Most people understand that the physical signs of drug abuse are apparent in an intravenous drug user’s skin. There are other signs of addiction that are apparent to a dermatologist who examines their patients’ skin. These trained medical professionals can determine when a patient may be having a problem with chemicals and can suggest they seek help, according to a recent report.
Marijuana and the Skin
Cannabis use can lead to blood vessel constriction. In the fingers, this can result in spasms and a cold feeling. Some people develop ulcers or the lack of blood to their fingertips.
A serious condition related to marijuana use is known as cannabis arteritis. Patients with it develop ulcers that don’t heal. These lesions develop because cannabis use widens the blood vessels. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient in marijuana with mind-altering qualities, relaxes muscles as well as the arteries, lowers blood pressure and increases blood flow to the tissues.
Cocaine and Skin Conditions
Cocaine use has been linked to tightening of the skin. It also leads to inflammation of the blood vessels, and an itchy, raised breakout of the skin called urticaria. It can be confined to only one part of the body, or spread across several areas of the skin.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), approximately 70 percent of the cocaine detained in the US contains a number of other chemicals, i.e., it isn’t “pure.” One of the materials that illicit cocaine is “cut” with is a veterinary anti-parasitic drug called levamisole.
Users who ingest the cocaine are putting themselves at risk for problems related to levamisole use, such as decomposing skin on their ears, nose and cheeks. They are also putting themselves at risk for other, life-threatening conditions, such as hemorrhagic blisters.
Alcohol Abuse and the Complexion
Alcohol abuse leads to cirrhosis of the liver, but it also damages one’s skin. Someone with an alcohol problem can develop yellowish skin, along with thinning hair and nails. Severe liver disease can also lead to engorged veins in the abdomen, a condition known as kaput medusa.
Some skin conditions that are not always associated with alcohol abuse, but may be signs of mild liver disease include the following:
– Spider veins
– Flatly spread psoriasis
– Nummular eczema
– Seborrheic dermatitis
Since patients may consult a dermatologist for a drug-related condition, whether they admit to having a substance abuse problem or not, dermatologists should be adopting a holistic approach to treatment. It’s important for them to be treating the whole person, and not simply the condition being presented to them at the time.
Healthcare professionals of all types often have opportunities to help with a form of intervention for people with substance abuse problems by spotting the symptoms and having a conversation with them.