Skin Problems for Drug Abusers and Alcoholics | Substance Abuse Signs
skin problems for drug abusers and alcoholics

It is common knowledge that prolonged drug use can cause major health complications for the body’s most vital organs – especially the liver, kidneys, bladder, and stomach. But, most people neglect the fact that drug addiction can also be extremely damaging to the body’s largest organ – the skin. Learn more about skin problems for drug abusers and alcoholics. We’ve broken down many of them below with respect to drug type.


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Drugs Cause a Number of Problematic Skin Conditions

If you have a problem with substance abuse, or you are a recreational user, you should know about the most common skin problems caused by certain drugs (alcohol is a drug!). Sure, you might not be so concerned about infections and scars on your body – they can be hidden – but what about your beautiful face? You only get one….and it is on display for the world to see! Make no mistake about it – you are not exempt from having some of the skin conditions we will talk about in this article. They can happen to anybody who abuses intoxicating substances. If you are not careful, you could do permanent damage that will leave you disfigured. Of course, this will leave you wishing you had never done these flesh-rotting drugs in the first place. But, by then, it will be too late.


Why Do Drugs Cause Skin Problems?

There are a number of reasons why drugs cause certain skin problems. We will explain this in greater detail as we talk about each substance. However, there are some common factors that explain why intoxicants can wreak havoc on your skin.

  1. For starters, most people who struggle with an addiction are not concerned about personal hygiene. Taking showers or baths are usually way down on the to-do list. Many people who are hooked on drugs will not wash themselves for weeks at a time. This allows harmful bacteria to remain active (and breed! UGH!) on the skin, which leads to chronic skin conditions.
  2. Another obvious reason substance abuse causes common skin problems is that fact drugs are toxic pollutants to the body. It doesn’t matter whether you are slamming tequila or shooting heroin (well, it kinda does – we’ll get to that!), every substance you put into your body has a profound impact on your skin’s health. Just like drinking plenty of water helps to hydrate the skin and boost its immunity, intoxicants dehydrate and damage the skin.
  3. Also, drugs tend to overheat the body and cause the body to sweat more than it normally would to cool itself down. Guess what that sweat is made of? Water and toxic byproducts of whatever substances you have been using. This causes yucky stuff to be absorbed by your skin. Without washing it off, it just sits there and festers. This promotes bacterial infections and skin problems galore. Ick!
  4. Plus, poor nutrition leads to bad skin. Just like very other organ in the body, the skin needs nutrients to function properly. Without essential vitamins, minerals, and pure drinking water, the skin will get sick – and it will let you know it is sick by producing visible problems. These problems are rarely treated properly because people with a drug habit don’t like to go see the doctor.
  5. Finally, the lifestyle choices of an addicted person are hard on the skin. People who use drugs often stay up for days or even weeks at a time. This causes exhaustion, which causes bags under the eyes and other unsightly problems.

Why Should You Care About Your Skin?

When you live enslaved by addiction, there are few other things on your mind than the next drink, the next hit, or the next fix. Getting loaded is all that matters – consequences be damned. However; in our experience, most people who come to us for addiction treatment are far more concerned with what drugs have done to their skin than their liver or small intestines. We want you to know this. You may have little concern for your health or your appearance now. But, when you do get sober (and we have absolute faith and confidence that you WILL when you are ready!), you will most certainly care about what you look like.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where people greatly care about physical appearance. It is a known fact many employers won’t hire someone – even though they are educated and qualified – because of the way they look. And, most of us also realize that finding a romantic partner is largely based on physical attraction. Also, our outward appearance greatly affects how we feel about ourselves on the inside. We can tell you all day long that using drugs can cause you major health problems later in life, but these warnings will probably fall on deaf ears. However; if we appeal to your natural inclination toward vanity, we might be able to reach you. Skin problems caused by drugs can leave lifelong scars on your face, neck, and arms. You can also lose huge chunks of your skin because of abscesses. Are you sure you have the strength to bare these marks on your body for the world to see to for the rest of your life?    Studies have shown that specific skin disorders and conditions are caused by certain drugs. Let’s talk skin problems for drug abusers and alcoholics.

