How long do steroids stay in your system?

Karolina Baker, Alphabiolabs

By Karolina Baker, Health Testing Specialist at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 26/06/2024

In this article, we look at how long steroids stay in your system, and therefore remain detectable in drug tests. We also look at some of the side effects and risks of steroid misuse.

What are steroids?

Steroids is a term used for drugs that mimic the effects of some of the natural hormones that regulate and control how the body functions and develops.

The term covers two very different groups of medications: corticosteroids and anabolic steroids.

These groups have different ways of acting in the body, with the main difference being that corticosteroids are catabolic (breakdown) and anabolic steroids promote growth (are anabolic).

Steroids can be legally prescribed to treat a wide range of conditions. However, anabolic steroids are commonly misused to improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass.

When prescribed legally, anabolic steroids are usually used to treat hormone deficiencies (e.g. where puberty is delayed) and loss of muscle mass in patients with life-threatening illnesses including cancer and AIDS.

Learn more: Steroid facts

What are anabolic-androgenic steroids?

Although the terms ‘anabolic steroids’ and ‘anabolic-androgenic steroids’ are often used interchangeably to refer to the same drugs, they emphasise different aspects of the drugs’ effects.

Both terms describe synthetic substances that have been manufactured to mimic the effects of testosterone, the sex hormone mainly produced in the gonads – the glands involved in reproduction (testicles or ovaries).  

Although both men and women produce testosterone, these levels are typically much higher in people assigned male at birth.

Testosterone is also the hormone responsible for the development of physical characteristics that are commonly associated with people assigned male at birth, such as the appearance of facial hair.

Put simply:

  • Anabolic refers to the muscle-building effects of the drug (anabolic steroids)
  • Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids (AAS) is a term that captures the anabolic (muscle building) effects of the drug and the androgenic effects (relating to male characteristics)

The inclusion of ‘androgenic’ highlights the potential for these drugs to cause changes related to male sexual characteristics, such as facial hair and a deeper voice.

Anabolic steroids can only be issued by pharmacists with a prescription. People who misuse anabolic steroids as performance-enhancing drugs are known to experience serious side effects and can also become dependent on them, leading to long-term addiction issues.

Learn more: What are the different types of steroids?

What happens in the body when you take steroids?

In scientific terms, anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) function just like the body’s natural male hormone, testosterone.

These steroids activate androgen receptors found in skeletal muscle fibres, stimulating specific genes to produce muscle proteins that result in the increase of muscle mass.

In terms of physical and psychological effects, steroids cause a variety of changes in the body.

Side effects of anabolic steroid misuse in men can include infertility, erectile dysfunction, the shrinking of the testes, and the development of breast tissue.

In women, anabolic steroid misuse can also result in hormonal imbalances. Notably, the reduction in oestrogen and increase of testosterone can cause an increase in body hair – including the growth of facial hair – clitoral enlargement, a deepened voice, and irregular periods.

Steroids also pose serious health risks such as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease – putting users at a much greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. Long-term use can also cause liver damage and other associated health issues, such as liver cancer.

What do steroids do to you?

While anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) are an artificially-produced version of the male sex hormone testosterone, have significant effects on muscle mass and can enhance physical performance, steroid abuse can cause serious side effects.

These side effects include long-term health problems that can be severe and even irreversible.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) have anabolic effects (linked to increased muscle mass) and androgenic effects (linked to the development of male characteristics).

Anabolic effects

  • AAS increase protein synthesis in muscle cells, which can lead to greater muscle mass and strength
  • AAS can stimulate the production of red blood cells, which can improve endurance by increasing the amount of oxygen being delivered to muscles

Androgenic effects

  • AAS can promote the development of male secondary sexual characteristics such as a deeper voice, increased facial and body hair growth, and increased libido

Adverse effects and health risks

The misuse of performance enhancing steroids has been linked to many serious, and sometimes irreversible side effects, including but not limited to:

  • Changes to the skin, including oily skin and severe acne
  • Hair loss, including male pattern baldness
  • Psychological effects such as mood swings, aggression, and irritability – these effects are often referred to as “steroid rage”. Moreover, steroid abuse also has strong links to psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety
  • Hormonal problems. This is because anabolic steroids can disrupt the natural production of hormones. In men, this manifests as testicular shrinkage, reduced sperm production and infertility. In women, it can cause menstrual irregularities and the development of masculine features
  • Increased risk of diseases, especially heart disease, liver damage and kidney disease
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular (heart) diseases, caused by high cholesterol and high blood pressure

Steroids can also be hepatoxic, meaning that they are toxic to the liver – putting users at a higher risk of liver tumours. Misuse can also cause kidney damage and prolonged use can even lead to kidney failure.

AAS are controlled substances in many countries, and non-prescribed use is illegal.

Anabolic-androgenic steroid use is also prohibited in most sports organisations, as the use of AAS for performance enhancement is considered unethical in sports. These drugs are therefore banned for use by athletes.

How long do steroids stay in your system?

The length of time anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) stay in your system depends on the specific steroid used, how the drug was taken (i.e. orally or injected), the dosage, the length and frequency of use, individual genetic differences in metabolism, and whether other drugs have been consumed at the same time.

