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Article Summary

A Guide To Meth Addiction

The 2014 NSDAH (National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health) reported that 4.9 percent of Americans above the age of 12 reported that they had used methamphetamine (commonly referred to as meth) at one point or the other in their lifetime. This is despite the fact that meth is extremely addictive and has limited medical uses.

In particularly, the drug creates intense stimulating effects and a hard comedown. These effects lead most people to take more of the drug in binges so as to stay high as well as avoid the inevitable comedown that follows after the effects wear off.

During binges, most users often go without sleep or food, instead preferring to use the drug. At times, they might even stay awake for several days. However, few of them realize just how addictive meth is, or the negative effects that come as a result of using the drug for an extended period.

NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) also reported that close to 6% of the entire American population aged above 12 years had tried this drug at least once by 2015. The drug mostly comes in the form of a glass-like or powder substance commonly referred to as meth. Most people tend to snort, swallow, inject, or smoke it to achieve its desired effects.

Since meth is a stimulant, it delivers these effects by increasing activity in particular parts of the brain. As a direct result, the drug heightens the functioning of the CNS (central nervous system). For instance, you may experience an increase in blood pressure, respiration, body temperatures, and heart rate as a result of taking meth.

The drug also enhances pleasure, focus, attention, and energy by increasing the chemical messengers of the brain - particularly dopamine. These raised levels of dopamine eventually cause the rather intense high that is commonly associated with methamphetamine. It is the desire and need to recreate this intense high that often makes people continue using meth over the long term.

On the other hand, when you take the drug, you will feel energized and alert. This may cause you to stay awake for periods of time that are longer than usual. After the drug starts wearing off, however, you may experience a significant crash that will leave you feeling anxious, depressed, hungry, lethargic, and fatigued.

This crash may compel you to take meth in a binge pattern that is commonly referred to as a run where you take small amounts of the drug every couple of hours for a few days to further prolong the effects that you desire. However, it is this pattern of use that quickly causes dependence and addiction.

Meth abuse is also quite dangerous. This is clear from the TEDs (the National Treatment Episode Data Set) report for 2014 that showed 53 in every 100,000 people received care at specialized meth addiction treatment facility for abusing the drug.

In the guide below, you will learn more about meth, what it is, its effects and dangers, potential for addiction, signs and symptoms of abuse, among others:

Understanding Meth

Methamphetamine, otherwise known as crystal meth, is a powerful drug that stimulates the central nervous system and causes addiction. Crystal meth, to this end, is the crystallized form of the drug amphetamine. When methamphetamine is legally manufactured, it is classified by the US Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule II substance. This means that it:

  • Can be abused leading to severe physical and/or psychological dependence
  • Comes with a high potential for addiction and regular abuse
  • Has some accepted medical uses

Pharmaceutical amphetamines are commonly used as a treatment for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and severe obesity, although the latter use is infrequent and uncommon.

Crystal meth, which is regularly sold illegally on the street, does not have any medical applications. As a direct result, most people abuse it exclusively for recreational purposes.

Meth is sold as a white, bitter tasting, and odorless crystalline powder that can easily be dissolved in alcohol or water. In comparison to many other similar stimulants, however, a higher level of meth will enter the brain. This is what makes the drug such a potent stimulant. Additionally, meth comes with longer lasting and usually more harmful effects, particularly on the CNS.

On the street, methamphetamine is known by a variety of names. These include chalk, meth, and speed. Its derivative - methamphetamine hydrochloride - is a crystal form of meth that is usually inhaled through smoking and is known as Tina, glass, crystal, or ice.

Crystal methamphetamine, on the other hand, is a form of the substance that is sold as shiny semi-translucent rocks or glass fragments. It is similar, chemically speaking, to amphetamine, a drug that is commonly used as a treatment for ADHD and narcolepsy (a common sleep disorder).

That said, meth is among the most vicious and devastating drugs currently available on the black market today. Frontline, a PBS documentary series, explained that meth is similar to other addictive substances in the sense that it works by forcing more dopamine from the brain. Dopamine, in this case, is a neurotransmitter that is primarily responsible for inducing happiness, pleasure, and a sense of satisfaction in the brain.

Many different tasks and activities can cause the brain to release dopamine. However, when you use a drug like meth, it will hijack your psychological system and push your brain to produce more dopamine than you require. In particular, methamphetamine is so powerful that it can instantly form a habit of regular use and addiction. This often opens the door to long term consumption of the drug.

Additionally, meth can actually alter the dopamine receptors in your brain. Over time, this may render you incapable of experiencing any level of pleasure from any other source or means apart from meth.

