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How Long Do Steroids Stay In Your System? Drug Testing

Last Updated: January 24, 2022

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Anabolic steroids are drugs with legitimate medical effects but are more well-known for their use as a performance-enhancing agent in sports. There are different types of anabolic steroid agents such as the oral and injectable ones, and the most common steroid is the hormone testosterone. According to the US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration, around 54,000 out of one million people in the United States use these steroid agents. Although half of the users are from the fitness industry, such as bodybuilders and professional athletes, the abuse of these drugs has alarmed the government as the other half comes from grade 8 and 10 students. Furthermore, although steroid agents are popular medicines for athletes and people fond of body improvement, their mechanism of action can make noticeable effects inside the body. Because of this reason, one should know how anabolic steroid agents work and be prepared when using them. Additionally, since steroid drug tests are frequently administered by sports authorities that ban their use, anyone using them or considering starting anabolic steroid use should know how long these substances stay in the system.

What Do Steroids Do?

What everybody knows is that sportspeople use this medication paired with training, but what do steroids do to the body? Their main function is to help an organism in building new body muscles. Among others, anabolic steroid usage increases the number of blood cells, helps rebuild bones, as well as increases nerve conduction. For those who are actively engaged in physical activity, they can provide positive effects of anabolic steroids such as improved performance and shortened recovery period after exercise stress.  To answer the question: how do steroids work, the mechanism of action of anabolic steroid agents such as the hormone Testosterone must be known. These drugs consist of two parallel processes, which sometimes makes them difficult to understand. On the one side, when the AAS molecules get inside the body, cells that have receptors for the hormone Testosterone identify them as the same substance and activate.

So, for those who are wondering, what do steroids do to the body? The result of this MOA is that part of these cells produce proteins, which the body uses to build new cells. Newly produced cells then create new muscles and tissues. At the same time, another part of the body cells reacts to AAS presence by blocking glucocorticoids reception. These are hormones that usually accelerate the process of molecules like proteins splitting up into amino acids for energy (catabolism). So, when they are blocked, more proteins are available for new cells. The less catabolic reaction also means a shorter recovery period. That is, essentially, the answer to the question: what do steroids do to the body?

How Long Do Steroids Stay In Your System?

For anyone who is using steroids pills as a performance-enhancing drug, passing drug tests is likely to be a major concern. The first thing an athlete needs to know about passing steroid drug tests is how long the drugs remain present in the system. One way to answer the question: how long do steroids stay in your system is through the steroids half-life. Half-life is how long it takes the concentration of the AAS to reach 50 percent in the blood plasma, indicating roughly how long it will take for it to be fully eliminated as well as giving the user an idea as to how long the substance will show up on a drug screening. The anabolic steroids half-life varies widely.

Some Commonly Used Anabolic Steroid Agents With Their Respective Half-Lives Are Seen on the Information Below:

UP TO 8 HOURS – Primobolan tablets (4 to 6 hours)

– Andriol Testosterone undecanoate (8 hours or less)

– Dianabol oral (6 to 8 hours)

– Halotestin (6 to 8 hours)

– Winstrol tablets (8 hours)

9-12 HOURS – Anavar (8 to 12 hours)
13-16 HOURS – Anadrol (16 hours or less)
2-3 DAYS – Masteron propionate (2 to 3 days)

– Trenbolone (2 to 3 days)

– Winstrol Depot injectable (48 hours)

– Dianabol injectable (60-72 hours)

4-9 DAYS – Equipoise (7 to 9 days)

– Masteron enanthate (8 days)

MORE THAN 10 DAYS – Primobolan Depot injectable (10 to 14 days)

– Deca Durabolin (14 to 16 days)

Based on the information above, the oral anabolic steroid agents have lesser half-lives compared to the injectable ones. The former’s half-lives last only for hours while the latter’s half-lives may last for days. However, again, take note that these are merely the half-lives of the various medications. Once the steroids half-life points are reached, levels of AAS may still be present in the system.

How Long Does It Take For Steroids To Work?

An anabolic steroid does not show its effects in just one dose. So, how long does it take for steroids to work? According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the time for anabolic steroid agents to work depends on what the patient uses the drug for. For example, for patients using these substances to increase their muscle mass, it would take 2 days before the drug targets the muscles. In another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it was reported that once a week use of injectable Testosterone can increase muscle strength and improve athletic performance within 3 to 6 weeks. Additionally, according to a clinical trial in Texas, it can take up to 4 weeks for anabolic steroid drugs to normalize the Testosterone levels of a patient.

A doctor holds a test tube.

Do Steroids Show Up On Drug Tests?

The answer to this question is a little nuanced. According to a study published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, AAS do show up on drug tests—but not all drug tests. The standard drug screening administered by employers and also available in at-home kits for parents and loved ones to use is a 12-panel drug test. These tests look for the presence of commonly abused street drugs. Moreover, anabolic steroid agents do not show up on a standard 12-panel drug test.

