Muscle loss and pain; joint pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Cravings for the steroid

Despite these symptoms, fears about stopping anabolic steroid use are often overblown. While these symptoms can be uncomfortable – sometimes more so than expected – there is no direct risk of severe injury or death from stopping anabolic steroid abuse. In fact, stopping use may prevent some of the major side effects that can occur, as described by Drugs.com, which are more directly damaging to an individual’s long-term physical health. These include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Cancer
  • Anemia
  • Endometriosis
  • Hormonal imbalance

Quitting Steroids Cold Turkey

Reassuredtreatment process that the symptoms of withdrawal are not life-threatening, an individual struggling with anabolic steroid abuse might decide that the best plan is to quit the drugs abruptly, or cold turkey. However, stopping use of these drugs suddenly can cause a shock to the body’s systems that are connected to steroid use, resulting in more severe symptoms.

As described by Mental Health Daily, each individual will have a different response. The reaction can depend on various elements, such as:

  • How long the drug has been used
  • The dosage used
  • The person’s individual constitution
  • Other health factors

Regardless of these factors, stopping use of the drug cold turkey is more likely to result in more severe withdrawal, including stronger cravings, especially if the person has become physically or psychologically addicted to use of the anabolic steroid. Extreme cravings can make it more likely that the person will relapse to abuse of the drug. One way to avoid this harsh withdrawal and relapse risk is to taper off the drug slowly, allowing the body to adapt to loss of the drug over time.

The Benefits of Tapering

When a person uses high doses of testosterone or anabolic steroids for a long time, testosterone levels in the body decrease, as explained by the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science. As a result, if the individual stops using the steroids suddenly, the body will suffer from this loss of testosterone, producing the symptoms described above. This challenge can be avoided through tapering off the drug rather than quitting cold turkey.

If the individual tapers use of the steroids over time, the body has a chance to recover and begin producing its own testosterone again. This, in turn, can reduce or even eliminate the effects of withdrawal, making it easier for the person to commit to stopping use of the drug completely. With decreased cravings and less likelihood of other uncomfortable symptoms, the person is more likely to be able to stop using the drugs and enter recovery from anabolic steroid abuse.

How to Taper Anabolic Steroids

It is possible to find prescribed tapering recommendations through various websites or other organizations that will give a general idea of how to taper use of the drug. Some people recommend about a 10-20 percent reduction in the amount being used per week, until the amount is negligible and can be stopped completely. The individuals who give these recommendations believe this amount of time allows the body sufficient time to recover before stopping use of the drug.

However, stopping drug abuse is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. These generalized recommendations don’t take into account the factors above, such as individual constitution or health issues. For example, a person with liver or kidney problems will often have more trouble eliminating a drug from the body, meaning that a slower taper might be needed. On the other hand, other issues may lead to a need to taper more or less for other reasons. The best way to determine the right taper amounts for an individual is to work with a professional experienced in helping people stop drug abuse, such as an addiction treatment professional or rehab program.

Timeline of Withdrawal

As with many drugs, and for the reasons described above, the timeline for withdrawal can vary, depending on the individual’s health, the length of use, the dosage, and the person’s ability to eliminate the drug from the body. Drug elimination cannot be rushed, but instead depends on how quickly the body can metabolize and excrete the drug – a factor known as the drug’s half-life, which is described by the British Journal of Pharmacology. For most individuals, this can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks. For some individuals, it may take longer.

An example timeline might look like this:

  • Day 1 of stopping the drug: The first withdrawal symptoms may appear, including cravings to use again, soreness, and fatigue.
  • Days 2-6: Cravings increase, along with physical and mental effects. Anxiety or depression peak, and the person will experience insomnia, aches and pains, and mood swings.
  • Days 5-14: The effects of withdrawal will slowly begin to fade. Cravings are often the last symptom to go away.

Tapering the drug can make this process last longer; however, as stated above, it can also decrease the likelihood of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms that might otherwise cause the person to start using the drug again.

Medical Detox from Anabolic Steroids

Medical support during detox doesn’t just provide an individualized taper schedule that maximizes a person’s chance of avoiding severe withdrawal. Treatment professionals can also provide medical support for symptoms that manifest during withdrawal and beyond.

Some of the medications that are prescribed or provided can include antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications to manage excessive mood swings. Over-the-counter painkillers can help, but if muscle aches get too difficult to deal with, doctors can prescribe higher levels of non-narcotic pain relievers to manage these symptoms. If needed, medicines to counter diarrhea or nausea can be provided, along with medicines to help with sleep.

Even more importantly, medical detox can lead a person to the next step of addiction treatment or rehab. Providing this in combination with a tapered withdrawal gives the individual the best chance of stopping use of anabolic steroids and entering recovery for the long-term, helping to prevent the long-term physical damage that could otherwise occur from using these dangerous drugs.