What Is Skin Crawling (Formication)?

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Formication, or a sensation that your skin is "crawling," is a physical symptom that occurs without a physical cause. This symptom is also called a tactile hallucination. Formication can occur with mental health conditions, neurological diseases, or menopause. It can also be a side effect of medication or recreational drugs.

This article discusses formication, including the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and complications that can occur.

Health and medicine concept - Young women scratch the itch with hand. - stock photo

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Where Did "Formication" Come From?

The term "formication" is from the word "formica"—the Latin word for "ant." Formication is often described as feeling like ants are crawling on a person's skin.

Formication Causes

Formication has a variety of causes, from mental health conditions to side effects of medications or recreational drugs.

Formication can occur as a symptom of mental health disorders. These can include:

Formication can be a side effect of methamphetamine use. This condition is often called "meth mites" because it commonly affects people who use large amounts of this drug on a daily basis.

Formication can also occur with the use of cocaine, crystal meth (a condition known as "coke bugs"), and heroin. These sensations can also occur during drug or alcohol withdrawal.

Formication is often caused by medications used to treat mental health conditions. Most commonly, it occurs with the use of antipsychotics, such as Abilify (aripiprazole), Haldol (haloperidol), Zyprexa (olanzapine), fluphenazine, and Risperdal (risperidone).

This side effect can also occur with the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are often used to treat depression. Examples include Paxil (paroxetine), Celexa (citalopram), Luvox (fluvoxamine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline).

Formication can also occur with other conditions, such as:


The main symptom of formication is feeling like bugs are crawling on your skin. This condition can also cause other sensations such as:

  • Itching
  • Pricking
  • Tingling
  • Pins and needles

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

If you have recently developed symptoms of formication, or your symptoms are worsening, see your healthcare provider. Your symptoms may be treatable, and it is important to address the cause as soon as possible.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Formication

There is no specific test for formication. Your healthcare provider will review your medical history and current medications and ask questions about your symptoms. It's important to be honest with your provider, even if you are consuming a lot of alcohol or using illegal substances.

Treatment of formication depends on the underlying cause. If it's a side effect of medication, other medications might be tried instead. Formication that occurs from drug use or withdrawal will often resolve on its own, once the drug use has stopped and the body has detoxed.

Mental health conditions can be treated with medication and counseling. Menopause symptoms are often treated with supplements or hormone replacement therapy, while shingles is treated with antiviral medications.

However, formication caused by progressive conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, Lewy body dementia, lupus, or peripheral neuropathy from uncontrolled diabetes, might be permanent.

Complications of Formication

Formication often causes an itching sensation, which leads to scratching. Too much scratching can cause skin irritation and open wounds, which are then vulnerable to infection.

Other complications can include:

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Poor quality of life
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Body aches


Formication is a sensation of "skin crawling." It is a type of tactile hallucination. Formication can be caused by the use of illegal substances, alcohol or substance withdrawal, medical or mental health conditions, menopause, or as a side effect of drugs. It can lead to difficulty sleeping, skin wounds, irritability, and poor quality of life. To treat formication, the underlying cause must be addressed. In some cases, this symptom may be permanent.

A Word From Verywell

If you feel like your skin is "crawling," you could have formication. Keep track of your symptoms and notice if they occur after a medication change or after consuming alcohol. These can be clues about the cause of your discomfort. Talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns to determine the best treatment options.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get rid of formication naturally?

    There's no one-size-fits-all approach to treating formication. First, the underlying cause must be identified, which will likely require a visit to your healthcare provider. Natural remedies may or may not be appropriate to treat your condition.

  • Why does my skin crawl at night?

    Skin crawling sensations are often worse at night for a couple of reasons. First, there are fewer things to distract you when your body isn't in motion, making these sensations more obvious. In addition, blood flow to the skin increases at night, which can make itching from formication worse.

  • Can anxiety cause skin crawling?

    Skin crawling, or formication, can be a symptom of anxiety disorders. It can also be a side effect of medications used to treat anxiety.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Mumcuoglu KY, Leibovici MD, Reuveni I, Bonne O. Diagnosis and management of delusional parasitosisJournal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2019;80(5):1428-1434.

  4. Rusyniak DE. Neurologic manifestations of chronic methamphetamine abusePsychiatr Clin North Am. 2013;36(2):261-275. doi:10.1016%2Fj.psc.2013.02.005

  5. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Medication frequently asked questions.

  6. Tao MF, Sun DM, Shao HF, Li CB, Teng YC. Poor sleep in middle-aged women is not associated with menopause per se. Braz J Med Biol Res. 2015;49(1):e4718. doi:10.1590%2F1414-431X20154718

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By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.