Symptoms of Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction

Signs and Symptoms of Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction

Identifying Signs & Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

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Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, M.D., M.S.

Medically Reviewed On: May 25, 2024

Methamphetamine – commonly known as meth – is a potent central nervous system (CNS) stimulant.[1] Signs and symptoms of meth abuse include erratic behavior, failure to keep up with responsibilities, weight loss, tooth decay, sores or track marks, incessant skin picking, paranoia, delusions, and extreme mood swings, among others.

The street drug is typically snorted, smoked, swallowed, or injected and creates a fast-acting and intense feeling of euphoria that can last up to 12 hours. Though once prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) under specific circumstances, methamphetamine is now primarily used as an illicit recreational drug – a highly addictive one. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 101,000 individuals aged 12 or older initiated methamphetamine use in 2021.[2]

What Is Meth?

Classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule II substance, methamphetamine is an extremely potent drug with a high potential for misuse and dependence.[3]

Pharmaceutical methamphetamine is still produced, but most of the supply of meth is illicitly manufactured for recreational use. Methamphetamine is a chemical derivative of amphetamine, a stimulant that’s used for ADHD and sleep disorder narcolepsy.

The street form of meth is usually crystal meth, which looks like white crystalline rocks or glass-like fragments. People use meth by smoking it to get an intense euphoric rush, which only lasts a few minutes. This usually leads to repeated use to recapture that euphoria.

Meth may also be injected for fast-acting euphoric effects. It may also be snorted or ingested, but this tends to create a more gradual euphoria.

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Short-Term Effects of Meth

Aside from the risk of addiction, meth can lead to significant adverse health effects.[4] It suppresses appetite, increases alertness, and impacts sleep. People on meth may also experience:

  • Rapid and irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperature)
  • Overdose
  • Death

Meth that’s taken in high doses or combined with other substances – such as fentanyl – increases the risk of fatal overdose. According to research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methamphetamine-related overdose deaths nearly tripled between 2015 and 2019.[5]

Overdose can lead to devastating cardiovascular events like heart attack or stroke. The signs of stimulant toxicity, which can happen with meth, include:

  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Rapid increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Cardiogenic shock
  • Death

Long-Term Risks of Meth

Chronic meth use increases the risks of both short-term effects and long-term physical and psychological problems, such as:[6]

  • Insomnia
  • Mood changes
  • Violent behavior
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Cumulative brain changes that affect memory and cognition
  • Reduced coordination
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme weight loss and malnutrition
  • Severe heart problems
  • With IV use, skin abscesses and damaged blood vessels
  • Dental disease

Aside from the direct risks of use, meth users are at an increased risk of bloodborne diseases like HIV and hepatitis from IV use.

Signs and Symptoms of Methamphetamine Users

The signs and symptoms of methamphetamine abuse can vary depending on the severity of the addiction and the length of use.

These signs may include the following:[7]

  • Displaying erratic behavior
  • Lying and stealing
  • Poor performance at work
  • Being social withdrawn
  • Failing to keep up with responsibilities
  • Owning drug paraphernalia, such as smoking pipes
  • Aggressive outbursts

The physical signs of methamphetamine use may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Tooth decay
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nervous tics
  • Erratic sleep patterns
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Skin problems, such as sores or track marks and incessant skin picking

There are also mental and emotional symptoms, such as:

  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Loss of judgment
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Extreme mood swings

Meth Addiction Symptoms

Meth is highly addictive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who uses meth becomes addicted. Some of the signs of meth use can occur without a substance use disorder – which is the clinical term for drug addiction.

Officially classified as a stimulant use disorder under the umbrella of a substance use disorder, methamphetamine use disorder is the compulsive use of meth despite negative consequences.[8] According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the criteria for methamphetamine use disorder include:

  • Trying to stop or cut back on meth use but being unable to
  • Experiencing strong cravings for meth
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at school, work, or home
  • Continuing to use meth despite ongoing health or relationship problems
  • Developing a tolerance to the drug
  • Feeling withdrawal symptoms when meth is stopped or reduced

Meth can create a powerful physiological dependence, which means the brain and body become so accustomed to the presence of meth that they require it to function normally. When the person stops using meth or cuts back significantly, they experience withdrawal symptoms.