However, sports authorities do not rely on these standardized tests to determine if athletes are using performance-enhancing agents. Instead, according to physicians from the USA, they use specialized tests. These special steroid drug tests will then look for metabolites that are produced by the medications. These tests can look for AAS substances alone or seek evidence of the use of performance-enhancing drugs in general, including various supplements and other medications.

Furthermore, hair follicle and urine screenings are the most commonly used for AAS detection. Although blood and saliva tests can also be used, according to the study of medical doctors from France, the most accurate one compared to the three is by the use of hair analysis. In this study, it was reported that 2 anabolic steroid substances were detected from 25 hair analyses while 0 were detected from 30 urine analyses.

Lastly, it is important to note that there is legitimate anabolic steroid hormone medical use even in athletes. If an athlete has a valid prescription for the substance they are using and a documented medical condition, the sports authority testing them should not be able to take action against them legally. However, that does not mean they will not try. Athletes with a legitimate reason for using AAS substances should make certain they have the evidence needed to support their use and understand the rules of the sports authority that will potentially test them.

Common Steroid Detectability Times

According to a study of medical doctors from Iowa City, the range of detectability times starts with as little as a few days and can go as far as 18 months after the last use of the substance, depending on various factors. Most sports authorities rely on urine tests for detecting performance-enhancing drugs over all other types, which tend to have a smaller detectability window than blood tests and a significantly smaller window than hair tests.

Given that urine screening is the most common drug analysis test, those are the detectability times users should focus on. Detectability timeframes for the AAS medicines most commonly looked for in steroid drug tests are seen in the information below:

UP TO ONE WEEK – Andriol

– Testosterone Suspension (No Ester)

– Clenbuterol

UP TO ONE MONTH – Anavar

– Winstrol (Oral)- Masteron Propionate

– Testosterone Propionate

– HCG

– Arimidex

MORE THAN ONE MONTH – Anadrol

– Dianabol- Halotestin

– Primobolan

– Winstrol Depot

– Equipoise

– Masteron Enanthate

– Deca Durabolin

– Trenbolone

– Testosterone

– Acetate

– Testosterone Cypionate

– Testosterone Enanthate

– Clomid

– Nolvadex

Based on the information above, oral anabolic steroid agents have a smaller detection window compared to injectable ones. The former may only be detected for up to one month while the latter may be detected for more than one month.

Factors That Influence Steroid Detection Time

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, many variables can alter the detectability timeline of medication, and steroids have more at play than most. Here are some of the factors that can determine how long these substances stay in the system and are detectable.

  • The Particular Type of AAS– Some AAS drugs fully clear the body in just a day or so while others can linger on for months. This is a matter of how easily the drug is metabolized.
  • Designer Or Standard– While many athletes go for the standard options, designer AAS are made to be harder to detect. In some cases, they cannot be detected at all, making detection time a moot point.
  • The Test Used– Some steroid drugs are easily detectable in all steroids drug test types. Others are only easy to see in the hair and blood, or urine and hair. Depending on the test used, the detection window may be very small.
  • Dosing And Length Of Use– The higher the dose is taken and the longer the medication has been used means the higher levels of AAS in the body. This means that AAS are more likely to show up on steroids drug tests.
  • Method Of Ingestion– Oral steroid agents are processed faster by the body than injected ones. As such, injected steroid drugs will have a larger window of detectability.
  • Fat Solubility– AAS drugs are lipids, which means that they are fat-soluble. This means they are pulled into the fat stores of the body, making it easier for the fat to hold onto the metabolites for months in some cases—even over a year with those like Deca Durabolin.

All these variables mean that passing steroid drug tests takes a lot of planning and researching the drugs being considered. It is very easy to make a mistake and end up failing an important drug screening.

Steroids Detox And Getting Them Out Of The System Safely

For many athletes, the desire to do better and be better drives them towards steroid use. But this then puts them in a very difficult spot. If they test positive for use without a legitimate prescription for them, everything they are working for can be lost. That’s why athletes worry about the levels of steroids on their bodies when undergoing a drug test.

The first thing to note is that stopping steroids abruptly is not the correct solution. Not only can it be dangerous, but depending on the drug being used, it most likely will not do any good. According to medical doctors from Poland, anabolic steroids withdrawal symptoms, such as mood disorders, insomnia, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, may be experienced. Therefore, a proper detox process or treatment strategy must be executed when a patient wants to stop the use of these medications. Take note that a safe steroid detox treatment to lower the levels of anabolic steroids in the system can be given by drug detox centers.

Stay Steroid-Free

Indeed, anabolic steroids are useful for people with specific steroidal needs. Although they offer positive effects, abuse in the use of these medications may lead to dangerous health reactions. For example, too much use of anabolic steroids, or taking steroids with alcohol can make the substance stay in the system for a longer period. Thus, for people who are required to undergo drug tests, the metabolites of these anabolic steroids may show false-positive results.

Moreover, although steroids may not be addictive in the same way that many other drugs are, users can feel dependent upon them and fear life without them. Drug rehabilitation centers can help athletes stop AAS use and live healthier. With the right substance abuse treatment, their performance will not suffer and their life as a whole will be better.

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Page Sources

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Published on: August 16th, 2019

Updated on: January 24th, 2022

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.