At this point, the drug will become the center of your life. This means that you will spend all your focus, energy, time, and resources on looking for, acquiring, using, and coming down from meth.

Prolonged meth use may also cause your professional obligations, family, and social life to become less important because your natural impulse to succeed in these areas will be effectively crushed by the influence of regular meth abuse.

Luckily, rehab and treatment may bring restoration to your life. However, there are significant risks of the permanent impairment of your cognitive abilities particularly if you use the drug unchecked and with no inhibitions.

Meth Uses

As mentioned above, meth is a form of amphetamine which is produced legally and used to treat ADHD and sleep disorders. However, it has a very high potential for abuse and many people just use the drug for recreational purposes, and to achieve the intense highs it causes.

Users have a variety of modes of use to achieve the high they desire. They will, for instance, take meth as a pill, snort it, inject it, or smoke it. Injecting and smoking this drug tends to produce an instant high that may last anywhere from 8 to 12 hours.

On the other hand, when you take meth orally, its effects will last between 6 and 12 hours. However, these effects will not be as intense as if you had smoked or injected the drug into your system.

Due to the intense euphoria as well as the discomforting comedown or crash that comes from abusing meth, users are likely to take it in repeat doses and in a binge and crash pattern. This pattern of use is commonly referred to as a run, and it may cause you to give up sleep and food just to continue taking meth every couple of hours for a few days.

Meth Effects

If you take meth intravenously, you will increase your risk of contracting some dangerous infectious diseases, including but not limited to Hepatitis C and B and HIV. This is because these infections are transmitted through contact with bodily fluids and blood.

Additionally, using meth may impair your decision making capabilities and judgement. This can lead to risky behavior like having unprotected sex that might also increase your risk of infection.

In the same way, abusing meth repeatedly may also make the progress of HIV/AIDS worse and heighten its consequences. Studies have shown that the HIV virus causes great injury to nerve cells and leads to cognitive problems among people who contract the disease and who are addicted to meth, more so than in people who may have the virus but are not addicted to the drug. These cognitive problems are involved with memory, learning, understanding, and thinking.

In the same way, long term meth use may cause significant brain damage. It may also affect the cells that produce dopamine and those that contain serotonin. In fact, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) reports that prolonged and chronic exposure to meth ma damage as many as 50% of all dopamine producing cells and even more nerve cells containing serotonin.

As such, using meth chronically and in the long term might alter the chemical structure and functioning of your brain. This means that you will impair your emotional regulation, learning abilities, and motor skills as a direct result. You will continue feeling most of these effects for several months (or even years) after you've stopped taking meth.

Consider the following adverse effects of using meth over the long term:

a) Psychological Effects

  • Aggressiveness
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Homicidal thoughts
  • Memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Violence

b) Physical Effects

  • Anorexia
  • Damage to the nerve terminals in your brain
  • Feeling like you have insects crawling all over your skin
  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased risk of acquiring communicable diseases like Hepatitis B and C, and HIV
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Lung disease
  • Meth mouth, which is characterized by severe dental problems
  • Significant weight loss
  • Skin sores as a result of constant scratching and picking
  • Symptoms that are similar to Parkinson's or Alzheimer's as a result of the damage meth causes to the brain

c) Others

If you abuse meth over the long haul, you may experience severe emotional and cognitive problems. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Anxiety
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Coordination, motor, and movement issues
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Distractibility
  • Mood disturbances
  • Paranoia
  • Trouble with memory and verbal learning
  • Violent outbursts

On the other hand, if you are used to taking the drug intravenously, you may experience collapsed veins. Snorting meth, however, may cause severe damage to your nasal passages and sinus cavities, eventually leading to a nose that is runny perpetually and chronic nosebleeds. If you smoke the drug, you might also suffer lung complications and respiratory damage.

Irrespective of the mode of use, you might end up with meth mouth that is often characterized by tooth decay. The drug may also cause you to develop skin infections and sores as a result of picking.

If you develop emotional and cognitive issues, memory problems, and psychotic symptoms, they may persist for some years even if you stop abusing the drug. This is according to report by NIDA. Although some of the damage meth causes to the brain might be reversible if you abstain from the drug, some of the changes might prove to be permanent and irreversible.

Meth Side Effects

Meth is highly addictive because of the potent action it has on the feel good chemicals in the brain, namely serotonin and dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for giving you feelings of reward, motivation, and pleasure. Since methamphetamine increases the levels of dopamine in the brain significantly, it will create an euphoric rush when you take the drug.

