Methamphetamine Addiction: Common Signs

icons Medical Reviewer
Last Medical Reviewer On: March 28, 2024
Updated On: Nov 1, 2023
Avatar photo
Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po Chang Hsu MD, MS

Methamphetamine Addiction: Common Signs
Jump to Section icon
    What you will learn
    • Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant drug.
    • Meth is available as a legal medication in the form of Desoxyn.
    • Illegal meth is often in the form of crystals or powder, both of which may be cut with other dangerous substances.
    • Short-term meth use can cause euphoria and excessive energy.
    • Long-term meth use can cause brain damage, organ damage, and death

    Methamphetamine, also known as “meth,” is a common street drug, though it is also rarely used for medicinal purposes. It has an extremely potent effect on the brain’s reward pathways. While chronic methamphetamine use can significantly disrupt the brain’s ability to regulate neurotransmitters like dopamine, the brain can gradually recover some of its regulatory functions with prolonged abstinence and appropriate treatment.

    The brain will instead rely on the presence of the drug to make the person feel good. This can lead to serious withdrawal effects if the person stops using the drug suddenly.


    What Is Methamphetamine?

    Methamphetamine is very similar to amphetamine, which is used to treat ADHD and weight loss.[1] It targets the central nervous system and causes it to speed up. This can help people with ADHD focus better and can help people with narcolepsy stay awake.

    Due to its addictive nature, it can be difficult for people to avoid its dangerous effects. When taking prescription methamphetamine in the form of a pill, it is necessary to take it exactly as prescribed.

    This will minimize the risk of addiction and dependence. However, some people will misuse the drug by crushing and swallowing or snorting the pills. This releases the pill’s dose all at once and causes a powerful high. Misusing stimulant drugs is more common than most people realize. 5 million people in the United States alone misuse prescription stimulants in 2020.[2]

    Many more delve into the realm of illegal meth, which is very different from prescription options like Desoxyn. Street meth may be adulterated with various substances, but specific additives like lithium (used in meth production), or hazardous materials, are part of the production process rather than fillers designed to extend volume. These fillers are cheaper than the meth itself, making it more convenient to sell on the street.

    Methamphetamine is a Schedule II drug, and it goes by many names, including glass, crystal, shatter, and crank.


    What Are the Side Effects of Meth?

    Snorting, smoking, or injecting meth will cause a person to feel euphoria instantly. Taking the pill orally does not cause instant effects. This euphoria is followed by a crash, which causes a person to feel sick and depressed.

    This crash pushes a person to keep abusing meth so they can continue feeling that euphoria. However, a tolerance will eventually develop, and the person will need to take increasingly higher doses of the substance to continue experiencing the euphoria at the same intensity. Methamphetamine is sometimes combined with other drugs or stimulants to amplify their effects, such as cocaine or ketamine.

    An increase in dosage or frequency can cause brain and liver damage. It may also damage the heart or cause a heart attack.

    Many people will accidentally overdose or die for this reason. The negative side effects of meth tend to get worse the longer a person consumes the substance and may not be too noticeable in the beginning. Many people don’t realize that they have developed a meth addiction until it has advanced.


    Statistics on Methamphetamine Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    During 2015–2018, an estimated 1.6 million U.S. adults aged 18 years and over reported past-year methamphetamine use. Of these individuals, 52.9% had a methamphetamine use disorder.[3]

    In 2021, approximately 2.5 million people (ages 12 and over) reported using methamphetamine in the past 12 months. Of this group, an estimated 1.6 million people had a methamphetamine use disorder in the past 12 months. Additionally, approximately 32,537 people died from an overdose involving meth in 2021 in the US.[4]

    What Is Meth Withdrawal?

    When you take meth all the time, your brain will become accustomed to its presence. It will also rely on that drug to produce pleasure. As a result, the brain will stop producing its own feel-good hormones, including dopamine and serotonin.

