What are Meth Sores?
Have you heard someone talking about meth sores and wondered what they are? Maybe you’ve been worried that someone close to you has a meth addiction problem. Here is some background information on meth sores so you can tell if a friend, coworker, or loved one might have an abuse problem.
What Is Meth?
Meth is a nickname for methamphetamine, a stimulant that is mostly used as an illegal recreational drug. Its effects can last for 12 hours to several days. It is occasionally prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but most physicians don’t like to use it because of its side effects and potential for abuse.
Methamphetamine is mostly made illegally in laboratories around the country. It has been a growing problem as an abused drug for the last several decades, although the drug itself has been around since the 1880s. It can be snorted (inhaled) as a white crystalline substance (AKA crystal meth), taken intravenously, or consumed orally in tablet form. Sometimes it is combined with other drugs like ecstasy or crack cocaine.
On the street, meth has a number of pseudonyms, including but not limited to:
- Mexican crack
- Stove top
People who abuse meth are sometimes called tweakers, meth heads, and speed freaks. There is an entire culture around meth use with its own language for using and buying.
The initial side effects of meth are why many people abuse it:
- Stimulation and increased energy
- Aphrodisiac properties
- Mood elevation and increased confidence
- Increased alertness and concentration
- Reduced appetite/weight loss
People start using meth for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes, especially with kids, it’s because their friends are doing it. Other times it’s to study for college exams or drive long-haul truck routes. Some meth users develop a habit at parties.
However, meth use can also produce a wealth of unwanted side effects that can kick in even with the first few uses, such as:
- Mood swings
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Violent behavior
How Do Meth Users Get Sores?
Over time, the side effects of meth use can get progressively worse, including degradation of the body (see next section). One of those side effects is a feeling of having bugs crawling on the skin because of restricted blood flow to the surface of the skin. These imaginary bugs may also be related to the hallucinogenic properties of meth and are often called “meth mites” or “crank bugs.” Occasionally meth sores can also result from “skin popping,” injecting the drug directly under the skin, although this is more common with other abused drugs like fentanyl and morphine.
As the prickly feeling (AKA formication) gets worse for meth users because their blood flow becomes further restricted over time, they may scratch at the skin or even try to dig at it with tools like nails or knives. They may also use their fingernails to pick at their wounds, drawing blood and creating scabs that get continually reopened. These sores are frequently found on the arms and face where it is easy to pick at them.
As time goes on with additional meth use, the blood flow to the skin gets worse and worse, and these meth sores never heal. The entire skin can become leathery and darkly colored. Meth users may also have problems with acne because of increased sweating and metabolic function.
What Are Other Signs of Meth Use?
Methamphetamine is highly addictive. Addiction can happen with even just one or two uses. When someone uses meth repeatedly, the body begins to crave it, including the brain, where reward centers light up with each dose. When no meth is available, a meth addict can go through withdrawal, which is one sign of meth abuse. These withdrawal symptoms can last for years after quitting the drug, which makes relapse particularly likely for meth users in recovery.
The symptoms of meth withdrawal, which generally begin about 24 hours after the last dose, include:
- Fatigue (AKA “crash phase” during first 10 days)
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Anhedonia (difficulty experiencing pleasure)
There are numerous other signs of meth use that you may notice in someone with meth sores. Some of these are related to the degradation of the body as the meth breaks down bodily tissues and functions. Others are related to the psychological aspects of using meth.
- Dilated pupils
- Flushed skin, high body temperature, and excessive sweating
- Frenetic movement, inability to sit still
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Rapid breathing
- Blood pressure changes (too high or too low)
- Blurred vision
- Tremors or tics
- Worsening of certain medical conditions like heart disease, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, and glaucoma
- Burns on the lips or fingertips (from smoking meth)
- Track marks on the arms (from injecting meth)
- Slow healing of all wounds
- Repetitive and obsessive behaviors
- Increased psychosis (including paranoia, angry outbursts, mood swings, and delusions or worsening of pre-existing mental health conditions like bipolar disorder)
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Isolation or suddenly hanging with new people
- Running out of money or unable to pay expenses
- Stealing to fund meth purchases
- Lying about drug habit or sneaking off to use meth
- Changes in daily habits (sleep, work, school performance, etc.)
- Worsening relationships
- Risk-taking behavior
- Run-ins with law enforcement (accidents, arrests, etc.)
- Pipes (for smoking crystal meth)
- Burned or scorched pieces of aluminum foil
- Burned spoons
- Rolled up paper or currency (for snorting meth)
- Pen cases (for snorting)
- Pieces of broken glass or mirror
- Needles or syringes
- Tourniquets or tubing (for injecting meth)
If someone uses an extreme amount of methamphetamine, they may show signs of an overdose, such as:
- Abnormal heart rhythm (palpitations or irregular pulse)
- High or low blood pressure
- Poor responsiveness
- Extreme reactivity
- Difficulty urinating or painful urination
- Severe agitation
- Muscle aches
- Signs leading to death, including cardiogenic shock, brain bleeding, kidney failure, pulmonary hypertension, etc.
