Methamphetamine (aka meth, crystal meth, ice, or glass) abuse can lead to disastrous effects on an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional health and overall wellness. Much of the damage inflicted by meth use happens on the inside, but the most apparent harm can be seen outwardly on a person’s skin in the form of meth sores and scabs. These lesions are primarily caused by the imaginary presence of meth mites, an adverse side effect of heavy drug use, especially those related to stimulants.
People who abuse meth and experience this mental state (also known as formication) are notorious for exhibiting scratches, abrasions, sores, scabs, and scars, and they themselves are responsible for these self-injuries. Moreover, meth users will frequently scratch at their skin to try to remove the non-existent bugs. However, a few other factors can also contribute to the development of meth sores, including IV track marks, poor nutrition, and hygiene neglect.
Meth Mites and Crank Bugs
Meth mites and crank bugs are street names for the same type of hallucination. Persons who abuse meth tend to stay awake for prolonged periods, and sleep deprivation itself can provoke hallucinations in otherwise mentally stable individuals. Scientists have not found a precise cause of these hallucinations, but there have been many viable suggestions put forth, such as the following:
Cause 1: Meth use can cause anxiety, paranoia, and pruritis (itchiness). After several days of sleep deprivation, people who abuse meth may start to perceive the itching as caused by something moving on or beneath their skin.
Cause 2: Individuals who abuse meth may have delicate skin due to malnutrition, poor hygiene, or the toxic ingredients frequently used to produce meth. When high, users may compulsively pick and scratch at their already delicate skin, causing rawness, irritation, deep scratches, and sores.
Cause 3: Sleep deprivation and the psychotic features of tweaking may prompt a user to begin hallucinating and erroneously believe that bugs are the plague responsible for their skin problems and discomfort.
What Is Tweaking?
Tweaking is both a psychological and physical condition that can occur following a meth binging episode, which can go on for many days in some instances. During a binge, the person continues to use meth to delay the onset of the “comedown.” A comedown is a state hallmarked by the increasing loss of sought-after effects and the beginning of highly undesirable withdrawal symptoms.
After extended use, the person can no longer achieve a high, and he or she exhibits a condition known as tweaking. During this time, the person will begin to experience intense cravings that can no longer be satisfied. At this point, psychotic symptoms, including delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, and other altered or disturbances perceptions, may manifest.
When a person experiences a tweaking phase, this often drives many to seek and enter a detox and addiction treatment program, helping them mitigate withdrawal symptoms and advance them on the path to stable sobriety. Those who do not will experience the full effects of a “crash” and be faced with days of non-stop drowsiness and sleep.
After this crash comes a painful period of withdrawal that can last up to two weeks. The individual will be insatiably hungry, thirsty, and exhausted as their body struggles to re-establish balance.
It is believed that when a person is tweaking, he or she is more vulnerable to developing the skin sensations characteristic of meth mites. If they engage in scratching and picking, sores develop and can result in long-lasting scabs, scars, and possibly, infections.
Meth sores and scabs are common signs of heavy drug abuse, particularly meth and amphetamines. In general, those who abuse meth more frequently or for a prolonged period are likely to exhibit more sores and lesions than others.
In addition to being distasteful and hard to look at, meth sores can results in more severe health issues if an infection develops. Some of these sores may be treated with topical, over-the-counter disinfectants, but those that become infected will probably require some amount of medical intervention.
What Do Meth Sores Look Like?
Meth sores can vary in appearance depending on the cause, level of infection, and how long they’ve existed on a person’s skin. However, meth sores on the body tend to present as red dots, cuts, and rashes. On the face, meth sores can look similar to pimples or acne.
Sores can also form near the lips or inside the mouths of persons who smoke crystal meth. These sores can look similar to cold sores or canker sores, but they are among the potential signs of what is commonly referred to as meth mouth.
On other areas of the body, meth sores can sometimes appear similar to chickenpox lesions that the person has scratched. When a sore develops an infection, it may look like a nasty blister with a brown or black center, which may also be swollen, bloody, or pus-filled and exhibit redness and irritation around the location.
Without treatment, an infection can spread. If an individual with these sores treats them appropriately and quits abusing meth, their wounds will eventually heal and scar, and some will fade away considerably as time goes by.
However, if a meth sore isn’t thoroughly cleaned and protected, bacteria can enter the person’s body. Mild infections can produce pain and discomfort, and if they progress in severity, this can result in fever, fatigue, and diarrhea. In extreme cases, such infections that go untreated by medical providers can be life-threatening.
How to Treat Meth Sores
The best way to treat meth sores is to adopt a healthy lifestyle, allow time for them to heal independently, and prevent further infection. Wounds should be thoroughly cleaned with disinfectants or antiseptics, such as hydrogen peroxide, and then bandaged to shield them from irritants and bacteria in the environment. Picking, scratching, or interfering with the sore’s healing process in any way should be avoided at all costs.
It goes without saying that meth use should be discontinued immediately. Recovery from this disease is usually easier said than done, and individuals can benefit greatly from medical detox followed by comprehensive addiction treatment. Therefore, persons addicted to meth and struggling to quit are urged to seek professional help as soon as possible.
Treatment for Meth Addiction
Just Believe Recovery offers inpatient medical detox and integrated programs in residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient formats. Our programs feature services clinically-proven to be beneficial to the recovery process, including behavioral therapy, individual and group counseling, group support, relapse prevention, aftercare planning, and more.
Our highly-skilled, caring staff are dedicated to help you or a loved one break free from substance abuse and begin to forget the healthy and fulfilling life that everyone deserves!