    When a person stops taking methamphetamine, the brain may experience a significant reduction in the production and release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, leading to withdrawal symptoms. This can cause a variety of withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and confusion.

    When stopping the drug suddenly, known as going cold turkey, it is possible to have seizures, strokes, and heart attacks. Some people may die from this process. It is important to go to a professional meth rehab center for detox treatment. They can keep you safe while you detox and mitigate the risks. They can also provide certain medications that may limit the severity of the withdrawal symptoms.


    What Are the Long-Term Effects of Meth?

    Meth negatively affects the brain when taken long-term. Studies have shown that those who have used this drug for many years may display consistent psychotic symptoms.[3]  These may include paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations and may continue even months after the person has stopped using meth.

    Chronic methamphetamine use can lead to significant, but potentially partially reversible, changes in brain structure and function. Recovery of brain function is possible with sustained abstinence, although some deficits may persist. Other long-term effects include anxiety, depression, mood changes, and violent outbursts. Meth use also has a seriously negative effect on the liver.

    The liver is the main organ that metabolizes drugs. When you misuse hard drugs like meth for a long time, the liver cells will eventually sustain damage, making it difficult for the organ to function properly. The kidneys, heart, and lungs may sustain similar damage.


    Methamphetamine Overdose

    Meth overdoses are often fatal, especially if the person isn’t treated in time. At first, an overdose can make a person extremely energetic, paranoid, and panicked. They may experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and pain. Then, the person may lose consciousness. If they pass out, they may sustain a concussion if they hit their head on something hard.

    Since meth is a stimulant and raises the heart rate, it is possible to have a heart attack or stroke if the heart starts beating too fast. This can be fatal, or it can lead to permanent damage to the heart or brain. It is also possible for a person to stop breathing. These consequences are even more dangerous if other substances, like alcohol or other stimulants, are consumed with the meth.

    Call 911 if you think someone has overdosed on meth. They need to receive treatment as quickly as possible to give them the best chance at recovery.

    Tennessee offers Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists throughout the state who offer overdose awareness training and naloxone distribution to ensure that community-based services and first responders are equipped to handle a suspected overdose. New Jersey has similar resources for overdose prevention and naloxone use training.


    How Is Meth Addiction Treated?

    Some people may try to detox on their own, but this is unsafe. Going through withdrawals alone can lead to dangerous consequences, such as heart attacks, strokes, etc. It is best to go through this process at a professional detox facility. This allows you to have professionals on your side to support you.

    They may also use medication to make the withdrawal symptoms less intense. Currently, there is no FDA-approved medication specifically for methamphetamine withdrawal. However, some treatments, including behavioral therapies, are the primary strategies for managing methamphetamine addiction, and research into potential medications is ongoing. Basic medications like Advil may also help relieve headaches and body aches. Recovery from methamphetamine addiction varies significantly among individuals, with some people requiring extended periods for physical and psychological recovery. Complete recovery can depend on multiple factors, including the duration and intensity of use, and may involve ongoing support beyond initial treatment periods.

    Treatment consists of medical detox, partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient treatment, and long-term aftercare plans.

    Most patients will also participate in holistic therapies, where you will learn practical strategies to navigate substance use and mental health struggles. Therapy sessions could include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, EMDR, group therapy, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

    Those with substance use disorders may find it harder to get through the treatment process and avoid relapsing later on. However, with the right support and treatment, it is still possible for them to get back on their feet and avoid future addictions.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Meth Addiction

    How Do People Consume Meth?
    Can People Die from Taking Too Much Meth?
    Does Meth Have Any Medical Use?
    Where Does Meth Come From?

    Are you or a loved one struggling with Methamphetamine use?

    Wreath Image Logo - Epiphany Wellness Centers

    Schedule a Free and Confidential Consultation with Epiphany Wellness

    Have questions? Reach out.
    Phone Logo - Epiphany Wellness Centers 609-710-9423 Email Logo - Epiphany Wellness Centers