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What Are Meth Sores?

Meth sores are open wounds that develop when a person uses methamphetamine or the crystallized form of the drug, called crystal meth. Skin problems are common for meth users because the drug triggers itching. 

Meth abuse also triggers hallucinations and the sensation that imaginary bugs are crawling on the skin which induces itching and scratching. Additionally, meth users might fall short on personal hygiene and fail to eat a healthy diet, both of which affect skin health. Meth has also been shown to constrict blood vessels and limit blood flow, which can cause acne.

The combination of all of these factors put a meth user at risk for developing sores that worsen over time and can cause skin infections.

What Are Meth Mites?

Meth mites, also known as meth bugs, crank bugs, or ice mites, are the imaginary bugs that meth users sometimes feel are crawling over their body. This specific type of hallucination is known as formication. Formication is a physical hallucination sometimes accompanied by a visual component that makes users think their body is covered in insects. This often results in itching and scratching, leading to meth sores.

Overview: Methamphetamine & Meth Addiction

Methamphetamine is an addictive stimulant drug that causes devastating effects. Skin irritation is one of the most obvious negative effects. However, it is only one of the many risks that come with using meth. 

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.

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 is a wound, it is typically severe and possibly infected.

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What Do Meth Sores Look Like?

Meth sores look different depending on their cause and whether or not they are infected. They tend to be red and look like a rash, cuts, blisters, or chickenpox. Sores on the face might appear to be acne.

Medical Images of Meth Sores

People who smoke crystal meth develop mouth sores and open sores on their lips, which might look like ulcers or cuts.

As sores worsen and become infected, they 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?

Meth sores are an indirect result of using the drug. This means that using meth does not automatically cause sores to develop. Instead, the drug triggers itching, irritation, and hallucinations which cause someone to pick and scratch at their skin, eventually leading to sores.

Many people who use meth go days at a time without sleeping. After several days, some people hallucinate something crawling under their skin. These are called “meth mites” or “crank bugs.”

Meth users also tend to eat poorly and have less-than-adequate hygiene habits. Both issues can cause the skin to itch and many meth users overreact to the itching due to their paranoia and anxiety.


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 the usual pain response when high.

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 or psychosis, which often includes 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 funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and published in The Journal of the American Dental Association, 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 poor dental hygiene and the fact that the use of meth causes dry mouth and exposes teeth to high levels of acid.

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Treatment for Meth Sores

The best way to treat or cure meth sores is to stop using meth and make other healthy lifestyle changes. Over time, the sores will heal. Severe sores might scar. It’s important to prevent meth sores from becoming infected because this increases the risk of scarring and leads to secondary health issues.

In addition to stopping the use of meth and preventing infection, it is also important to properly care for the sores as they heal and avoid picking and scratching at them.

Infected skin sores require medical attention. If a sore becomes infected, treatment will include antibiotics and/or draining the blistered part of the sore. In some cases, antibiotics prevent infection during the early stages of detox and recovery.

The length of time it takes meth sores to heal depends on the severity of the sores and the overall strength of the person’s immune system. Long-term use of meth tends to weaken immunity, so it’s important to work with medical health professionals including a dermatologist to ensure as efficient a healing process as possible.

If your loved one is struggling with drug addiction, it is essential to seek professional addiction treatment for drug use. Untreated substance abuse can lead to serious health complications, including overdose and death. Rehab options include inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, partial hospitalization programs, and more. 

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 is when the user is unable to feel high or euphoric. They are left with cravings and feelings of despair. It usually occurs because they don't have any more meth to do.

Signs of tweaking include:

  • High-intensity cravings
  • Powerful frustration and paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Imaginary bugs crawling on the skin
  • Detachment from reality
  • Insomnia
  • Self-harm

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.

Methamphetamine Statistics

1.6

Million

People reported methamphetamine use in 2016.

23

Years Old

The average age of new methamphetamine users is 23.3 years old.

61

Percent

Of people released from treatment for methamphetamine relapse within the first year.

Treatment for Meth Abuse & Addiction

Meth use is a public health issue. Nearly one million people in the United States were diagnosed with a methamphetamine use disorder in 2017. However, few people seek help. Substance abuse treatment rates for meth have declined by 28% from 2005 to 2015.

Luckily, there are many meth addiction treatment programs. Some of these include:

  • 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 every step of the way.
  • Contingency management interventions —these programs give incentives if you adhere to treatment and maintain abstinence.

Currently, there are no drugs 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.

Usually, a rehab center will conduct a consultation to understand the full scope of the patient's needs before recommending a treatment plan. Meth addiction often coincides with mental health or substance use disorders, and the right treatment plan will consider any comorbidities.

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 to find a treatment center near you.

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Resources

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Grant, Kathleen M., et al. “Methamphetamine-Associated Psychosis.” Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, vol. 7, no. 1, 5 July 2011, pp. 113–139, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3280383/, 10.1007/s11481-011-9288-1

 “Meth Mouth - American Dental Association.” Mouthhealthy.Org, 2015, www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/m/meth-mouth.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Is the Scope of Methamphetamine Misuse in the United States?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 8 Apr. 2020, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-scope-methamphetamine-misuse-in-united-states.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Methamphetamine Trends & Statistics.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 15 Dec. 2020, www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/methamphetamine/methamphetamine-trends-statistics.

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, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0376871614007728?via%3Dihub.

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