Whether or not anabolic steroids show up on drug tests depends on the type of test you take. Almost all athletes and bodybuilders are subject to specialized drug tests, which check primarily for the presence of steroids.
Sporting Events and Competitions
If you are a competitive bodybuilder, or if you play a competitive sport, then chances are high that you may be subject to anabolic steroid testing. In fact, some locales test their athletes even at the high school and university levels since they believe anabolic steroids provide an unfair advantage to those who use them.
If this is the case, your coach (or the organization under which you compete) will inform you of the drug testing guidelines. They may even give you a list of all of the compounds they test for, although it is safe to say that if a test detects one steroid, it will detect them all.
Another major concern among anabolic steroid users is whether employers test for them during their common pre-employment drug screenings. Once again, this all comes down to the employer’s preference and how much the organization is willing to pay for your test.
Remember that tests for anabolic steroids are quite expensive, so very few employers include them in their normal screens. What’s more, you should also remember that some of the employers that check for steroids only pay for a testosterone level check. This means that if your testosterone levels are high, the company assumes there are steroids in your system. There is no way to “beat” these tests.
Drug Court or Legal Probation Screening
If drug court or drug screening is part of your probation terms and ordered by the court, then it is hard to say whether anabolic steroid testing comes into play.
For the most part, court-ordered screenings cover only recreational drugs like marijuana, cocaine, opiates, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and some others.
Once again, anabolic steroid testing is quite expensive, and since many court systems expect their probationers to pay their own fees, they do not expect them to come up with more than $100 for each test. In areas where anabolic steroids are viewed as “problematic”, or if the offense leading to the probation dealt with steroids, then testing is likely.
Military and Government Employees
Military and government employees are often subject to random testing just like employees in any other setting. However, even at these levels, the odds of being tested for anabolic steroids without probable cause is unlikely.
This simply means that, even in the military, anabolic steroid screening is not likely unless there is sufficient evidence to suggest that you use them – or unless you are facing legal action for possessing, selling, or buying them. In this case, the odds of steroid screening are quite high.
What Constitutes Probable Cause?
Without providing actual legal information, the truth is that the definition of probable cause varies from organization to organization. In some cases, simply being more muscular than the average person may lead an employer or coach to believe you are juicing, which could result in testing.
In other cases, knowingly associating with someone who has been found guilty of doping may also be probable cause for testing. Finally, things like sudden improvements in your performance, quick weight gain, or a “ripped” appearance that appears out of the blue are classic signs of steroid use, and these may lead to trouble.
What Kind of Testing Is It?
To answer the question, “Do anabolic steroids show up on drug tests?” it’s important to consider the type of drug test. In almost all cases, these tests look for highly elevated levels of testosterone. Anabolic steroids are testosterone derivatives, so they will show up much like testosterone during testing. If your test levels are only slightly elevated due to age, diet, activity, etc., you have very little to fear.
Keep in mind that the at the high end, normal testosterone levels stop at just over 1000 nanograms per deciliter. Bodybuilders and athletes who use exogenous steroids often raise their testosterone levels to 5000 nanograms per deciliter – well over normal. This is what leads to warning bells and can cause you to “fail” a drug screen.
Urine, Blood, or Hair – Which Is Which?
Do anabolic steroids show up in drug tests conducted on urine, blood, and hair? The answer is yes on all three counts, but again, the method used often comes down to cost.
Urine tests are generally the least expensive of the options, followed in cost by blood tests and follicle testing. Urine testing is less accurate than the other methods, with follicle testing able to detect drug use for as long as 90 days in the past.
Sometimes, these tests look for testosterone, but in other cases, they look for very specific steroid metabolites that only show up in the bloodstream after steroid use.
In the US, the most common form of steroid testing is more sophisticated than any of these three. It’s called antibody-antigen based radioimmunoassay. This term may sound complicated, but simply put, it uses a series of antibodies to seek out and measure the concentrations of antigens in the body.
Hormones like anabolic steroids are considered antigens for this purpose, and the test is surprisingly accurate. If an individual tests positive, though, chromatography is performed. This process passes either blood or urine through a very specific medium to measure the rates at which different components move. It is even more accurate than the radioimmunoassay procedure, and is used mostly by anti-doping agencies.
How Long are Steroids Detectable?
The length of time a steroid is detectible in the body varies based on the steroid itself, your body’s metabolism, and the means of testing. In general, though, the list below provides an accurate representation of detection times.
In short, anabolic steroids can and do show up on drug tests, but they are expensive tests and most organizations do not include them in their standard drug screens. Nonetheless, testing is more likely if you are an athlete, facing legal action for steroids, in the military, or a government employee.