What Is Steroid Withdrawal?
Steroids are a synthetic version of the male sex hormone testosterone. They are not abused for a “high,” but rather to bolster athletic performance or improve the way the body looks. Despite the lack of a rush, steroids use can lead to dependence, withdrawal, and ultimately, addiction.
Steroid Withdrawal Symptoms
Common symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Cravings for steroids.
- Lack of appetite.
- Mood swings.
- Pain in muscle or joints.
- Reduced libido.
- Sleep problems or insomnia.1, 2, 3, 4
The intensity of withdrawal symptoms is linked to how heavily steroids were abused. Using large doses, taking doses more frequently, or using for long periods can lead to more severe withdrawal.
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Risks of Withdrawal
Effects of steroid withdrawal can be very uncomfortable. But they are generally not life- threatening.
Steroid withdrawal can cause intense cravings and ultimately relapse. Mood swings and depression are some of the more dangerous risks of withdrawal. Strong feelings of depression can lead to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or actions.1, 2
How Long Does Withdrawal Last?
Users may be at risk for major depression during the first few months after stopping steroid use, and depression may continue for a year or even longer.2,8
Users may also experience hypogonadism, a condition where the testes or ovaries fail to function properly. Symptoms include decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, and depression. Hypogonadism can resolve within a few weeks, but it may last up to a year or longer. 9
If you or a loved one is experiencing withdrawal effects, see an addiction specialist or mental health professional. Proper care and treatment can ease the withdrawal process and make it easier to maintain sobriety from steroids.
Causes of Withdrawal
Anabolic steroids (also known as androgenic steroids) are synthetic variants of testosterone, and are often abused to build muscle, lower body fat, and improve performance in sports. These effects can boost confidence and self-esteem, which reinforce the user’s motivation to continue taking them.
Steroids do not provide the euphoria that other drugs do, but they can be just as addictive as other substances. Chronic steroid use can alter similar brain chemicals and pathways as other drugs.1
Over time, regular steroid use leads to tolerance, and users must take more steroids to achieve the desired effect. Increased steroid use often leads to dependence. Withdrawal occurs when someone who is dependent on steroids abruptly stops using them.1,2,3
Treatment for Steroid Withdrawal
Various types of treatment are available for steroid addiction and withdrawal, including detox centers, inpatient treatment facilities, outpatient treatment facilities, and partial hospitalization programs. The best type of treatment is dictated by the needs of the person and the severity of the addiction.
A detox facility provides access to medical professionals who can prescribe medications to manage the symptoms of withdrawal while reducing day-to-day stressors. Professionals can monitor the safety of individuals in withdrawal and ensure that support is available at any time.
Addiction professionals strongly encourage further treatment after detox, which can significantly improve a person’s chances of staying sober. In addition, steroid addiction can often mask other mental health issues, such as depression or body dysmorphic disorder, and these issues must also be treated in the interest of preventing relapse.7
- Detox facilities: are usually inpatient, but can be outpatient as well.5 Detox usually lasts approximately 1 week, but it can take longer if required. Detox facilities can deliver medicationto ease the painful symptoms of steroid withdrawal, as well as to treat symptoms of depression that can appear during the withdrawal process.1, 5 People are provided with a safe place to deal with the withdrawal symptoms without stress and other triggers to relapse.
- Inpatient rehab treatment: can take place in a private or hospital-type setting. The average stay is about 1 month, though treatment stays can be extended up to 90 days. Treatment can take place in individual therapy sessions, group counseling, and educational groups. Recovering steroid users develop and use the skills they need to thrive in recovery. Self-help meetings are also a vital part of many inpatient programs because they ease the transition from treatment to recovery and can make it much easier to develop strong sober supports.5
- Outpatient rehabilitation treatment is less restrictive than inpatient rehab, and the duration varies according to the needs of each person. These programs give people independence so they can work, attend school, and socialize with family and friends while practicing coping skills to effectively manage daily stress and triggers.
- Partial hospitalization programs are outpatient programs that occur in a hospital setting. These programs often meet several hours a day on multiple days of the week. Treatment usually consists of group therapy, addiction education, and medical supervision and is more intense than what is provided through more standard outpatient treatment approaches.
Medications for Withdrawal
Although no specific medications treat steroid withdrawal, some medications are commonly used during the withdrawal process. These include antidepressants to manage the depressive symptoms of withdrawal and to minimize the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions. Analgesic medications may be prescribed to relieve the headaches, muscle pain, and joint pain. In severe cases, hormonal support or replacement may be used to normalize hormone levels that have been severely disrupted by steroid use.1,4
Find a Detox Center
Choosing the right detox center can be confusing and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Let our trained operators help get you started on the road to recovery.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: Anabolic steroids.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2006). Anabolic steroid abuse.
. University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Anabolic steroids.
. Giannini, A.J., Miller, N. & Kocjan, D.K. (1991). Treating steroid abuse: A psychiatric perspective. Clinical Pediatrics, 30(9): 538-542.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012). Types of treatment programs.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Behavioral health treatments and services.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
. Piacentino, D. (2015). Anabolic-androgenic steroid use and psychopathology in athletes: A systematic review. Current Neuropharmacology 13(1):101-121.
. Kanayama, G. (2015). Prolonged Hypogonadism in Males Following Withdrawal from Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids: an Under-recognized Problem. Addiction 110(5):823-831.