Why Are Addicts Fingers Black

Why Are Addicts Fingers Black?

Many addicts seem to have blackened fingers, and this often happens due to poor circulation. Due to the drug’s effect on the body, the arteries in the fingers (and other areas) narrow down. This results in poor blood flow, leading to the blackening of the fingers – and other affected areas.  

Why Are Addicts Fingers Black?
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Several drugs can lead to this particular symptom.

1. Cocaine

Cocaine, also known as coke or snow, is a drug made from the coca plant. The white powder is often snorted or mixed with water to be injected into the vein. Crack, which takes the form of small white rocks, is often snorted through a glass pipe.

Cocaine
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Cocaine, which some call as rock or blow, is a stimulant. As such, it can send your body to ‘overdrive’. Since it helps increase the production of dopamine in the brain, it can make you giddy, excited, and energetic.

Apart from these elated feelings, a cocaine user can also develop a decreased appetite and extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and touch.

This high fades off easily, however, leading to a stark mood change. As the coke user ‘crashes’, he/she feels afraid, paranoid, nervous, and angry. The feeling of sadness and tiredness, sadly, can last for a few days.

Cocaine-induced Raynaud’s Phenomena

Apart from the above-mentioned symptoms, cocaine can also lead to black fingers – a condition scientifically known as digital ischemia. This happens due to the cocaine’s ability to narrow the blood vessels. As mentioned, this compromises the blood flow to the fingers, leaving them discolored. If the circulation is not restored, the finger may die off and require amputation.

Apart from this, a study has shown that cocaine use may also lead to Raynaud’s phenomenon. This similar to digital ischemia, though the narrowing of vessels is due to the body’s overactive response to emotional distress or the cold. As it attempts to preserve heat, the veins spasm, leading to poor blood flow. It often affects the fingers and toes, though it could occur in the nose, cheeks, and ears too.

While warming the affected area may ease the symptoms of Raynaud’s phenomenon, a vasodilator – a drug that widens the blood vessels – may be needed. Such is the case in this one study, which required the use of the drug Iloprost to treat the symptoms.

‘Finger Burns’

In a bizarre turn of events, a study chronicled a story of a crack user who demonstrated yellow and black-stained fingers with ulcerations upon checking in the ER. According to the patient, he burned his fingers while holding onto his crack pipe.

The researchers blame this occurrence to cocaine’s ability to elicit euphoria. Since its effects are immediate, it can lead to a psychotic, over-stimulated state. As such, this has led to the patient’s disregard for the hot pipe that burned off his fingers.

2. Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine, which is known to many as meth, speed, or chalk, is another type of stimulant drug. It is a powder that can be synthesized into a pill or a rock, hence the name crystal. It can be eaten, snorted, smoked in a glass pipe, or injected to the vein.

Methamphetamine
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‘Glass’ or ‘ice’ can make you feel good initially. However, this feeling can transform into anger, fear, edginess, or excitement. It can also lead to severe itching and a very high body temperature. Constant use can also lead to meth mouth, characterized by a dry mouth and broken teeth.

Like cocaine, methamphetamine can tighten the blood vessels and constrict blood flow to the fingers. As a result, it can lead to bluish fingers that may turn black eventually.


Treatment for Black Fingers

As mentioned, drugs that widen the blood vessels are needed to prevent the black fingers from eventually dying off. Although this type of treatment is often successful, discolored fingers may recur should the addict continue to take cocaine or meth.

That being said, the best way to prevent black fingers is to help the user curb his addiction.

1. Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments, whether done as outpatient or residential, are deemed to be effective in addressing stimulant drug addiction. One favored type is contingency management, which is also known as a motivational incentive. It rewards the person so that he/she would stop using cocaine. When the negative drug result comes out, the individual can get prizes such as movie tickets, free dinner, or a gym membership.

Behavioral treatments

Another approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps the individual develop useful skills that help maintain abstinence. This empowers the user to identify situations wherein he/she is most likely to use drugs, so he/she can avoid these triggers.

Therapeutic communities are also recommended for users who wish to change their behaviors. This includes a 6/12-month stint in a drug-free residence. Here, the patient undergoes vocational rehabilitation so that he can re-enter as a functional member of society. Apart from providing such support, therapeutic communities can provide employment and legal assistance as well.

There are also community-based recovery groups that use the 12-step framework. Like the other behavioral therapies, these may help promote abstinence.

2. Medications

While the above-mentioned therapies are useful, recovery can be better achieved with the help of certain medications. Although there are no FDA-approved drugs for substance abuse, some health professionals use certain medications to ease the recovery.

Medications

Disulfiram

Disulfiram is a drug used for alcoholism. It may help curb cocaine addiction by affecting the conversion of certain neurotransmitters.

Anti-depressants

Anti-depressants have been shown to yield some positive results as well. The foremost example is Bupropion, which is used to stop smoking. It may help reduce withdrawal symptoms, which could pave the way to eventual abstinence.

Modafinil

According to a study, the drug Modafinil may be used in both cocaine and meth dependence and withdrawal. It may help improve cognition, especially in those who have used speed for so long.

Conclusion

Black fingers occur largely in people addicted to stimulants such as Cocaine and Meth. That’s because these drugs narrow the vessels, impeding blood flow to the fingers. As a result, this could lead to discoloration, which could progress into black fingers later on.

While this symptom may be reversed with vasodilator drugs, it can recur should the person decide to abuse drugs once again. As such, the best way to prevent this condition is to help the patient recover from substance abuse.


Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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