Common Skin Problems For Drug Abusers And Alcoholics

The Devastating Skin Problems Caused by Meth

Meth, also known as crystal methamphetamine, has the most notorious reputation for causing skin problems because of drug use. Even short-term meth use can have a profound negative impact on your skin, as well as your health. It’s easy to spot someone who is struggling with a meth addiction. The meth sores, scabs, and scars on their face tell the story of prolonged abuse of this toxic drug. Even long after someone has quit using this substance, there will be evidence of the addiction. This can leave someone feeling as if they can never escape their past. Why? Because they can see it every time they look in the mirror.

Meth Sores

The most common skin problem associated with amphetamine use. An experience called “formication” is usually the cause. Formication is a hallucination that causes people to feel as if there are bugs crawling under their skin. The bugs aren’t real. They only exist in the user’s mind. Nevertheless, this does not stop someone under the influence of the drug from scratching and picking at their skin, digging for what are known as “meth mites.” This causes open sores and scabs. Meth sores look like ulcers and open wounds. The experience of hallucinating meth mites is caused by a surge of serotonin in the brain, which can lead to a psychotic episode. (Serotonin is a feel-good neurotransmitter that, when experienced in high doses, can cause euphoria and alter perception). When someone is spun, they actually believe they can see and/or feel these imaginary bugs crawling on their skin and they become frantic to get them off. Not everyone who takes this drug will have the experience of formication. And, studies show that typically, someone must use methamphetamines five or more days a week for six months or longer to experience formication. The body’s ability to heal meth wounds is compromised because the feeling of being attacked by meth mites is constant and unrelenting. This leads to ongoing scratching and picking, which makes the situation worse. Eventually, these meth sores become scars or leave permanent pock marks (or holes) in the face.

Dermatillomania – also known as Skin Picking Disorder

This is a mental disorder that involves body-focused repetitive behavior – in this case, picking the skin. While this is officially classified as a mental health issue driven by obsession and compulsion, many people who use meth develop Dermatillomania during periods of prolonged use. The individual who suffers from this condition feels powerless to stop the behavior, even though it causes physical injury. Dermatillomania causes obvious signs of skin abuse. It involves obsessive and compulsive picking of the skin. Users may have an uncontrollable urge to pick, squeeze and even scratch their skin, causing many defects to appear. The most targeted area is the face, although some users will also pick at their arms, legs, back, stomach and chest. To be clear, Formication is the sensation of feeling bugs under the skin. Dermatillomania is the need to pick at the meth sores caused by digging into or scratching the skin to “get” the bugs. Also, someone with meth-induces Dermatillomania will pick on moles, scars, acne, or other skin conditions. They may also dig into their skin and create sores where there were none. Those who struggle with dermatillomania will often do the majority of their picking in only one area. Obsessive picking can lead to scarring and other types of injuries, like infections and tissue damage. The condition can even lead to disfigurement. In some cases, skin grafting is needed to treat the condition.

The disfigurement can be quite severe. In addition to meth sores, someone who abuses methamphetamines can also experience persistent and extreme cases of acne that looks like a rash on the face and body. Because crystal meth weakens the immune system, the body has a difficult time fighting off bacteria and infections. Take someone with low immunity coupled with poor personal hygiene and you create the perfect storm for meth rash. Meth rash can happen on the face, but it usually happens under the arms, on the back and shoulders, and between the legs. This is because sweat that is saturated with the toxins from the drug sits on the skin and festers. When there is friction (like under the arms), it helps to grind bacteria back into the skin, which produces a bright red, itchy, bumpy, burning rash.

Rapid Aging

In addition to meth sores, this drug can make your face look leathery and old. Frequent use of this drug will negatively impact the body’s blood flow and damage blood vessels. This prevents the skin from getting the blood it needs to stay youthful and vibrant. Without proper circulation, the skin will begin to break down at a cellular level and can look yellow, gray, brown, or even black. This gives users’ skin a dull, ghastly, petrified look. Many people who use methamphetamines for a long period of time can look twenty years older than they actually are. They will have deep wrinkles and lines on their face because the drug makes the bodywork overtime and breaks down collagen. In a world where people are willing to spend big bucks on anti-aging remedies, why would anyone intentionally do something to their skin to make it appear older than it is? Also, keep in mind, meth is made up of toxic chemicals like brake fluid, gasoline, rubbing alcohol, and other pollutants. These are poisonous to the body and lead to skin problems. When you use this drug, you are ingesting some of the most harmful chemicals known to man. The body is simply not capable of breaking these compounds down without doing some serious bodily damage – especially to the skin.

