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Drugs That Cause Skin Picking

drugs that cause skin picking

Drug addiction can cause a variety of skin problems, including skin picking, also known as dermatillomania. Dermatillomania, or skin picking, is considered a “body-focused obsessive activity”. When a person struggles with a body-focused obsessive activity, they have no power to end the behavior. Other examples of body-focused obsessive activity are hair grabbing, cheek chewing, and cuticle or nail digging. In some instances, drugs that cause skin picking can be abused, creating this situation or making an existing one worse.

According to the American Journal of Drug Abuse, pathologic skin picking affects more than 5% of the entire population with a higher proportion of those with mental illness, in particular drug addiction. The behavior provides a certain level of enjoyment and comfort for the person despite it having potential negative consequences such as bleeding, pain, infection, scarring etc. The behavior may also trigger shame, regret, and self-hating, but the person continues to pick his or her skin.

Skin picking may also be a sign that a person is struggling with a substance abuse problem, particularly if the behavior is accompanied by other strange or unusual behaviors from the individual. Depending on the drugs used, the person may develop skin lesions such as skin patches, sores, or scabs. If you notice yourself or a loved one experiencing these skin issues, it is important to consult a professional. 

Below is a list of some of the most common drugs that cause skin picking in those with addiction.


The most common of drugs that cause skin picking is probably methamphetamine or “meth” (otherwise known as crystal meth). In addicts that abuse methamphetamine regularly, skin lesions are relatively common.The skin picking often leads to very prominent open sores, often referred to as “meth sores” and are due to a combination of psychological and physical side effects related to frequent abuse of methamphetamine. Methamphetamine can induce delusional parasitosis, a disorder in which the user believes they are covered with organisms crawling over their body, known as “meth mites”. This is a common hallucination experienced by methamphetamine users where they hallucinate that there are insects or bugs crawling on their skin. This constant skin picking, combined with poor hygiene, a compromised immune system can lead to skin scabs and lesions. Methamphetamine also causes blood vessels to constrict which leads to slower healing time of the skin lesions. When the meth sores occur in the user’s mouth, it is referred to as “meth mouth”.


Cocaine is another common drug that causes skin picking. When a person injects cocaine, there can be death of skin cells, or necrosis. When cocaine is injected, it can also lead to a hypersensitive reaction rash or skin  infections that lead to pustulosis (pimple like bumps that pop and bleed). Users who smoke cocaine can have blackened fingers or palms which is referred to as “crack hands”. Users can also experience a sensation called “cocaine bugs” which is similar to “meth mites”, which can leadd to serious skin picking and self-mutilation.


Heroin often leads to skin lesions in people who inject the drug on a regular basis. For users who inject drugs, the act of looking for a vein can lead to venous sclerosis which can lead to permanent scarring of the skin known as “road lines”. The repeated injections can also lead to skin infections, cellulitis, skin abscesses. These infections can become very serious if not treated medically. This can also lead to skin picking around the injection site. Heroin users also engage in “skin popping” where the drug is injected subcutaneously under the skin instead of into the vein or intramuscularly into the muscle. This can predispose a user to necrotizing skin lesions and continued skin picking of scabs and lesions. “Skin popping” leaves distinctive circular sores on the skin’s surface. The sores are often easily infected and can leave permanent scars. Scabs may also become the target for obsessive skin picking when a user is nervous, restless, or craving a drug. There is also an increased risk of cellulitis or inflammation of the soft tissue under the skin if a person continues to pick and also has poor hygiene.

Users who are withdrawing from heroin can also experience a sensation of “crawling out of their skin” where users may use skin picking as a way of relief from the side effects and drug cravings associated with detoxing from heroin. Skin picking can also provide a temporary release from their anxiety and restlessness. Skin picking is also common when withdrawing from other medications such as opiates. 

Other prescription drugs

There are certain prescription medications, when abused, which can also lead to skin lesions and skin picking. Certain prescription stimulants, such as those used to treat Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can also lead to hypersensitivity reactions or hives and rashes. As a result of these allergic reactions, there can be the appearance of fluid filled bumps that burst adn scab over, resulting in sores that can be the target of picking. This is usually a sign of an allergic response so it is important to let your physician know that you had this reaction so they can adjust your medications accordingly.

Drug Rehab in Orange County

If you or someone you care about has a problem with substance or alcohol use, Asana Recovery can help. Contact Asana Recovery or give us a call today at 949-763-3440. Our trained professionals will walk you through the admissions process and make sure all of your questions are answered. The first step is admitting you need help, and is often the hardest. Once you take that first step, there will be a team on your side to help you be successful in your new future.