If you know or suspect someone is using meth and they demonstrate the signs above, call 911 and have them transported by ambulance to the closest emergency room. A meth overdose is a life-and-death situation and every minute counts. Do not try to drive the person to the ER or let them drive themselves.
What Are Other Dangers of Methamphetamine?
The dangers of using methamphetamine are nearly endless. Users who keep picking at their scabs can develop serious infections of the skin and underlying tissue. If they use dirty metal tools to pick their wounds, they may also be at risk for tetanus, which is a bacterium present in soil and dust, among other places.
Meth users who engage in risk-taking behavior put themselves in danger whether they're behind the wheel or participating in meth-fueled sex parties. In the latter instance, there is a higher risk of contracting or spreading sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) due to lack of proper protection and feelings of invincibility. Some meth users participate in “party and play” events, where meth is used prior to group sexual encounters, again, increasing the risk of STDs.
The loss of control that can be experienced while using methamphetamine can place meth takers in other dangers. They may be inclined to go up on the roof of the home, to forgo care when using machinery, or to place themselves in high-crime areas. The purchasing and trafficking of methamphetamine put them at further risk.
Being out of control while on a meth binge can also lead to abuse of other substances, either to increase the high or because of lack of inhibition. Methamphetamine users may turn to other drugs, such as cocaine, or try to come down from a high with opioids or other “downers.” They may misuse sleeping pills or abuse alcohol as well. The longer someone keeps taking the meth, the greater the risk that they will wind up with multiple substance abuse problems.
Some meth users develop what is known as meth mouth, which means the gums and teeth begin to actually rot and the teeth fall out. Grinding the teeth, which is another habit meth users get from over-stimulation, can further erode the oral cavity. Sometimes meth users develop a face that looks like a wilted apple doll, with the teeth and jaws falling inward in the manner of an older person without their dentures.
Overall facial changes are not uncommon either with meth use, and you'll see meth users who appear to age decades over just a few months. You may notice bags under the eyes, dark circles, and loss of hair. There can be a coarsening of the face as well. If you haven't seen someone who uses methamphetamine in a long while, the change can be alarming.
As mentioned above, users of methamphetamine can put themselves at legal risk too. In addition to negative interactions with law enforcement or even incarceration, they may run into other legal difficulties related to the financial risks of drug abuse. They may fail to pay their bills or be unable to pay their rent or mortgage. They may also wind up having an automobile repossessed or defaulting on their credit card payments.
Research is still ongoing into long-term methamphetamine use, but it is now known that even using meth a few times can result in brain damage that is irreversible. Meth use is also related to a higher incidence of Parkinson's disease.
Making methamphetamine can be lethal. As you read earlier, meth is made illegally in home laboratories. Now some people even try to make it in their cars in soda bottles, AKA shake and bake meth. While meth is made primarily with household chemicals and cold medications found in the drug store, the combination can be explosive and therefore deadly. Every year people are injured in explosions and fires caused by meth makers. There is also a risk to first responders and neighbors when a laboratory blows up. Chemicals from the lab can remain in the soil for years and cause environmental damage too.
How Is Meth Addiction Treated?
Fortunately, there are treatment centers to help with methamphetamine addiction. Recovery from meth addiction is a bit different than other types of drugs because of the nature of meth. Although the physical part of recovery can move faster than it does with opiates like heroin, provided the addict has not done too much bodily damage to themselves, the psychological component can take years.
It is therefore vital to find a recovery facility that is adept at dealing with the psychological aspects of meth addiction and withdrawal, specifically depression and the overwhelming urge to use the drug again to feel better, even just temporarily.
Because recovering from meth addiction can be a long process, a good substance abuse treatment center will have a program that walks participants through the entire continuum of recovery, starting with detoxification (getting through the physical part of withdrawal) and moving to inpatient and then outpatient treatment. Finally, helping the person in recovery by connecting them with 12-step programs and offering aftercare to help prevent relapses is the hallmark of a top facility.
Family should be able to participate at appropriate times too as they will help form a support network for the person in recovery. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is often used to help residents in recovery programs deal with past issues that may have led to their addiction problems, such as family conflicts, marital issues, or problems with self-esteem. This type of therapy helps build up participants in recovery programs so they don’t fall back on substance abuse as a life crutch.
If you have more questions about meth sores, meth addiction, or recovery from meth abuse, please reach out to Clean & Sober Recovery Services, Inc. today. We provide recovery programs for many types of drug and alcohol abuse, including interventions for people who need encouragement to get help. Don’t let the health risks of methamphetamine use ruin your life or the life of a loved one. We are here to help you to the other side of abuse.
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