Last updated: January 23, 2023
If you take steroids to keep your asthma under control you may wonder why anyone cares how long steroids stay in your system. That makes sense because the corticosteroids used for treating asthma are often referred to as “steroids.” Anabolic steroids, however, are a different matter and those who use them illegally may be surprised at the amount of time the drugs can remain in the system.
Anabolic steroids are man-made variations of testosterone. While they are prescribed by health care providers to treat hormonal issues, such as delayed puberty, they’re also used to treat diseases that cause muscle loss.
Once word got out that anabolic steroids increase muscle mass and strength, athletes embraced them. Many continue to do so—even knowing steroids can have a detrimental effect on their health.
Pumping you up for a fall
Athletes, bodybuilders, and even police looking to boost their performance or change their physical appearance use steroids illegally. Construction workers and bodyguards use them too—actually, they’re found in any occupation that requires enhanced physical strength.
Developed in 1958, it didn’t take long for the unpleasant and dangerous side-effects to become obvious. Despite that fact, athletes continued to use the drugs due to the amazing performance-enhancing “benefits” they received. For instance, athletes found they could train harder because muscle strains and tears repair themselves faster when using steroids.
Banned from the Olympics in 1964, steroid use in the United States continued to rise over the next two decades. Classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 3 drug, the sale of anabolic steroids for non-medical use was made illegal under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. Possession of steroids without a prescription became illegal in the U.S. in 1990.
Currently, illegal possession can carry a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a minimum fine of $1,000 for the first offense.
As stated above, anabolic steroids still serve a purpose in the medical field and the benefits include:
- Increases in muscle tissue caused by enhanced protein synthesis
- Decreased body fat percentage
- Increased muscle strength and power
- Speedier recovery from extreme workouts and injury
- Improved bone mineral density
- Muscle endurance
- Increased red blood cell production
Someone suffering from a muscle-wasting disease, such as AIDS, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, and kidney or liver disease, can extend their life span using anabolic steroids because the loss of muscle mass is closely linked with mortality in these diseases.
Even so, the potential side effects should be considered.
Side effects and dangers
The risk of forming a physical dependence is low to moderate. Still, users who want to stay on top of their game make the risk of psychological dependence pretty high.
Possible side effects include:
- There is an increased risk of heart disease when used in combination with resistance exercise because it increases the left ventricle of your heart and increases blood pressure too.
- Steroids can cause an increase in aggressive behavior and impulsivity in male teenagers and adults.
- Using and forming a psychological dependence on steroids are classified as a body image disorder in the diagnostic manual for mental disorders.
- The risk of liver dysfunction increases—especially in those who take the drugs orally.
- When you stop taking the drug, gynecomastia—defined as swollen male breast tissue caused by a hormone imbalance—may occur.
- Steroids decrease the natural production of testosterone.
- Using steroids may cause infertility due to a decrease in sperm production.
- Male pattern baldness may occur or worsen.
Women don’t use steroids nearly as often as men, but in addition to the above effects, gender-specific side effects include:
- Deepening voice
- Facial changes and hair growth
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Decreased breast size
Risk of infection
The majority of steroids found on the black market are produced in illegal laboratories that don’t follow the same procedures as commercial labs. Steroids that must be injected pose a greater risk of contamination and infection.
There’s also a risk of purchasing mislabeled or counterfeit merchandise on the black market which often puts the user at greater risk of infection.
Signs of use
If you know what you’re looking for, signs of steroid use can be fairly obvious—and we’re not just talking Hulk-sized muscles here.
Other common signs of steroid use are:
- Edema—fluid retention, mainly in the feet or ankles
- Complaints of muscle aches or joint pain
- Gynecomastia in boys or men
- Male pattern baldness (sometimes in women)
- Deeper voice and increased body hair in women
- Severe acne
- Erratic meed swings
- Increased anxiety, nervousness, or jitteriness
- Extreme hostility or anger
- Increased irritability
You might also pick up on steroid use if you hear the following terms:
- Shotgunning refers to a person who takes steroids infrequently.
- Stacking defines using two or more anabolic steroids at the same time or combining steroids with other drugs.
- Plateauing means the user is avoiding building up tolerance by alternating or overlapping with another steroid.
- Pyramiding refers to slowly increasing the dose or frequency of use, reaching a peak amount, and then slowly reducing the dose to zero.
The withdrawal symptoms when someone stops using steroids are uncomfortable, but not life-threatening.
- Loss of appetite
- Sleep problems
- Decreased sex drive
- Steroid cravings
Not identified on standard drug panels
Anabolic steroid use often goes undetected because they aren’t picked up on common drug tests. However, there is a test and the lengthy detection period makes it likely the abuser will be discovered.
Urine and hair follicle drug tests detect anabolic steroids.
- Urine drug tests detect steroids in the system for a few days in the case of those taking a short-term pill form of the drug. However, if someone has taken an oil-based injection, tests identify the drug for up to 18 months or longer!
- Hair follicle drug tests detect steroid use for 90 days.
Reasons for varied detection times
There are several reasons that cause a variation in detection times from person to person.
- Type of anabolic steroid
- Dosage and frequency of use
- Individual metabolism
If you suspect someone of misusing anabolic steroids, reach out. If you’re a parent, employer, or friend, step up and confront the suspected user.
Ultimately, you could be saving their life.