Skin Problems For Drug Abusers And Alcoholics

A Look at Abscesses Caused By Heroin Use

We’ve talked a lot about skin problems caused by meth because the stories of meth mites and sores precede the drug’s reputation. Now, let’s talk about heroin for a minute. Heroin addiction can also cause unwanted skin problems. The most dangerous is a skin abscess, which can be deadly if left untreated.   A skin abscess is just one of the many medical complications that can arise from IV heroin use.  Many heroin users use needles to shoot the drug into their veins or muscles. More often than not, these needles are dirty and unsanitary, exposing the user to bacteria and airborne pathogens that can cause infection or disease. As a result, a heroin injection site can easily become an open wound. Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop an addicted person from continuing to shoot heroin into that part of the body. What results is a pus-filled, extremely painful, totally disgusting mess-of-a-situation for the user. It is not uncommon for heroin users to minimize the seriousness of an abscess and put off going to the doctor for it. They don’t want to have to deal with the inconvenience of a hospital stay and be without their heroin. This causes the condition to get worse and worse until – motivated by excruciating pain – someone with a serious abscess will go for help. The problem is, infections caused by heroin abscesses can get into the bloodstream and cause  a number of different catastrophes. They can eat away at the bones, cause the kidneys and immune system to shut down, and become so severe that surgery or amputation is required. Although it is rare, it is possible to die from this skin condition. If you are a heroin user, you should NEVER inject into an abscess. If you see one on your skin, you should go for immediate medical care. Don’t wait until it’s too late. If you do, you might have to undergo surgery, stay in a hospital for weeks until the infection clears up, or lose an arm or a leg.

Common Skin Problems Caused By Cocaine Use

Cocaine use can lead to a number of skin disorders depending on how the drug is administered. Intravenous cocaine use, for example, can lead to necrotic tissue. Smoking crack can cause a condition called “crack hands,” where the tissue on fingers and palm can blacken because of exposure to extreme heat.

Cocaine use can also lead to the following conditions:

  • Vasculitis and Retiform Purpura
  • Scleroderma
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • Churg-Strauss and a P-ANCA positive Wegener granulomatosis-like syndrome.

Vasculitis is damage to the blood vessels due to inflammation. This creates a dark, speckled pattern on the skin. This can lead to a condition known as Retiform Purpura, which is basically a more intense version of the same condition. Fortunately, this type of ulceration and bruising is reversible when it comes to cocaine use. Your body will slowly recover if you quit. Cocaine use can also lead to Scleroderma, which is hardening of the connective tissues. This forms a splatter pattern on your body. Churg-Strauss causes rashes to appear on the skin, and the same can be said for a P-ANCA positive Wegener granulomatosis-like syndrome. These conditions cause the skin to look dull and speckled. It will also look like there’s a lot of bruising going on. This basically means that the skin and the blood vessels underneath are damaged. In worse case scenarios, this may lead to necrosis. Although not quite as severe, cocaine addiction causes skin problems similar to those you would expect with a meth user. Many users experience Formication and subsequent Dermatillomania. Though usually not as prevalent or severe as meth sores, cocaine use can cause sores on the face and arms and leave permanent scars or pocks.   Also, cocaine addiction – especially crack addiction –  causes premature aging. As a result, those who abuse cocaine often have more wrinkles and facial lines than other people their age. Cocaine dehydrates the skin and breaks down collagen. It causes the body to work overtime because it increases heart rate and blood pressure. Depending on how cocaine is being ingested, other skin conditions may appear. Those who smoke crack often experience a loss of lateral eyelashes and eyebrows, a condition similar to “Madarosis.” This happens when a hot flame makes contact with the skin and the face. Crack use often also causes skin burns from the hot pipe. Since crack use suppresses the immune system, it takes a lot longer for crack addicts to heal from these injuries.

