In This Article
What Are Meth Sores?
Meth sores are open wounds along the arms, face, and/or throat. They develop when someone abuses methamphetamine or crystal meth.
It's a common skin condition among meth users caused by their drug's physical and psychological effects.
What Are Meth Mites?
After several days without sleep, some meth users begin to hallucinate bugs crawling under their skin. These bugs are specifically called “meth mites,” "ice mites," or “crank bugs.”
Meth mites are imaginary bugs that meth users sometimes feel are crawling over their bodies. This often results in itching and scratching, leading to meth sores.
The majority of meth sores are self-inflicted. Meth users itch or experience the sensation of bugs crawling on their skin (methamphetamine-induced self-excoriations). Scratching in reaction to these two side effects aggravates the problem.
What Do Meth Sores Look Like?
Meth sores look different depending on their cause and whether or not they are infected. They are red and look like rashes, cuts, blisters, or chickenpox. Sores on the face or throat might appear to be acne.
Medical Images of Meth Sources
In many cases, someone using meth will scratch and pick far more than they would if they were sober because the drug increases their pain threshold.
By the time they realize there's a wound, the sores might develop a black or brown center and grow into a blister filled with pus.
If a person stops using meth and cares for his or her skin, sores will heal, scab over, and eventually fade. They can scar, depending on the severity of the sore.
What Causes Meth Sores?
Using meth does not automatically cause meth sores to develop. Instead, the drug triggers formication.
Formication is a physical hallucination that makes people think they are covered in insects. This leads someone to pick and scratch at their skin excessively.
Meth users overreact to the itching due to their paranoia and anxiety.
People who smoke crystal meth can also develop meth sores from glass tubes, which can become heated to the point of burning. This causes mouth and mucosa ulceration.
A combination of poor nutrition and less-than-adequate hygiene also contributes to skin fragility. This allows bacteria to enter the skin through the sores, causing infection.
Where Do Meth Sores Form?
The Face & Skin
Meth sores can occur anywhere on the body, but they tend to be worse around the head and neck. Meth mites (formication) create the sensation of bugs crawling under the skin.
Picking and scratching is a problem because a meth user’s senses are altered, and they don’t experience pain.
Not all meth users experience meth mites. The more someone uses the drug, the more he or she is likely to experience skin problems.
Research shows about a quarter to half of all people dependent on meth experience hallucinations, psychosis, or mental deficits, including the sensation of bugs.
The Mouth (Meth Mouth)
Many people are familiar with the term “meth mouth” or know that people who use meth tend to have poor dental hygiene.
According to a December 2015 study, 96 percent of meth users had cavities. More than half have untreated tooth decay. And about a third of meth users have six or more missing teeth.
Meth mouth causes teeth to blacken, rot, and eventually fall apart. Doctors believe extensive tooth decay occurs due to:
- Long periods of poor dental hygiene
- Dry mouth
- Excess cravings for carbonated, sugary beverages
Signs of Meth Use
People who use meth often exhibit specific behaviors and symptoms, including:
- Constant, rapid speech
- Rapid weight loss and loss of appetite
- Sores or scars from scratching
- Paranoia and erratic behavior
- Extreme bursts of energy
- Dilated pupils and rapid eye movements
- Rapid breathing
- Mood swings and outbursts
- Unstable sleep schedule
- Tooth or gum decay
- Bad body odor
- Pale or blotchy skin
- Profuse sweating
- Grinding teeth
Tweaking and Crashing
Tweaking happens at the end of a meth high. It occurs when the drug is unable to provide a "high" or euphoria. Users are left with cravings and feelings of despair.
Signs of tweaking include:
- High-intensity cravings
- Powerful frustration and paranoia
- Imaginary bugs crawling on the skin
- Detachment from reality
Crashing is the first stage of meth withdrawal. It usually happens 1 to 3 days after the last use. It includes loss of energy and cognitive function. Often, people sleep for one to three days during their crash. This can lead to high-intensity cravings, insomnia, depression, and hopelessness.
People reported methamphetamine use in 2016.
The average age of new methamphetamine users is 23.3 years old.
Of people released from treatment for methamphetamine relapse within the first year.
Treatment for Meth Sores & Meth Addiction
The best way to treat or cure meth sores is to stop using meth and make healthy lifestyle changes. Over time, the sores will heal.
Infected skin sores require medical attention. If a sore becomes infected, treatment will include antibiotics and/or draining the sore's abscessed part. The time it takes meth sores to heal depends on the severity of the sores and the person's immune system. Long-term use of meth tends to weaken immunity.
There are many meth addiction treatment programs. Some of these include:
- Rehab: These centers use different courses and frameworks for addiction recovery. They will usually conduct a consultation to understand the full scope of your needs before recommending a treatment plan. Rehab options can be inpatient or outpatient. Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) and Dual diagnosis treatment are also available.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Healthcare specialists may suggest the Matrix Model. This is a 16-week approach for those who abuse methamphetamine. It is a comprehensive program, including behavioral therapy, family education, personal counseling, 12-step support, drug testing, and encouragement for non-drug-related activities.
- Inpatient treatment centers: Detoxification and withdrawal are complicated and dangerous processes without proper medical supervision. These clinics provide that guidance by giving medical and psychological support during every step of recovery.
- Contingency management interventions: These programs give incentives if you adhere to treatment and maintain abstinence.
Currently, no drugs are available to counteract the effects of methamphetamines or those caused by long-term abstinence. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has conceived a method called MIEDAR (Motivation Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery). The incentive-based approach has been shown to encourage cocaine and methamphetamine abstinence.
With the right treatment plan, recovery is possible. If you or a loved one needs help with a substance use disorder, including meth use, contact an addiction specialist today.
Call to find out how much your insurance will cover
- Grant, Kathleen M., et al. “Methamphetamine-Associated Psychosis.” Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, 5 Jul. 2011.
- “Meth Mouth - American Dental Association.” Mouthhealthy.Org, 2015.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Is the Scope of Methamphetamine Misuse in the United States?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 8 Apr. 2020.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Methamphetamine Trends & Statistics.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 15 Dec. 2020.
- Brecht, Mary-Lynn, and Diane Herbeck. “Time to Relapse Following Treatment for Methamphetamine Use: A Long-Term Perspective on Patterns and Predictors.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Elsevier, 11 Mar. 2014.