Oral steroids stay in the system for approximately 3-8 weeks, depending on the type of steroid used.

Injectable steroids stay in your system for much longer than oral AAS. This is because they have much longer half-lives – meaning that they are released slowly into the bloodstream.

Again, the length of time injectable steroids remain detectable by drug testing varies depending on which drug is used.

What factors affect how long steroids stay in your system?  

The amount of time anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) remain in the body, and are therefore detectable using a drug test, depends on a variety of factors including:

  • The type of steroid used (e.g. short-acting or long-acting)
  • How the drug was taken (swallowed, injected) 
  • Dosage and frequency of use
  • Metabolism – this can be influenced by age, gender, genetics and overall health
  • Duration of use – prolonged steroid use means drugs will remain detectable in the body for a longer period of time
  • Drug testing method – different drug testing methods have varying detection windows. Hair and nail tests are known as wide-window forms of drug testing, meaning substances can be detected in the hair and nails months after they were first consumed.
  • Whether other substances have been consumed such as medications, alcohol and dietary supplements

How long does it take for steroids to show up in a drug test?

Even after the effects of a drug have worn off, and long after the drug was first consumed, it can still be detected by a drug test, depending on the type of test you take.

The drug testing detection windows for steroids are as follows:

  • Hair – up to 12 months, depending on the length of hair available for testing
  • Nails – up to 12 months (up to 6 months for fingernails and up to 12 months for toenails)

The rate at which hair and nails grow means that both hair drug testing and nail drug testing can provide a ‘wide-window’ of detection for drugs and their metabolites.

Are steroids addictive?

Anabolic steroids and anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) can be highly addictive, and many users who misuse them have been known to become dependent on them, leading to long-term issues.

Steroid addiction has been primarily linked to psychological dependence – whereby users feel a strong need to continue using steroids to maintain muscle mass and physical appearance, despite the serious and sometimes irreversible side effects.

Signs of steroid addiction include an increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings, depression, and loss of appetite.

If you or someone you know is struggling with steroid use, it is important to seek professional help.

What are the effects of steroid use? 

The use of steroids for performance enhancement can lead to a range of short-term and long-term effects on the body and mind.

Short-term effects of steroid misuse can include:

  • physical changes, involving rapid gain in muscle and reduced fat mass
  • acne
  • fluid retention
  • gynecomastia (the development of breast tissue in men)
  • testicular atrophy (shrinking of the testes)
  • psychological effects including mood swings (often referred to as “roid rage”), anxiety and paranoia

Prolonged misuse of steroids can also lead to long-term health risks, including:

  • high risk of hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • heart disease
  • liver damage
  • suppression of the immune system, putting users at an increased risk of infections
  • reproductive problems, including reduced sperm production in men and menstrual irregularities in women
  • clitoral enlargement in women
  • voice deepening in women, which can be irreversible

Steroid use in adolescents can cause stunted growth because of premature closure of the growth plates, leading to a reduced adult height, which in many cases is irreversible.

Moreover, rapid muscle growth can outpace the strength of tendons, putting steroid users at an increased risk of tendon injuries.

The psychological side effects of steroid use are serious and include addiction, mood disorders such as depression and mania, and cognitive impairment – where users report a negative effect on cognitive function and memory.

These effects can vary based on the dosage, duration of use, and individual factors such as age, sex, and overall health.

What are the signs of steroid addiction?  

Steroid addiction, specifically addiction to anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), poses several significant risks that impact both physical and mental health.

Below are the key signs and health risks associated with steroid addiction:

  • Physical: individuals may experience rapid muscle growth, severe acne, hair loss, high blood pressure, and reproductive issues such as testicular shrinkage in men and menstrual irregularities in women
  • Psychological: mood swings, increased aggression, anxiety, depression, and paranoid delusions
  • Behavioural: addicts may exhibit secretive behaviour, social withdrawal, excessive time spent on body image. They may also encounter financial problems and legal issues

Withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, and depression. Recognising these signs is crucial for seeking timely professional help and support.

The risks associated with steroid addiction are substantial, encompassing a wide range of physical, mental, and social health issues. Individuals using or considering using AAS should be aware of these risks and seek medical advice.

For those struggling with addiction, professional help, including medical supervision, therapy, and support is crucial for effective treatment and recovery.

Where can I get a steroid drug test?

Our state-of-the-art, accredited laboratory can test for a wide variety of drugs and their metabolites (breakdown products), including steroids.

We offer drug testing services to suit a range of needs, including for:

For more information or to request a quote, call our Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email info@alphabiolabs.com.

Drug Testing Services

Explore our accredited drug testing services.

Karolina Baker, AlphaBiolabs

Karolina Baker

Health Testing Specialist at at AlphaBiolabs

Karolina joined AlphaBiolabs in 2021, and holds the role of Health Testing Specialist.

As well as overseeing a range of health tests, Karolina plays an active role in the research and development of the company’s latest health test offerings.

Before joining AlphaBiolabs, Karolina worked as an Associate Practitioner at Mid-Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and as a research assistant at the Turner Laboratory, within the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health at The University of Manchester.

Karolina’s main scientific interests include clinical genomics and genetic diagnostics. Her qualifications include a BSc in Molecular Biology and an MSc in Genomic Medicine.

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