Signs of Meth Use
In This Article
What is Meth (Methamphetamine)?
Meth or methamphetamine is a stimulant drug like cocaine, affecting the central nervous system (CNS). While the parent drug for meth is amphetamine, there are some unique differences.
For example, methamphetamine is longer-lasting and more powerful. If you were to take amphetamine and meth at similar doses, more meth would get into the brain.
Also, the elimination half-life of methamphetamine is 12 hours. This means that your system would need at least this amount of time to eliminate 50% of the drug.
There are also similarities between amphetamine and methamphetamine.
For example, both types of drugs can cause the following changes:
- Higher activity and talkativeness
- Decreased appetite
- Euphoria (an intense sensation of pleasure and happiness)
Additionally, both are available in prescription form. A weaker form of methamphetamine can help treat conditions like narcolepsy (a brain condition that causes a person to fall asleep at inappropriate moments) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Finally, both are habit-forming. A person who misuses or abuses methamphetamine runs a high risk of addiction, overdose, or, in extreme cases, death.
Currently, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies methamphetamine as a Schedule II substance. This means that people could abuse the drug and develop severe psychological and physical dependence. Some forms of meth (e.g., crystal meth) are so addictive that first-time users may even get hooked to the drug.
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug. Because it builds dependence, you can also become tolerant of the substance’s effect. The danger here is that you may need to take higher doses more frequently through other administration routes (like injecting) to get high. This, in turn, can raise the risk of serious health complications and an overdose.
Methamphetamine comes in different forms: powder, crystal, and rock. It can also be taken in different ways. It can be injected, snorted, smoked, or taken orally.
Side Effects of Meth
This is a list of side effects that can occur shortly after taking methamphetamine:
- Increased alertness and physical activity
- Loss of appetite
- Faster breathing
- Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) or tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
- Hypertension (elevated blood pressure)
- Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature)
This is a list of side effects that can appear after chronic methamphetamine use:
- Extreme weight loss
- Severe tooth decay and gum disease (“meth mouth”)
- Excess itching and skin sores due to scratching
- Neurological changes
- Disorientation or confusion
- Memory loss
- Violent behavior
The most common street names for methamphetamine are meth, blue, ice, crystal, bikers coffee, tweak, yaba, shabu, and chalk.
What are the Signs of Meth Use?
Meth use often happens among adolescents and young adults within social settings. It is a preferred drug because it can give a stronger sense of confidence and boost energy.
However, meth use of this kind is not common (happening monthly or less). It also does not usually involve injecting.
Yet, as more time passes and dependence builds, people use meth more frequently within less social settings. The drug use pattern shifts from the occasional high to a repetitive, sleep-deprived “binge and crash” pattern.
The following physical signs may indicate meth use:
- Rapid eye movement and dilated pupils
- Extreme loss of body frame (weight) and sickly appearance
- Tooth and gum decay often caused by an erratic drug-using lifestyle (rotting teeth)
- Open sores and scarring on the skin (meth users scratch at imaginary “meth bugs” under the skin)
- Unpleasant body odor
- Pale or blotchy facial appearance (perhaps sweating, too)
The following psychological signs may indicate meth use:
- Worsened mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
- Pseudo-depressive state during the withdrawal stage after heavy methamphetamine use
- Meth psychosis (hallucinations and the feeling of being chased)
- Disorganized speech
- Repetitive behavior (like assembling and disassembling an object)
- Illogical, erratic thoughts
The risk of methamphetamine-induced psychosis is higher for people who began taking methamphetamine at a younger age, use the drug more frequently, or have a higher concentration of the substance in the blood.
The following behavioral signs may indicate meth use:
- Sleep deprivation due to binge consumption of meth
- Aggression (in cases of high doses of and chronic exposure to meth)
- Social impairment
- Neglect of personal, professional, or academic responsibilities
In 2017, approximately 964,000 people (12 years old and older) in the United States were living with a methamphetamine use disorder.
What is the “Crash Phase?”
The “crash phase” represents the first stage of meth withdrawal. It often takes place within the initial 1 to 3 days after a person stops taking the drug.
In this phase, symptoms of meth withdrawal can include:
- Loss of energy
- Loss of cognitive function
- Mild cravings
Once a week has passed, additional symptoms can arise, such as:
- Stronger cravings
- Decreased concentration
- Weight gain
Then, in the final part of this particular phase, a person can develop symptoms like:
- High-intensity cravings
- An increased risk of relapse
Overall, a person may go through this phase for up to 10 weeks.
