Drugs that Cause Skin Picking and Sores

Drugs that Cause Skin Picking and Sores

A Guide to Substance Use and Skin Picking Disorders

Skin picking is an unfortunate side effect that makes the effects of potent drugs more visible. The best way to stop skin-picking disorders is to eliminate drug abuse. However, you may wonder whether your substance use is really the cause. Let’s get you the details to eliminate this possibility!

So, what are the drugs that cause skin picking?

Keep reading to learn more about skin picking itself as well as what makes up a skin picking disorder, and don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions at any time, as Icarus Behavioral Health in New Mexico understands the nuanced long-term effects of substance use and is ready to help!

What is Skin Picking Disorder or Dermatillomania?

Skin Picking Disorder

Drug addiction is a serious issue that should be addressed by a team of professionals. It can sometimes manifest in other co-occurring conditions, as is the case with skin picking. Dermatillomania is the official name for compulsively picking which can be grouped alongside obsessive compulsive disorder.

You may also hear it referred to as excoriation disorder.

Most people who experience this condition engage in the act without realizing it. It’s a subconscious behavior that may coincide with extended use of certain drugs. However, some people still find this behavior to be satisfying which makes it harder to break the habit.

Unfortunately, it also has significant impacts on self-esteem. It creates a visual representation of your substance use disorder and leaves you open to judgment from friends, family, and even strangers. This can have detrimental impacts on your mental health as well.

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The Link Between Skin Picking Disorder and Drug Abuse: 4 Examples

A diagnosis is often given to those who experience skin picking without substance use disorder as part of an OCD or anxiety issue. Still, it’s important to note that substance use leads to an increased risk of compulsive skin picking behavior. Whether you are taking prescription medications or illicit street drugs, the result is the same.

Here are a few of the drugs that cause skin picking and why they contribute to this negative coping skill.

1) Methamphetamine Use

One of the more extreme side effects of methamphetamine use is a symptom known as meth mites. Up to 40 percent of people who use methamphetamine also report this system, so it’s quite significant. In this situation, a person experiences tactile hallucinations that mimic the sensation of bugs crawling all over their skin.

As a result, users may scratch and end up picking at the skin to eliminate the sensation.

Once someone begins to engage in this type of behavior, they frequently stick with it and pick at the sores they develop. Not only does this lead to scarring, but it also creates a risk of infections.

2) Cocaine Use or Crack Cocaine Use

Cocaine Use

Like methamphetamine use, cocaine can also trigger a psychotic episode where someone experiences bugs crawling on the skin (cocaine bugs). They may even express the feeling of bugs crawling under the skin, and they become adamant about trying to remove them.

Continued use can cause episodes to recur and lead to scarring or more advanced picking.

3) Prescription Drugs like Stimulants and Others

While stimulant drugs are legal with a prescription from your doctor, they might also contribute to this type of skin picking. If you take prescription drugs for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may experience skin picking as a side effect.

Why do people with ADHD have higher levels of skin-picking disorder than others?

In part, this condition is caused by a lack of impulse control which facilitates these repetitive actions. You may gain some pleasure from the action, reinforcing the pathway in your brain that has the impulse to stimulate your nervous system. It can then be compounded by anxiety about the behavior which worsens it further.

When skin picking arises after starting one of these prescription medications (or if you abuse these stimulants), then you should talk to your doctor about making a switch.

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4) Heroin and Other Opiates or Opioid Drugs

One of the reasons why heroin is one of the primary drugs that cause skin picking is because of the mechanism of releasing histamines into the body. These histamines are responsible for the feeling of general itchy skin. Think of it this way: Benadryl and other antihistamines reduce itching, but heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids worsen the impulse.

The problem is that the histamines are inside the body which means that scratching doesn’t alleviate the sensation. Instead, you might continuously scratch and scratch to the point where you develop sores. These can be worsened by sores that develop around the injection site if one is an IV drug user.

