The effects of alcohol and illicit drug use on the skin

Clin Dermatol. 2021 Sep-Oct;39(5):772-783. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2021.05.005. Epub 2021 May 21.


Early identification of cutaneous manifestations of alcohol and illicit drug use can aid in the diagnosis and management of these uses, as well as their sequelae. In addition, the effects of alcohol and illicit drug use on the skin can result in significant morbidity. Alcohol misuse can present with jaundice, pruritus, pigmentary alterations, urticaria, hair and nail changes, and oral changes. It is also a risk factor for skin cancer and infections. Vascular disturbances associated with alcohol misuse include telangiectasias, palmar erythema, caput medusae, and flushing. Diseases related to alcohol misuse include nutritional deficiencies, porphyria cutanea tarda, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, nummular dermatitis, and rosacea. Other conditions seen in alcohol misuse include Dupuytren contracture, Peyronie disease, and pancreatitis. Dermatologists should also be aware of hepatotoxic medications that are commonly prescribed for skin diseases so as to avoid initiating hepatoxicity in patients who use alcohol. Illicit drug use can manifest with cutaneous fibrosis, scarring, granulomas, ulceration, pruritus, infections, cocaine-levamisole-induced vasculitis, tooth decay, and oral disease. By recognizing the cutaneous stigmata of alcohol and illicit drug use, dermatologists can aid in the identification and treatment of patients suffering from these addictions.

MeSH terms

  • Dermatitis, Seborrheic*
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs* / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Pruritus
  • Psoriasis*
  • Skin


  • Illicit Drugs