The rate of drug overdose deaths involving methamphetamine tripled from 2011 to 2016. -Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Dangers of Meth Use
Methamphetamine can pose many dangers to a person’s health.
Short-term health effects of meth use include:
- Increase your heart rate and body temperature
- Disturb your sleep patterns
- Possibly make you aggressive or violent
- Speed up your breathing
- Worsen underlying mental health conditions like anxiety or psychotic disorders like schizophrenia
- Build physical and psychological dependence that can lead to addiction
- Raise the risk of death from overdose
- Alter good judgment and place you in risky situations like unprotected sex
Long-term health effects on people addicted to meth use include:
- Increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes
- Cause renal failure (kidney damage)
- Lead to memory loss and cognitive and emotional deficits
- Raise the likelihood of more psychotic episodes
- Result in permanent damage to the brain and blood vessels
- Favor the development of a substance use disorder (SUD)
- Contribute to an overdose because of a need to get high with stronger doses
- Leave you with an infectious disease, such as HIV or hepatitis B or C
- Affect personal and professional relationships and contribute to a loss of friends, family, income, and job
There are many negative consequences of methamphetamine use, and the list continues. It is important to remember that methamphetamine affects the body heavily, especially during an overdose.
In the most severe cases, a person can die or become strongly handicapped because of the damage caused by meth.
Methamphetamine Addiction Symptoms
A person who has an addiction to this dangerous drug may have these signs and symptoms (although not limited to):
- A sudden loss of interest in hobbies, relationships, career, and other activities
- Participation in violent crimes to get cash quickly to pay for the drug
- Involvement in risky behaviors like unprotected sex
- Tweaking (does not eat or sleep for several days and is anxious)
- Crash phase (marked by extreme exhaustion, depression, and intense cravings)
- Paranoia and irritability
- Skin sores
- Severe tooth decay and gum disease
- Extreme weight loss
- Memory loss
- Poor motor skills and reaction time
Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal from methamphetamine can cause symptoms similar to those in withdrawal from other drugs, such as:
- Hard-to-treat depression
- Loss of or increase in appetite
- Extreme exhaustion
- Muscle weakness and pain
- Mood swings
- Restlessness and irritability
- Difficulty sleeping and respecting a normal sleeping pattern
- Troubling dreams
- Schizophrenia-like psychosis
- Extreme drug cravings
- Dehydration-related headaches
- Feelings of despair and depression
A primary concern of the withdrawal phase is the pseudo-depressive state that occurs. At this point, the person struggling with meth abuse may experience suicidal thoughts or have suicidal tendencies.
Because the sensation of hopelessness and negative emotions are intense, the risk of relapse is high. Medical attention must be given to a person who reports suicidal thoughts.
Additionally, there is a subacute phase of meth withdrawal. In this stage, a person’s cravings fade, and symptoms start improving. This means that sleep patterns are returning to normal, as well as their mood.
While the risk of relapse is still present, there is a higher chance of recovery if the person makes it this far. This particular phase lasts an estimated two weeks after the initial 7 to 10 days of recovery.
How to Stop Using (Meth Addiction Treatment)
If you or a loved one have issues with methamphetamine abuse or addiction, do not wait to seek help. There are various treatment programs available, such as:
- The Matrix Model — a 16-week approach, this well-rounded substance abuse treatment program integrates behavioral therapy, family education, personal counseling, 12-step support, drug testing, and encouragement for non-drug-related activities.
- Inpatient treatment centers — detox and withdrawal can be dangerous without proper medical supervision. An inpatient treatment center can offer the medical and psychological support you need throughout the entire process.
- Contingency management interventions — these programs offer incentives when you can adhere to treatment and stay methamphetamine-free.
Currently, no drugs are available to fight the effects of methamphetamines or those caused by long-term abstinence. There is, however, a promising method called MIEDAR (Motivation Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery). It comes from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and uses incentives to promote cocaine and methamphetamine abstinence.
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- McKetin, Rebecca, et al. “Methamphetamine Addiction,” Principles of Addiction, Academic Press, 15 Feb. 2013.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. "PubChem Compound Summary for CID 10836, Methamphetamine," PubChem.
- NIDA. "What is the scope of methamphetamine misuse in the United States?," National Institute on Drug Abuse, 8 Apr. 2020.
- "Recognizing a Meth Addict," The State of Nevada.
- “Substance Use: Withdrawal from Methamphetamines," MyHealth.Alberta.ca Government of Alberta Personal Health Portal, 29 Aug. 2019.
- “What Treatments Are under Development for Methamphetamine Use and Addiction?,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, 9 Apr. 2020.