Methamphetamine causes devastating effects on a person’s health. Most of the damage caused by meth happens inside the body. But the most apparent harm occurs on a person’s skin.
People who use meth are notorious for having sores, scratches, scabs and scars. These injuries are commonly attributed to hallucinations that make them believe they have insects under their skin.
“It’s mostly self-inflicted or self-damage stuff,” Dr. Edward Bednarczyk of the University at Buffalo told DrugRehab.com. “Either people are picking at it or you injure yourself and you’re Superman so you don’t do anything about it. You might not even notice it until later on. Then you’ve got this wound that’s kind of festering there.”
Meth users often pick at their skin to try to remove the imaginary bugs. However, several other factors can cause meth sores.
- Unsterile injections
- Burning the lips or mouth
- Unhealthy diet
- Poor hygiene
- Compulsive scratching
Some people who use meth say they scratch or rub their skin without realizing it when they’re tweaking. Tweaking is a word used to describe frantic behavior caused by stimulant abuse.
“It doesn’t help that methamphetamine’s a vasoconstrictor,” Bednarczyk said. “It causes the vessels to constrict. It reduces the blood flow to your fingers, to your hands and to your skin. If you’re not getting good blood flow to the skin, it doesn’t repair itself.”
Meth sores and scabs are a common sign of meth use
. They may also be an indicator of meth addiction
. In general, the more meth sores that a person has, the longer he or she has been using crystal meth or other forms of methamphetamine.
In addition to being unattractive, meth sores can cause health problems if they get infected. Some sores can be treated with disinfectants and bandages. However, sores that become infected require medical treatment.
What Meth Sores Look Like
The appearance of meth sores depends on what caused them, whether they’re infected and how long they’ve been on the person’s body. In general, meth sores on the skin look like red dots, rashes and cuts.
On the face, meth sores can look like acne. Sores can also develop on the lips or inside the mouths of people who smoke crystal meth. These sores can look like cold sores or canker sores. They’re one of the symptoms of meth mouth
On other parts of the body, meth sores may look like chicken pox blisters that someone scratched.
When a meth sore gets infected, it can look like a bad blister with a brown or black center. The blister may swell and fill with pus. If it isn’t treated, the infection can spread.
If a person with meth sores treats the sores properly and stops using meth, the wounds will heal similar to how a scratch or blister heals. They’ll slowly decrease in size, turn a dimmer shade of red and slowly fade away. They may scab and turn into a scar depending on the severity of the meth sore.
Meth Bugs, Meth Mites & Crank Bugs
Meth bugs, meth mites and crank bugs are terms for the same type of hallucination. People who use meth often stay awake for several days. Sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations in otherwise healthy individuals, according to the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Institute
- Meth can make a person itchy, anxious and paranoid. After several days without sleep, people who use meth may begin thinking that the itching is caused by something inside the skin.
- People who use meth may have unhealthy skin because of an unhealthy diet, poor hygiene or the effects of toxins inside of meth. When they’re high on meth, these people may compulsively rub their already unhealthy skin, causing scratches or irritations. They end up hallucinating and believing bugs are causing their skin problems.
- Meth mites and crank bugs are well-known terms. Most people who use meth have heard of the hallucination. Sleep deprivation and the side effects of meth use may make the memory of a story turn into a real hallucination.
The insects seem real during a hallucination, and the hallucination seems to be common among meth users. However, meth bugs and meth mites do not exist. No sober person has seen a meth bug.
Health Impact of Meth Sores
Meth sores create health risks similar to those of any other open wound. If the sore isn’t cleaned and protected, germs can enter a person’s body and cause an infection.
Infections can be minor or severe. Minor infections can cause pain and discomfort. If the infection spreads and becomes serious, it can cause fever, fatigue and diarrhea. When infections aren’t treated, they can be life-threatening, according to Mayo Clinic
The infection may be getting worse if it swells and fills with pus or blood. Another sign of a worsening infection is when the area around the sore becomes red. Meth sores that are caused by unsterile injections may indicate a contagious disease.
People who use meth often have poor immune systems, according to a 2014 study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience
. Their wounds may take longer to heal, and their infections may spread more rapidly.
How to Get Rid of Meth Sores
The simple way to get rid of meth sores and scabs is to live a healthy lifestyle and wait for them to heal. Acne, blisters and rashes usually heal over time if they aren’t infected. The quickest way to speed the recovery process is to protect the wounds from infection.
Some people report getting acne during meth detox, but the acne usually fades away within a week or two of meth withdrawal
- Stop using crystal meth.
- Clean the wound with over-the-counter disinfectants.
- Protect the wound with a bandage.
- As the wound heals, remove the bandage.
- Avoid picking, scratching or rubbing the wound.
Acne caused by meth use or meth withdrawal can be treated with over-the-counter ointments or treatments prescribed by a doctor. Some scars caused by meth use may be treated with traditional scar treatments, but scars that don’t fade may be one of the long-term effects of meth.
If you’re unable to stop using crystal meth, you should seek meth addiction treatment
. You can find treatment and support groups for meth abuse by calling a meth hotline
. Once you’ve stopped using crystal meth and you adopt a healthy lifestyle, your skin and overall health will improve.
DrugRehab.com aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.