Steroid Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment

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Topical corticosteroids play a key role in managing numerous dermatological conditions. They have received approval from the FDA and are recommended for addressing inflammatory and itchy manifestations associated with dermatological disorders. Some applications include treating conditions like psoriasis, localized areas of vitiligo, eczema, and atopic dermatitis. The possibility of TCS (topical corticosteroid) withdrawal, sometimes referred to as steroid addiction, can arise as a potential complication of TCS therapy, especially when moderate or potent TCS is inappropriately applied over an extended period on the facial or genital areas. 

While TCS addiction and withdrawal are gaining traction in social and mainstream media discussions, they have garnered relatively limited attention within medical literature compared to anabolic steroid addiction. Read on to discover what is a steroid addiction and how to connect with evidence-based care in Ohio.

What Is a Topical Steroid Addiction?

Topical steroid addiction, also known as TSW (topical steroid withdrawal) or topical corticosteroid addiction, is a condition that can develop when someone uses topical corticosteroid creams or ointments excessively and for prolonged periods. These medications are prescribed to manage various skin conditions due to their anti-inflammatory properties. When used inappropriately, though, especially on sensitive areas like the face or genitals, they can lead to dependency and withdrawal symptoms when discontinued.

Individuals who develop topical steroid addiction often experience a paradoxical worsening of their skin condition, accompanied by symptoms such as redness, burning, itching, and skin thinning. This condition is characterized by a cycle where the person applies more and more topical steroids to alleviate symptoms, only to experience exacerbation when they try to stop using them.

Topical steroid addiction is distinct from the appropriate use of these medications under medical supervision. When used as prescribed, topical corticosteroids are generally safe and effective in managing various dermatological conditions.

If you suspect you may be experiencing topical steroid addiction or withdrawal, consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance on how to manage your skin condition safely. Avoid self-diagnosis and self-treatment, as it can lead to further complications.

A man looks troubled as he thinks about Topical steroid addiction symptoms

Signs of a Steroid Addiction

Recognizing the signs of a topical steroid addiction can help inform early intervention and appropriate treatment. While not everyone who uses topical steroids will develop an addiction, certain signs and behaviors may indicate a problem. Here are some common signs to watch out for:

  • Increased frequency of use: Individuals with TSA often apply topical steroids more frequently than prescribed or recommended, believing that it will provide better relief.
  • Persistent use: They may continue using topical steroids despite experiencing adverse effects or worsening of their skin condition.
  • Tolerance: Over time, some people may find that the same strength of topical steroid becomes less effective, leading them to use stronger formulations as tolerance forms.
  • Withdrawal attempts: Individuals with TSA may make repeated attempts to stop using topical steroids but find it challenging due to the presentation of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Dependence: A reliance on topical steroids to manage day-to-day life and a fear of not having them readily available.
  • Skin changes: Prolonged use of topical steroids can result in skin changes, including thinning, fragility, redness, and stretch marks.
  • Redness and rebound flaring: A hallmark sign of TSA is experiencing redness and worsening of the skin condition when trying to discontinue the use of topical steroids, often referred to as rebound flaring.
  • Psychological impact: Some people may experience anxiety, depression, or obsessive thoughts related to their use of topical steroids.

Steroid Addiction Symptoms

Topical steroid addiction symptoms can vary in severity and may include:

  • Intense itching that seems to worsen when topical steroids are not applied.
  • A persistent burning or stinging feeling on the skin.
  • Affected skin may become visibly red and inflamed.
  • Prolonged use of potent topical steroids can lead to skin thinning, making it more fragile and prone to bruising.
  • Changes in skin pigmentation, including darkening or lightening of the affected area.
  • Skin may feel rough or develop stretch marks.
  • Individuals with TSA may experience anxiety, depression, or stress related to their skin condition and steroid use.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these signs and symptoms, seek medical advice and assistance from a dermatologist or healthcare provider. They can provide a proper diagnosis, guidance on discontinuing topical steroids safely, and recommend alternative treatments for the underlying skin condition.

