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Updated on February 1, 2022

Meth Sores

What Are Meth Sores?

Meth sores are open wounds that develop when a person uses methamphetamine or crystal meth excessively. Skin problems are common because of both the physical and psychological effects of excessive use of the drug. 

Long-term meth abuse triggers formication. This is characterized by hallucinations and sensations of bugs crawling on the skin. It induces severe itching and scratching.

Meth users might also fail to maintain a healthy diet rich in nutrients that provide protection to the skin.

Lastly, meth can constrict blood vessels and limit blood flow, causing skin problems.

The combination of all of these factors puts a meth user at risk for developing sores that can cause skin infections.

What Are Meth Mites?

Meth mites are also known as meth bugs, crank bugs, or ice mites. They are imaginary bugs that meth users sometimes feel crawling over their body.

This specific type of hallucination is known as formication. Formication is a physical hallucination sometimes accompanied by visuals that make users think they are covered in insects.

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.

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 or throat might appear to be acne.

Medical Images of Meth Sources
Meth sores on face
Meth sores on leg
Meth sores on neck
Mouth with tooth decay from meth
Meth sores on arms
Hands with meth sores

People who smoke crystal meth often develop meth sores from glass tubes, which can become heated to the point of burning. This causes mouth and mucosa ulceration.

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. This causes 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.”

A combination of poor nutrition and less-than-adequate hygiene contribute to skin fragility. This can cause the skin to become infected with bacteria as they gain access through the sores.

Meth users overreact to the itching due to their paranoia and anxiety, causing a vicious cycle of more skin damage.

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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

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. This increases the risk of scarring and leads to secondary health issues.

It is important to stop the use of meth and prevent 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 abscessed 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. It also depends on the overall strength of the person’s immune system. Long-term use of meth tends to weaken immunity. It’s important to work with medical health professionals. You should see a dermatologist to ensure the healing process is going smoothly.

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:

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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
  • 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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  1. 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
  2.  “Meth Mouth - American Dental Association.” Mouthhealthy.Org, 2015, www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/m/meth-mouth.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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