The drug can also impact the levels of serotonin in the brain. This chemical is responsible for regulating memory, appetite, and mood. Although when the effects of the drug wear off, your brain will be depleted of both serotonin and dopamine. This will create feelings of anxiety and depression.

Abusing meth repeatedly, therefore, leads to tolerance. This means that you will start needing greater doses of the drug to achieve the desired effects. Eventually, these higher doses may fuel your addiction to meth.

Consider the following short term effects of using meth:

a) Psychological Side Effects

  • A Heightened sense of happiness and well-being
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Edginess
  • Euphoria, or extreme happiness).
  • Excitement
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased wakefulness
  • Irritation
  • Paranoia
  • Unpredictable behavior
  • Intense urges to do meaningless and/or repetitive tasks

A couple of these psychological effects - including the heightened feeling of happiness and wellbeing, excitement, and euphoria - may make you want to take more of the drug, leading to addiction.

b) Physical Side Effects

  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Elevated overheating and body temperature
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased physical activity
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing rate
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Twitching
  • Uncontrollable jaw clenching

Even with such a long list of adverse physical side effects - most of which are negative - you may still develop addiction to the drug. This is because of the psychological effects of meth that you might wrongly perceive as being beneficial to you.

c) Others

Even taking meth in relatively small amounts may cause these health effects, as well as a myriad of effects typical of other stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine. These effects may include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Faster breathing
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased physical activity
  • Increased wakefulness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

Meth Addictive Qualities

As mentioned above, meth works by changing the levels of dopamine in the brain. By so doing, it causes the neurotransmitter to flood the brain and, in the process, disrupt its normal functioning.

This neurotransmitter is primarily responsible for reward processing, learning, memory functions, movement, motivation, and feeling pleasure. In short, taking meth will make you feel good - an intense feeling that will make you want to take more of the drug just to keep this feeling alive.

As you continue taking the drug repeatedly, you may build tolerance to it. This may, therefore, make you start taking higher doses of meth just to achieve the desired effects that you are looking for.

This means that you will have a hard time feeling happy naturally from things like watching a baby laugh, listening to good music, or engaging in any activity that used to improve your mood.

When you stop using the drug for several hours, you may experience a plethora of adverse withdrawal symptoms. These include psychosis, depression, increased appetite, fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety.

At this point, you could be said to be dependent on meth. Dependency to the drug tends to develop rather chronic, especially if you have been abusing it chronically and regularly. It comes on even faster after binge uses as well as escalating dosages.

After dependence has formed, meth will start causing adverse changes to how your brain works as well as to its circuitry and chemical makeup. At this point, you may engage in compulsive drug seeking and lose all your ability to control the amount of meth you take as well as how often you take it. The inability to control your use of meth coupled with the severe changes it makes to your brain are some of the main hallmarks of drug addiction.

When you are addicted to meth, you will experience many different behavioral, physical, emotional, and social problems. This is because your primary goal in life would be to get, use, and recover from meth.

This need will consume your life and any other activity will have to take a backseat. As a direct result, your interpersonal relationships may start suffering because your mood swings might become unpredictable. You might also shirk from your typical obligations and responsibilities.

This means that your work output and/or grades will start dropping, and you may end up homeless, poor, and unemployed. Additionally, addiction to meth may lower your inhibitions and increase your risk taking and potential suicidal thoughts and actions.

Apart from the above, addiction may bring several health problems. DAWN (the Drug Abuse Warning Network), for instance, reports that more than 100,000 people received intense medical treatment in emergency rooms as a result of abusing meth in 2011.

Meth Overdose

You need to understand that when you use meth and become addicted to it, you may increase your risk of suffering an overdose. In most cases, such an overdose may prove to be fatal and lead to your death.

Overdose symptoms, to this end, include:

  • Convulsions
  • Dangerously high body temperatures
  • Death
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

An overdose will happen when you use too much meth and experience a toxic reaction to it. This may result in serious and harmful symptoms as well as sudden death. Overdosing on meth sometimes leads to organ problems (like kidney failure), heart attack, and stroke as a result of your body overheating.

Since meth overdose sometimes leads to organ problems, heart attack, and stroke, emergency room doctors and first responders may try treating the overdose by dealing with these conditions. Their intention, to this end, would be to:

  • Restoring the flow of blood to the heart to offset a heart attack
  • Restoring the flow of the blood to the parts of the brain that were affected, thereby dealing with stroke
  • Treating any organ problems you may be experiencing

Meth Withdrawal

Since meth is so highly addictive, it follows that when you stop taking it you will experience withdrawal as characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Severe depression
  • Psychosis
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Anxiety

Meth Dangers

Meth comes with stimulant properties that may compel you to engage in impulsive and risky behavior. This, when combined with many other observations, is a sign of addiction to the drug.

Consider the following dangers associated with meth abuse, dependence, and addiction:

a) First Time Users

As a first time user, you might not experience any or most of the signs of abuse. Your high, however, will make you talkative, euphoric, hyper alert, and active for 6 to 12 hours.

At the same time, this sensation will be carved into the reward system inside your brain. This means that meth will swamp the parts of your brain commonly associated with cognition, pleasure, reward, and memory.

This may compel you to start chasing the drug and the effects it caused the first time you took it. This behavior is referred to as chasing the dragon, and it will deepen your addiction.

If you try to stop using meth, either voluntarily or otherwise, you will experience intense physiological withdrawal. This is because your brain and body may already be accustomed to having meth in the system.

b) Psychosis and Anhedonia

Anhedonia refers to the inability to naturally derive pleasure from activities you once found enjoyable, including music, sex, recreational pursuits, and hobbies. This may happen as a result of the damage meth causes to the dopamine receptors in the brain.

This means that you will be neurologically incapable of deriving any pleasure from pursuits you once found fun. Anhedonia may also cause other problems, including but not limited to hopelessness, loneliness, and fatigue.

If you try getting off the drug on your own and without help, you may relapse. This is because your brain would have become primed to a start where it only associates good, pleasurable feelings with methamphetamine and with nothing else.

In the same way, meth causes psychosis when you try to stop using it. It will take about a week for the psychotic and depressive signs to start resolving. When this happens, your fatigue may also give way to sleep. However, you may still continue struggling with your cravings for the drug.

c) Co-occurring Disorders

If you have a co-occurring disorder, you may experience more severe and adverse effects of your illness. This might raise your potential for relapse. Some of the conditions that tend to co-exist with an addiction to meth include:

  • Alcoholism and addiction to other addictive substances
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders, such as compulsive over-eating, binge eating, orthorexia, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (or OCD)
  • Panic disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • PTSD (or post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Various phobias

Signs And Symptoms Of Meth Abuse

Since meth is such a powerful stimulant, you are likely to start experiencing a rapid onset of effects when you use it. This is irrespective of the mode of use - inhalation, smoking, or injection.

When you are under its influence, you may present the following signs and symptoms:

  • Airway abnormalities
  • Anxiety
  • Bad breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Doing repetitive tasks that are often meaningless
  • Dry mouth
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Elevated heart rate, that may increase your risk of suffering a heart attack
  • Fleeting euphoria
  • Headache
  • Heavy sweating
  • Higher breathing rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased physical activity
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Paranoia
  • Respiratory problems
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Uncontrollable jaw clenching
  • Unpredictable behavior
  • Violent behavior
  • Vomiting

There are many other warning signs that show that you are addicted to meth. Your physical appearance, for instance, may provide key clues. Consider the following:

a) Skin Picking

As an addict, you may start picking as your skin obsessively. The marks that are left behind as a result somewhat resemble extreme acne, and may leave open sores on your face.

b) Skin Crawling

Addicts sometimes complain that they have crawling skin - a condition that is commonly referred to as formication.

c) Tooth Decay

Another sign that someone is abusing meth or is already addicted to it may be tooth decay and/or loss, otherwise known as meth mouth.

d) Hair Loss

When you are addicted to meth, you may suffer a lack of essential nutrients in your body. The presence of dangerous chemicals you ingest to get high may also cause your hair to break and fall off.

Treatment For Meth Addiction

The longer you take meth - and the higher the doses - the more addicted to the drug you will become. High levels of dependency and addiction means that you will have a hard time quitting the drug.

The best way to manage withdrawal symptoms arising from persistent meth abuse is by undergoing detoxification followed by comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation. This way, you may eventually be able to experience long term recovery and sobriety.

Of course, the sooner you receive help for your addiction, the better the prognosis will be in the long term. This is because methamphetamine is highly addictive and may cause you to relapse even after you have decided to quit.

NIDA now recommends that you spend a minimum of 90 days in an inpatient addiction treatment center to improve your chances of recovery. During your rehabilitation, you may benefit from, among others, the following:

  • Behavioral therapies
  • Support groups
  • Detoxification

After your treatment has been completed, it is also recommended that you continue with after-care. This will be designed in such a way that you will be able to keep away from all the motivations that caused you to use meth, and instead start focusing on rebuilding your life and career.

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