Steroid Addiction Hotline

For individuals struggling with topical steroid addiction or those who suspect they may have developed an addiction to topical steroids, seeking steroid addiction help and support is essential. A steroid addiction hotline can be a valuable resource for those in need. These hotlines are staffed by trained professionals who can provide information, guidance, and assistance related to TSA. Here’s what you need to know about steroid addiction hotlines:

  • Confidential assistance: Steroid addiction hotlines offer a confidential and non-judgmental environment for individuals to discuss their concerns and seek help. Your privacy is a top priority when you call.
  • Information and education: Hotline staff can provide information about topical steroid addiction, its signs, symptoms, and the treatment options available. They can also answer questions and address any misconceptions about TSA.
  • Crisis intervention: If you are experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms or emotional distress related to TSA, the hotline can provide crisis intervention and connect you with immediate support.
  • Referrals: The professionals staffing the hotline may be able to refer you to dermatologists, therapists, or support groups specializing in topical steroid addiction treatment in your area.
  • Emotional support: Sometimes, individuals dealing with TSA need someone to talk to who understands their struggles. The hotline staff can offer empathetic listening and emotional support.
  • Guidance for loved ones: If you are a family member or friend concerned about someone with TSA, the hotline can provide guidance on how to approach the situation and support your loved one.

To find a steroid addiction hotline, you can:

  • Contact a local healthcare provider or dermatologist who may be able to provide you with information on relevant hotlines in your region.
  • Search online for organizations specializing in dermatological conditions and addiction support. They often provide hotline numbers on their websites.
  • Contact mental health crisis hotlines or addiction helplines, as they may be able to direct you to resources for topical steroid addiction.

Remember that seeking help is a crucial step in managing TSA effectively. Whether you are struggling with this condition yourself or are concerned about a loved one, reaching out to a steroid addiction hotline can be the first step toward recovery and support.

Steroid Addiction Treatment

Treatment for topical steroid addiction can help people break the cycle of dependency and manage their underlying skin condition effectively. The approach to treatment may vary based on the severity of TSA and individual needs. Here are some key components of TSA treatment:

  • Medical evaluation: The first step is to consult a healthcare professional like a dermatologist. They will assess the extent of the addiction, the condition of the skin, and any underlying skin issues that may have contributed to the addiction.
  • Discontinuation of topical steroids: In most cases, the treatment plan involves gradually tapering off the use of topical steroids to minimize withdrawal symptoms. Abrupt discontinuation can lead to more severe rebound flaring.
  • Moisturization: People are often advised to use moisturizers regularly to help repair and hydrate the skin, as prolonged use of topical steroids can lead to skin dryness and thinning.
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors: In some cases, dermatologists may recommend the use of topical calcineurin inhibitors like tacrolimus or pimecrolimus as an alternative to steroids for managing the skin condition.
  • Oral medications: In severe cases of TSA, oral medications such as systemic corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, or antihistamines may be prescribed to manage symptoms and prevent rebound flaring.
  • Emotional support: People dealing with TSA often need psychological support. The distress associated with this condition can be significant, and therapy or counseling may be beneficial in addressing the emotional aspect of addiction.
  • Education: Individuals and their families should receive education on the appropriate use of topical steroids, potential side effects, and the importance of following medical instructions.
  • Skin care regimen: Dermatologists may recommend a tailored skincare regimen to promote skin healing and reduce irritation. This may include gentle cleansers and hypoallergenic products.
  • Monitoring: Regular follow-up appointments with a healthcare provider are essential to track progress, adjust the treatment plan as needed, and ensure that the skin condition is improving.
  • Avoiding triggers: Identifying and avoiding triggers that may exacerbate the skin condition, such as allergens or irritants can help in preventing relapse.

Recovery from TSA can be a gradual process, and the duration of treatment may vary from person to person. Patience and commitment to following medical advice are central to successful recovery. If you suspect topical steroid addiction or are concerned about the use of topical steroids, consult a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and guidance on the most appropriate treatment plan.

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn