Addiction is a serious condition that causes long-term negative impact on both mind and body of an individual. Although health consequences of drug misuse can be innumerable, skin manifestations of illic drug use are often ignored. Dermatological health is an important part of general well-being, but it often takes a backseat in drug users, probably due to lack of self-reporting out of the fear of rejection and discrimination by others.
Drug users do not pay much attention to their physical appearance and are often seen in shabby clothes, along with wrinkled skin filled with rashes and the face distorted with pimples and spots. Most cutaneous issues develop due to unhygienic conditions of the skin, which makes the breeding ground for bacteria and viruses causing skin problems.
However, not many people are aware that these dermatological problems could have been a direct result of a prolonged drug abuse. For instance, injection marks, commonly known as "track marks" are a common occurrence in users who are into intravenous drug addiction. According to a 2016 study conducted by Indiana University School of Medicine, "these linear marks represent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation at the injection site, resulting from damage and consequential sclerosis of the underlying veins."
Listed below are some of the illicit drugs that cause distinct skin issues:
It is the most common abused drug, especially among the teenagers and students. Although the psychoactive effects of the drug may appear to be subtler than other toxic substances, marijuana has been known to cause vessel constriction. It is a condition generally occurring in fingers and can cause spasms. In severe cases, the user may experience a cold feeling in hands, which can further lead to the development of ulcers or ischemia (caused due to lack of blood).
There are different ways to use heroin, with one of the most common method being intravenous injection. Often, chronic drug users resort to injecting drugs into the blood using a hot needle, which leads to the accumulation of carbon and soot into the dermis causing serious skin problems. Another common skin issue among IV drug users is skin discoloration. Many heroin users also experience skin eruptions such as morbilliform (a rash that looks like measles) and chronic itching in several body parts, including genital areas. Also, conditions like acanthosis nigricans (dark, thick patches in body creases) as well as deadly bacterial infections such as necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) are a common occurrence in heroin users.
Cocaine is one of the most commonly used illicit drugs among teenagers and young adults after marijuana and heroin. Since IV injection is a common method used for cocaine consumption, skin issues associated with injection marks are common in cocaine abusers. Cocaine also causes skin discoloration from internal bleeding, also known as ecchymosis. Snorting cocaine also results in necrosis and perforation of the nasal septum / oral palate. Symptoms such as chronic skin tightening, hemorrhagic skin lesions (leakage of red blood cells in skin), inflammation of blood vessels, and itchy hive breakout in several parts of the body are also common with cocaine users.
Road to recovery
Addiction to any drug is dangerous – it can have serious implications if there is no timely intervention. Therefore, it is mandatory to seek immediate medical help if someone is addicted to any substance.