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Meth Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one is struggling with meth addiction, treatment is available. The treatment options are tailored to your individual needs based on an assessment from a healthcare professional but may include:

Meth Abuse Medical Detox
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Medical Detox

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Meth Abuse Medical Detox

Though medical detox is not necessary for life-threatening withdrawal symptoms with meth, it can be helpful to make you more comfortable. There are no FDA-approved medications specifically for stimulant use disorder, but medications can be used to manage symptoms like insomnia and anxiety.

Meth Abuse Inpatient Treatment
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Inpatient Treatment

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Meth Abuse Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment – or residential treatment – involves staying in a facility with 24/7 care and supervision, along with counseling sessions, behavioral therapies, and other modalities. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used for meth addiction to identify problematic behaviors and replace them with healthier ones to motivate you to abstain.

Meth Abuse Aftercare
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Aftercare

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Meth Abuse Aftercare

Aftercare takes place after inpatient or outpatient treatment and helps you transition to day-to-day life. It includes individual therapy, family therapy, community-based support groups, and other treatment options to help prevent relapse.

Frequently Asked Questions

01

Why Is Meth So Addictive?

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Meth increases the activity of certain neurotransmitters, including dopamine. Its use causes a quick release of high amounts of dopamine in the brain’s reward center, reinforcing the behavior. The euphoria happens quickly and fades just as fast, leading people to use more to maintain that high in a “binge and crash” pattern.

02

How Do People Act on Methamphetamine?

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There are some telltale signs someone is high on methamphetamine, including behaviors like uncontrollable jaw clenching, mood swings, twitching or jerky movements, and skin picking. With long-term use, you may see signs like extreme weight loss, skin sores, and dental problems (“meth mouth”).

03

What Are the Symptoms of Methamphetamine Use?

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Along with the signs someone is using methamphetamine, there are physical and mental symptoms such as loss of appetite, elevated body temperature, and long periods of alertness followed by a crash.

04

What Is Meth Paraphernalia?

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People using meth will need accessories to take it. Some common meth paraphernalia includes needles, syringes, spoons, butane lighters, pipes, plastic pen casings, drinking straws, small mirrors, razor blades, plastic cards, and rolled paper.

05

What Does a Meth Lab Look Like?

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It’s extremely dangerous to be in the presence of a working meth lab. Some telltale signs include blacked-out windows, lab equipment, unusual odors like urine or sulfur, odd plumbing or electrical lines, and traffic at odd hours. If you suspect a meth lab, don’t approach! Contact local law enforcement.

06

What Are Slang Terms for Methamphetamine Use?

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Several slang terms may describe the use of methamphetamine or amphetamine use, including tweaking, hot rolling, zooming, and getting spun out.

Sources
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[01]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023a, March 3). Methamphetamine drugfacts. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine on 2023, June 22.

[02]

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP21-07-01-003, NSDUH Series H-56). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/ on 2023, June 22.

[03]

Drug scheduling. DEA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling on 2023, June 22.

[04]

Know the risks of meth. SAMHSA. (n.d.-a). Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/meth 2023, June 22.

[05]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021c, September 22). Methamphetamine-involved overdose deaths nearly tripled between 2015 to 2019, NIH Study finds. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/2021/09/methamphetamine-involved-overdose-deaths-nearly-tripled-between-2015-to-2019-nih-study-finds on 2023, June 22.

[06]

Know the risks of meth. SAMHSA. (n.d.-a). Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/meth 2023, June 22.

[07]

Drugs of abuse, a DEA Resource Guide (2020 edition) – dea.gov. (n.d.-b). Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/Drugs%20of%20Abuse%202020-Web%20Version-508%20compliant-4-24-20_0.pdf on 2023, June 22.

[08]

Paulus, M. P., & Stewart, J. L. (2020, September 1). Neurobiology, clinical presentation, and treatment of Methamphetamine Use Disorder: A Review. JAMA psychiatry. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8098650/ on 2023, June 22.

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