Skin Damage Caused by Prescription Stimulants

Skin problems for drug abusers and alcoholics can seem like commonplace, but even prescription medicines are known to also cause skin problems and damage, particularly stimulants. There are many different types of prescription stimulants. Adderall, for example, is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Different prescription stimulants can cause different types of skin disorders. Not everyone will experience skin disorders from using these drugs. It all depends on your genetic makeup. Prescription stimulant use can cause rashes, hives and hypersensitivity. Angioedema can also be a reaction to prescription stimulant use. This is a swelling of the epidermis, just below the skin. Serious conditions that have been linked to prescription drug use include Stevens Johnson Syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis.

Stevens Johnson Syndrome

Stevens Johnson Syndrome is essentially a skin disease that appears if an individual is allergic to a prescription stimulant. Not everyone will be allergic, so only a handful of users will ever experience this condition. Stevens Johnson Syndrome causes symptoms like:

  • Aching
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Red rashes

The rashes can turn into blisters, and they will spread to other parts of the body. Blisters usually appear near the mouth, the nose, the eyes and the genitals. After the blisters have formed, the skin in those areas will shed within a few days. If you are using prescription stimulants, and you experience this disorder, you should seek immediate medical attention before the condition gets worse.

Skin Problems From Drug Use

Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TENS)

Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, otherwise known as TENS, is also a skin disorder that can be caused by prescription stimulant use. It’s a milder version of Stevens Johnson Syndrome, and may even be an early symptom of the syndrome. This condition appears when an individual has a negative reaction to the stimulants. The reason behind the negative reaction is unknown. As a result, this skin disorder only affects some patients and not others. The disorder involves shedding of the skin, hair and nails. Those affected often feel cold and are hypersensitive.

Alcohol-Related Skin Conditions

An alcohol addiction can lead to major consequences for your physical health. It’s no secret that alcoholism leads to cirrhosis of the liver, kidney failure, stomach cancer, and other debilitating conditions. But, alcohol can also have damaging effects to your skin – a consideration most people overlook when they’re hooked on booze. Here are some common alcohol-related skin conditions:

Puffer Flusher

Drinking alcohol can cause facial flushing, or “red face.” This is the result of dilated blood vessels and increased blood flow. Over time, dilation of the blood vessels. Also, this condition can cause blood vessels to become leaky, which leaves the skin with a puffy appearance.

Arid Skin

Alcohol is a powerful diuretic – which means the stuff makes you urinate more frequently. This prevents your kidneys from effectively extracting water from the urine. When this happens, the skin becomes lackluster, dull, and lifeless. It also becomes itchy and scaly.

Premature Aging

Also, you should know that – like cocaine and crystal meth – alcohol speeds up the aging process. This is because beer, wine, and liquor lower your body’s ability to fight off free radicals that cause the skin to sag, puff, and wrinkle. Most people who have an addiction to alcohol look much older than they are. Needless to say, the aging process shows up on the face and it is irreversible. One of the most common complaints we hear from recovering people who come to us for alcohol addiction treatment is how alcohol has affected their face.

Lowered Immunity

Alcoholics are also prone to developing skin conditions like urticarial reactions, pruritus, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and cutaneous stigmata of cirrhosis. This is because alcohol substantially lowers immune function. Luckily, these skin conditions will usually heal themselves once an individual has quit drinking.


Prolonged alcohol use can lead to jaundice, a serious liver disease. This can cause the skin to turn a yucky yellow.

How Do You Avoid Skin Problems Caused By Drugs?

If you insist on abusing intoxicants – and we wish you wouldn’t…. for your own well-being – try to be mindful of your skin. Skin problems for drug abusers and alcoholics happen all too frequently and yet another reason to consider Colorado addiction treatment. This is easier said than done, of course. Addiction robs even the most health-conscious person of the ability to make good choices. Nevertheless, you can at least make the effort. The best thing you can do for your skin if you have a substance abuse problem is to drink plenty of water. This helps flush toxins from your body and reduces the likelihood of bacterial infections. It also helps you to stay hydrated so you won’t sweat as much and expose your skin to harmful pollutants. Another way to avoid common skin problems caused by drugs is to take a shower on a regular basis. This gets all the grime and gook off your skin that could lead to infection. It also reduces inflammation and clogged pores and allows your skin to maintain a proper Ph level so it won’t become too oily.   And, of course, the best way to avoid drug-related skin problems is not to use drugs at all. That way, you can put your best face forward, avoid dangerous abscesses, avoid premature aging caused by drug use, and be comfortable in your own skin.


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