Coming Off Steroids: What Happens After Stopping Anabolics

Last Updated: June 10, 2020

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Whether someone is taking anabolic steroids illegally or based on a doctor’s orders, coming off steroids can be difficult. Anyone who is using or is thinking about starting these drugs should learn about anabolic steroids withdrawal.

Coming Off Steroids

No matter why one is taking anabolic steroids, at some point, they will want or need to stop. This could be because the drugs have done their job and/or no longer needed, because the person is experiencing negative effects, or even due to that fact that steroids show up on drug tests for athletics. No matter the reason for stopping steroids, users need to do it safely.

There are two options a user might choose for quitting the drugs. The first is stopping anabolic steroids abruptly. While this is the most obvious option, it is not considered safe. The second option is to focus on tapering steroids. While it takes longer and is more work, this is the safer choice.

stopping steroids abruptly

Quitting Cold Turkey

Anabolic steroids are a type of drug that causes withdrawals when stopped. However, these withdrawals are very rarely life-threatening. This can make someone who is considering coming off anabolic steroids figure that going cold turkey is safe.

Just because anabolic steroid withdrawals are unlikely to kill the user doesn’t mean they are safe. First of all, many variables are impacting an individual’s health, and though rare, death is still possible. Even in cases where death does not occur, the shock to the system caused by stopping steroids is severe and unpleasant.

Why Taper Steroids

Part of how to use steroids safely is knowing the right way to stop using them. Ultimately, the only safe way to stop steroids is to taper off in use. This means slowly reducing how much of the drug is taken until the user is no longer taking it at all. Why this is important is a bit complicated.

Tapering, on the other hand, slowly removes the AAS drugs bit by bit, allowing the body to steadily up its testosterone production to replace what the drugs offered. When done correctly, the user may not experience any withdrawal symptoms at all, and if they do, they should be minor.

How to taper AAS drugs is an individual process. General guidelines state to reduce use by 10-20 percent per week until the user is no longer taking the medications. However, not everybody will react the same to coming off steroids. It may be better to reduce by a smaller percentage or to go more than a week between reductions. As such, users should not attempt to taper their doses until they are working with an experienced doctor to ensure their safety.

what happens when you stop taking steroids

Steroids Withdrawal: Causes

AAS withdrawal is a real and well-documented phenomenon. The cause of withdrawal is the impact of anabolic steroids on testosterone, the male sex hormone. AAS drugs do not always contain testosterone, as many believe. However, they do closely mimic the effects of testosterone.

This has two effects. One is that the body becomes used to having high levels of testosterone and testosterone-like chemicals. The other is that the body will reduce testosterone production since the drug is taking care of much of what the endocrine system would usually do.

Anabolic Steroids Withdrawal Symptoms

No matter how a person chooses to quit the drugs, the side effects of stopping steroids can be felt. Anyone who is planning to stop AAS drugs needs to be able to recognize the coming off steroids side effects and seek help if needed. These include:

  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Struggles concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced appetite
  • Lowered sex drive
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Decrease in blood pressure
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Drug cravings

Withdrawal Timeline

There is no guaranteed timeline for coming off anabolic steroids. For some individuals, it may be over in just a few days, while for others, it may linger on for weeks. Factors that impact the timeline include how long the AAS drugs were used, the doses taken, and whether they were combined with other substances.

Typical Timeline

Day 1 The first signs of withdrawal emerge but are generally weak in strength.
Days 2-6 The severity of the symptoms increases, with mental health effects being particularly strong.
Days 5-10 The symptoms start to taper off, but the cravings for anabolic steroids remain high.
Days 10-14 The symptoms are mostly gone, with some mental health side effects and cravings still lingering.

Something that users need to consider when coming off steroids is that the withdrawal process may not begin as soon as the drug is stopped. Some AAS drugs remain in the body for weeks, and withdrawal may not be triggered until the AAS drugs in the body get past the half-life point.

This means that depending on the drug used, someone may think that they have safely stopped using AAS drugs without withdrawal, only to be caught off guard. Users must research their drug of choice before assuming they are in the clear.

Treatment For Withdrawal

Anabolic steroid withdrawal treatment is used to reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms. This can be done in an outpatient setting, though some users may feel more secure doing this in an inpatient center or residential facility.

The substance abuse treatment will be individualized for the patient to ensure their needs are met. It may last just a few weeks or can go on for over a year, depending on the health of the user.

In general, medically supervised anabolic steroid withdrawal has positive outcomes. It is rare for severe complications to occur, and most patients will barely notice withdrawal symptoms if the right approach is used. Ultimately, it is not anabolic drug withdrawal that should be feared, but the damage that continuing to take the drugs will inflict. While steroids do make one stronger in the short term, they can devastate the body in the long run.

Stopping Steroids Safely

When anabolic steroid use becomes dangerous, it is time to get help. With medical supervision, it is possible to stop anabolic steroid use safely. Whether through an outpatient center or a residential facility, any drug rehab is better than doing nothing.

Page Sources

  1. Anabolic Steroids. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2018.
  2. Steroids and Other Appearance and Performance Enhancing Drugs (APEDs). National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2018.

Published on: August 16th, 2019

Updated on: June 10th, 2020

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.


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