Our Treatment Options for Skin Picking and Substance Use

Medication Management for Mental Health Disorders

If you are experiencing issues of skin picking alongside substance use, you aren’t alone. This common condition is extremely treatable. First, you need to decide to eliminate substance use from your life. At Icarus Behavioral Health, we provide you with a safe environment to detox and heal.

Our facilities, located in sunny Albuquerque and Rio Ranch, NM offer a comfortable place for you to land and heal from both drug use and skin picking.

Here are some of the treatment options you may want to explore for dermatillomania.

Immediate Attention for Infections and Scarring from an Excoriation Disorder

Before you can dive deeper into the other treatments, it’s important to make sure that you heal properly from this excoriation disorder now. Proper healing can minimize scarring which has a profound effect on self-esteem.

It’s also key to treat infections as early as possible, so you may be prescribed an antibiotic immediately upon enrollment in our program. We will help keep the wounds clean to minimize the risk of infection that can result from improper hygiene.

Medication Management for Mental Health Disorders

Substance abuse may not be the only reason you turn to skin-picking and other compulsive behaviors. Mental illness is often an underlying condition contributing to drug or alcohol addiction. If you find that you have other obsessive-compulsive behaviors, mood issues, or anxiety, medication may be the right fit for you.

In particular, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors tend to be the first line of treatment for this sort of issue. We can also adjust your medication for certain prescription stimulants if they seem to be contributing to picking and sores.

Our team at Icarus can help with dual diagnosis and provide you with access to our skilled team of doctors who can prescribe something that helps with excoriation disorder and other mental health conditions that contribute to it.

Inpatient Rehab Offers Both Group and Individual Counseling

Inpatient Rehab Offers Group Counseling

Once drugs leave your system, that intense itching likely subsides. This is the best time to tap into a rigorous round of therapeutic interventions. An experienced clinician has many tools in their toolbox to eliminate skin-picking behaviors. They may utilize cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy to reshape habits.

Cognitive behavioral therapy takes a look at your thoughts and feelings to see how they influence your actions. If you can modify your thoughts or feelings that lead to skin picking, you might be able to make a different choice for coping skills without substances or skin damage.

Dialectical behavioral therapy introduces the concept of mindfulness. This enhances your ability to sit with and tolerate your emotions without acting on them. Meditation is often an important skill for DBT clients, but it’s far from the only option. This could also be delivered in a group therapy format.

Other therapies like yoga may also provide some benefits for healing skin issues.

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Get Help for Skin Picking and Support for Recovery at Icarus

When you are ready to face your substance use disorder and eliminate skin picking disorders, Icarus Behavioral Health is ready and waiting to welcome you in. We offer treatment at all levels from medical detox and residential to partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient.

This allows you to pick the level of treatment that feels right for your condition and other commitments.

Our enrollment team can answer your questions about treatment and verify your insurance benefits in a quick and confidential phone call. Don’t wait another minute to get the help you need for substance use and dermatillomania!


  1. Rusyniak D. E. (2011). Neurologic manifestations of chronic methamphetamine abuse. Neurologic clinics, 29(3), 641–655.
  2. Elliott, A., Mahmood, T., & Smalligan, R. D. (2012). Cocaine bugs: a case report of cocaine-induced delusions of parasitosis. The American journal on addictions, 21(2), 180–181.
  3. Kara, T., & Akaltun, İ. (2018). Newly Developed Skin Picking After Methylphenidate Treatment in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Possible Mechanisms. Clinical neuropharmacology, 41(1), 28–30.
  4. Lochner, C., Roos, A., & Stein, D. J. (2017). Excoriation (skin-picking) disorder: a systematic review of treatment options. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 13, 1867–1872.
  5. Keuthen, N. J., Tung, E. S., Reese, H. E., Raikes, J., Lee, L., & Mansueto, C. S. (2015). Getting the word out: cognitive-behavioral therapy for trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) and excoriation (skin-picking) disorder. Annals of clinical psychiatry : official journal of the American Academy of Clinical Psychiatrists, 27(1), 10–15.

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