Premature Skin Aging and Drug Abuse

By Patrick Bailey

by Linda Robison

One of the many drawbacks that may arise because of drug abuse is premature aging. Even abusing alcohol and prescription drugs can affect the health of the skin and its appearance. It causes skin damage and accelerates aging.

People who have premature aging may have low confidence and self-esteem, as well as other psychological problems that may lead them to do more drugs to escape from the emotional stress they experience when they see how faster-than-normal they are aging.

Different substances change the look of the skin in different ways. Avoiding excessive use of alcohol and other substances can help restore the health and appearance of your skin.

Before and after mugshots of people who have suffered from substance use disorder (SUD) show the dramatic effects of substance abuse on a person’s appearance of not only illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin, but improper uses of prescription medicines like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl patches.

Premature skin aging effects caused by alcohol

Alcohol abuse has many impacts on the skin, including:

  • Dehydration. People who consume alcohol often avoid drinking water since they believe that it will kill their buzz. That’s a big mistake since water helps flush out toxic substances from the body. The result is deeper wrinkles and an older appearance. 
  • Weight gain and obesity. Alcohol has high calories and reduces the desire for exercise. 
  • Bloating that makes faces look puffy and swollen. 
  • Chronic alcohol use depletes the body of vitamin A which can cause a reduction in elasticity and an increase in wrinkles, and fine lines.
  • Heavy drinkers also may develop red spider veins and blisters along the nose and cheek area.

Skin aging effects caused by prescription painkillers

Prescription painkiller misuse—hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl—also can lead to skin damage. People with a painkiller addiction can experience aging effects similar to heroin:

  • Feeling overheated, leading to excessive sweat, loss of body moisture, dehydration, dry, itchy skin and cracked peeling lips.
  • Waking up from long sleep without looking refreshed, rested, or attentive. This leads to puffy eyes and dark circles.

Premature skin aging caused by Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine abuse affects an individual’s skin, directly and indirectly, causing: 

  • Acne, dry itchy, flaky skin.
  • Loss of skin tone and color.

  • Leathery, rough skin texture, excessive wrinkles and sagging.

  • Red sores due to picking and scratching the skin because users experience sensations like insects crawling under or on the skin. Also known as “meth mites” or parasitosis. 
  • Gaunt facial appearance due to loss of weight, muscle tissue and facial fat.

Methamphetamine use causes accelerated premature skin aging. See what it does to your skin and face in a short time.

Effects of Heroin on skin

Among the skin effects of using heroin are: 

  • Reduced skin moisture content leads to dry, itchy skin, making people scratch intensely, causing marks and scars.

  • "Tracks". These marks caused by the repeated piercing of the skin with a needle—in search of a vein to inject the drug—can lead to venous sclerosis or the scarring and even closing of veins. An individual with track marks is susceptible to other health problems like abscesses, cellulitis, and skin infections. 
  • Injecting heroin subcutaneously, a practice referred to as “skin popping” results in tissue trauma, sometimes allowing bacteria to enter the skin. 
  • Cell degranulation and release of histamines due to nasal insufflation (snorting heroin).

Effects of cocaine on Premature skin aging

Cocaine use can affect the skin itself. It can also affect internal organs or systems that in turn cause damage to an individual’s skin. Among the effects of cocaine on the skin are:

  • Ulcerating skin lesions or skin rotting due to "cutting" agents or adulterants—such as levamisole, a livestock deworming agent, and phenacetin, a painkiller—added to cocaine.

  • Chronic skin ulcers.
  • Necrosis (death) of skin cells.
  • Areas of the skin containing pus also referred to as pustules.
  • Crack hands or blackening of fingers and palms due to the handling of a heated glass crack pipe.

Effects of Benzodiazepines

There are other drugs whose abuse also affect the look and health of an individual’s skin and the appearance of age, including benzodiazepines. Benzos are drugs recommended for the treatment of panic attacks and anxiety.

Benzos like Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium have effects much like those of alcohol, including:

  • Sleepiness resulting in dark eye circles, under eye lines, and puffy or swollen eye lids.
  • Lack of coordination, resulting in burns, cuts, bruises, scrapes and other marks on the skin due to accidents.
  • Neglect of personal appearance and hygiene.

How to repair the premature skin aging effects of substance abuse

Addiction can rob away the beautiful, healthy look of the skin. While this is not the worst effect of SUD, it is a warning sign of more serious health problems—physical and mental—to come.

Besides, how you look can affect how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you.

People with SUD have problems with their relationships, jobs, finances, and health. They suffer from diseases like heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and brain and lung damage.

The good news is that many of these problems can be reversed if the abuse is eliminated in time.

Depending on the degree of skin damage, some signs of premature skin aging can be reversed with time. Once in recovery, consider the following steps to help heal your skin:

  • Drink plenty purified water daily to rehydrate the skin. Consider adding fresh veggie/fruit smoothies to your daily diet.

  • Eat nutrient dense skin loving foods like raw fruits and vegetables, healthy olive oil, and lean protein. If you do this right your plate at each meal should be colorful, think: Red, Purple, Pink, Yellow, Orange, and Green.
  • Try to avoid excess sugar, simple carbohydrates, prepacked foods and all junk foods.
  • Take a high potency, complete multivitamin/mineral complex, along with anti-oxidants like CoQ10 and high potency fish oils.
  • Treat your face gently by using sensitive skin cleansers and makeup.
  • Use a gentle, chemical free sunblock - like zinc oxide - daily. Try to avoid long periods of direct sun exposure. 
  • Take care of dry skin by using emollient rich moisturizers and apply anti-aging creams with peptides or retinols nightly.
  • If skin is healthy enough, try doing a gentle facial massage every other day. Once the skin has started to heal, consider a light facial workout to regain facial muscle loss and tone.

  • Engage in gentle daily exercises to help keep fit, flush toxins and fight bloat. Even simple walking or jumping on a rebounder can help flush out lymph node glands and reduce toxins.

Drug abuse doesn't only harm your health, and looks, but also your relationships, your employment, and your standing among your neighbors and colleagues.

How you look can affect those relationships, too, and alert your friends and family if you need an intervention, encouragement, and support to seek addiction rehab recovery. 

About the Author: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.

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