Steroid withdrawal is associated with physical and psychological symptoms that are uncomfortable and dangerous. Learn why medically assisted detox is the safer option.
Many people abuse steroids for their performance-enhancing effects. That abuse can lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms can then occur when someone stops taking the steroid. Withdrawal from anabolic steroid use is associated with significant physical and mental side effects as the body detoxifies from the drug. Medically assisted detoxification makes this process much more comfortable and safe by preventing the abrupt shock to the body’s natural hormone systems.
Why Does Steroid Withdrawal Occur?
Steroids, or anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), are natural and synthetic forms of the male hormone testosterone, which is naturally produced by males and, to a lesser extent, by females. When people abuse steroids, they take doses that are 10 to 100 times higher than the levels naturally produced in the body.
Once the body becomes adjusted to these extremely high levels of the steroid, a sudden massive drop in testosterone levels from stopping use can cause a withdrawal syndrome (collection of adverse symptoms).
Steroids Withdrawal Symptoms
While, generally, each person experiences drug withdrawal differently, some common symptoms exist. There are many symptoms associated with steroid withdrawal, that together make up steroids withdrawal syndrome.
- Flu-like illness
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Loss of libido
- Erectile dysfunction
- Cravings to resume using the drug
Of particular concern are the psychiatric withdrawal effects, which occur in about 23% of steroid users:
- Suicidal ideation and behavior
Due to those potentially life-threatening symptoms, detoxing from steroids in a professional detox facility is the safest option for managing withdrawal symptoms.
How Long Does Steroid Withdrawal Last?
Using steroids shuts down the body’s system for producing and controlling testosterone, so steroid withdrawal symptoms last until the body recovers its ability to produce testosterone, and the body has grown re-accustomed to the normal testosterone levels. How long this takes depends on the individual’s body, the amounts and types of steroids used, and the duration of use.
This process occurs gradually, and in most individuals occurs within a few weeks to a few months following cessation of steroid use. However, there have been reports of some individuals’ return to regular functioning taking more than a year.
One study showed that once withdrawal symptoms abate, most former steroid users will have chronically low levels of testosterone and the resulting symptoms persist for years after steroid cessation. These chronic low testosterone symptoms are much milder and subtler than the withdrawal symptoms.
Each person’s treatment methods should be catered to meet their unique needs. There are, however, some withdrawal treatment methods that see widespread use for certain needs. Several types of medication may assist the treatment of steroid withdrawal:
- Antidepressant medications, usually in conjunction with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), may be helpful for body dysmorphic disorder and muscle dysmorphia
- Antidepressant medications for depression and suicidal symptoms
- Opioid replacement therapy is a controversial and risky approach to treating the hedonic addictive properties of steroids, although naltrexone appears more appropriate for this purpose
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications may be used to help with the joint and muscle pain
- The medication clonidine may be used to ease withdrawal symptoms
- A physician may use testosterone replacement therapy to taper the steroid dose gradually downwards and ease the body back into normal function
- Induction of natural testosterone production by a doctor specializing in endocrinology may be considered
Steroid use itself is associated with premature death. Withdrawal from steroid use can be very physically and mentally uncomfortable but carries minimal risk of death from physical effects. However, the most concerning symptom of steroid withdrawal is depression, which is sometimes accompanied by thoughts or actions of suicide. Such thoughts can be life-threatening.
Quitting steroids “cold turkey” and the sudden withdrawal from high doses of testosterone is a major shock to the body and mind. Stopping steroid use in such a way causes unnecessary discomfort and sickness. By participating in a medically supervised steroid detox program, the patient can be gently eased back to normal levels of testosterone. This process results in a much safer and more comfortable withdrawal experience and reduces the risk of setbacks occurring.
Steroid Withdrawal Tips
There are some major considerations that should be observed for discontinuing steroid abuse:
- Don’t do detox alone. Involving supportive family and friends and a support group of fellow users in recovery makes success much more likely. Also, they can help watch for the dangerous side effects of depression and suicidal behavior.
- Get professional help. Medically supervised detox makes the process safer, more comfortable and more likely to succeed.
- Be honest. Being open about other drug use or addictive behaviors allows for proper treatment planning and improved outcomes.
- Address the underlying and co-occurring issues, such as exercise addiction, BDD and coping skills.
Detoxifying the body and cleansing the system of steroids and any other toxic substances is the first part of the recovery process. This process can be a challenging and even dangerous process, but medically supervised detox and cleansing is a safer and easier way to accomplish this difficult barrier to recovery.
Steroid Detox at Home
Detoxing from steroids at home may be an option for some individuals, especially if they:
- Have a good support system in place
- Have a safe, drug-free place to live
- Don’t have other mental health or addiction issues
- Don’t live alone
- Are self-motivated to stop the drug use
However, even people who detox at home should involve a physician to screen them for steroid-related health problems and to help them medically detox from the drug use. Additionally, people detoxing at home should seek outpatient professional help for the psychological issues that may underlie their steroid abuse.
Helping Someone Withdrawing or Detoxing from Steroids
The best way to help someone withdrawing or detoxing from steroids is to help the person get professional help before stopping the drug use. With professional involvement, the person can be properly assessed for the conditions that often co-occur with steroid use, any physical or mental health problems that have arisen from drug use, and any other specific concerns.
People withdrawing from any kind of drug benefit greatly from having a supportive group of family and friends. So, if possible, involving them as a support system is very helpful. Also, the people who will be around the person detoxing need to be aware of any red flag symptoms that indicate depression or suicidality, which may occur for months after drug use has stopped.
Finding a Steroid Withdrawal and Detox Center
Steroid abuse and addiction have their own physical and mental side effects and recovery needs that are specific to steroids. It is important to find a withdrawal and detox facility staffed with professionals who are trained and familiar with the specifics of steroid abuse.
If you or a loved one live with a steroid addiction, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about how addiction treatment can help. By using personalized treatment programs that focus on patients’ specific needs, The Recovery Village helps patients address their addictions and any co-occurring mental health disorders. Begin your healthier future by calling today.
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