Meth Addiction: Treatment, Signs, Symptoms, and Risks

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On November 9, 2023

What you will learn

  • Methamphetamine – meth – is a stimulant drug that’s highly addictive.
  • Meth comes in powder, crystal, and pill forms.
  • While meth use often includes agitation, scratching, and similar symptoms, that’s not necessarily an addiction.
  • Meth addiction is a stimulant use disorder, meaning the person must have little to no control over their meth use and negative effects.
  • Meth addiction can have devastating long-term effects, but it can be treated effectively.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Known as “glass,” “ice,” or “crystal,” methamphetamine is a popular party drug that’s highly addictive. Though meth has been around for decades – and even has some pharmaceutical uses – it ballooned in popularity during the 1990s.

Meth use comes with an intense euphoria that hits rapidly and subsides, leading people to use more to capture that feeling again. With repeated use, they develop a tolerance, and later, an addiction.

What Is Meth?

What Is Gabapentin

Methamphetamine – otherwise known as meth – is a highly addictive stimulant drug that is used as a recreational drug.[1] Though rare, meth may be used as a second-line treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity.

Crystal methamphetamine is a common form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny white rocks. Chemically, methamphetamine is similar to amphetamine. It may be consumed by smoking, swallowing it in pill form, inhaling it, or injecting it into the vein.

The euphoria from meth comes on quickly and fades just as fast, so people who use it tend to fall into a binge and crash pattern and take repeated doses.

Because meth carries a high potential for misuse and serious harm, it’s classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule II substance. Though pharmaceutical meth is still produced, the street supply of meth is illicitly manufactured.

What Are the Signs of a Meth Addiction?

While meth is highly addictive, using it doesn’t automatically cause an addiction. Common signs of meth use, such as nervous scratching, irritability, and fatigue, don’t necessarily fit the criteria for a substance use disorder.

True meth addiction includes several obvious signs and symptoms, particularly with someone’s appearance. Some of these signs include:

  • Skin sores
  • Tooth decay and missing teeth, known as “meth mouth”
  • Violent behavior
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Mood swings
  • Blood pressure fluctuations
  • Temperature fluctuations
  • Malnutrition
  • Weight loss
  • Rapid heart rate

To be classified as an addiction, or a stimulant use disorder, someone has to use meth compulsively despite the negative effects on their life – and they must not be able to stop. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a stimulant use disorder includes the following criteria:[2]

  • Experiencing strong cravings
  • Trying to cut back or stop meth use and being unable to do so
  • Continuing to use meth despite problems with interpersonal relationships
  • Building up a tolerance to meth
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work or home
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when meth use stops

What Is Meth Withdrawal?

When someone uses meth for a long period of time, they may develop dependence on the drug. This means that the body and mind are so accustomed to having meth in the system that they have negative reactions to it no longer being there.

Unlike heroin or some other drugs, meth withdrawal isn’t often life-threatening, but it can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult. The symptoms typically begin within a few days of stopping or cutting back on meth. Some psychological symptoms may take weeks to subside.

Some common meth withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Intense dreams or nightmares
  • Anhedonia, or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Severe cravings
  • Hunger and weight gain

Medical detoxification (detox) can help with the discomfort of meth withdrawal symptoms while the drug makes its way out of the system. There are no medications that are approved for stimulant withdrawal, but medications can treat symptoms like depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Meth?

With chronic use, meth can cause devastating physical and psychological effects, such as:

  • Reduced coordination
  • Mood changes
  • Violent behaviors
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Severe heart problems like pulmonary hypertension, cardiomyopathy, and heart attack
  • Damaged blood vessels
  • Severe dental disease
  • Brain changes leading to memory loss, impaired learning, and confusion

Methamphetamine Overdose

Taking too much meth, or combining it with other substances, can increase the risks of a fatal overdose. Meth may be combined with other potent illicit substances, such as fentanyl, that can make it even more dangerous.An overdose of meth, with or without an additional substance, can cause potentially fatal effects like a heart attack or stroke. Some additional signs of overdose include:

  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Psychosis
  • Rapid increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Lung collapse
  • Chest pain
  • Death

How Does Meth Addiction Treatment Work?

Meth addiction treatment can vary by the individual’s needs. Generally, meth addiction treatment involves several types of therapeutic techniques that work together to address the physical and mental effects of addiction.

Detox is often the first step for meth addiction. This allows the body to rid itself of the drug while keeping the person calm and comfortable, limiting the risk of relapse just to make the discomfort stop. Though meth withdrawal isn’t often life-threatening, medical staff is available to limit the risks of complications.

Inpatient or residential treatment is a typical step after detox. People stay in a facility around the clock to receive intensive care, including individual and group therapy, behavioral therapies, and other modalities.Once inpatient treatment is complete, outpatient programs provide ongoing therapy without the need to stay in a facility day and night. This helps people transition from constant care to more independent environments while still attending their therapy sessions.

For some people, transitioning from outpatient treatment to aftercare helps with coping skills to avoid relapse, adapt to stress, and build support systems.Whatever form it takes, effective meth addiction treatment addresses the addiction itself and the underlying factors that contribute to it.

Frequently Asked Questions About Meth Addiction

What Effect Do Amphetamines Have on the Body?

Amphetamines like meth can do serious damage to the body. The nature of these drugs is to speed up the brain’s processing. Once consumed, amphetamines increase breathing and heart rate while decreasing hunger. With higher doses, the person may experience a rapid rise in body temperature, sweating, nausea, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, loss of coordination, and possible collapse.

How Do People Consume Meth?

Meth can be smoked, injected, taken orally in pill form, or inhaled. It comes in powder, pill, and crystal form.

What Does Meth Look Like?

Meth differs across producers, but it generally looks like white powder. Crystal meth looks like shards of glass, which is why it has slang names like “ice” and “glass.” It may be clear, white, gray, or bluish white.

Can People Die from Taking Too Much Meth?

Meth overdose is a serious risk with meth consumption. In addition to the risks with the meth itself, it may be laced with other drugs like fentanyl that can compound the potency, and by extension, the risks.Naloxone and other opioid blockers aren’t effective with stimulant overdoses, but they should still be administered if there’s a suspicion of opioids.

What Is Meth Mouth and How Is It Fixed?

Chronic meth use leads to extreme tooth decay, which is known as “meth mouth.” There are several factors that can contribute to tooth decay, both directly and indirectly:

  • The euphoria from meth lasts about 12 hours, during which the person may eat a lot of sugary substances.
  • People who use meth often clench or grind their teeth, leading to wear on the enamel – the tooth’s protective layer.
  • Meth may lead to xerostomia, or dry mouth, which is a factor in gum disease.
  • People using meth may use for days, and during that time, they may not brush or floss their teeth.
  • The acidic content of meth combined with ingredients like battery acid, fertilizers, or household cleaners can damage the enamel.

The tooth decay from meth use may have symptoms like cavities, stained teeth, swollen gums, loose or missing teeth, and damaged teeth. In severe cases, the person may struggle to speak or chew.Though the damage from meth mouth can be severe and irreversible, there are treatment options to restore the look and function of the teeth. Dentures or implants can replace missing teeth, the teeth can be deep cleaned to mitigate gum disease, and cavities can be repaired. Early treatment of meth-related tooth decay is key to better outcomes.

Rebuild Your Life with Meth Addiction Treatment

Meth use and addiction comes with serious risks, including long-term health or psychological conditions or possible death. If you or a loved one are struggling with a meth addiction or stimulant use disorder, it’s vital that you seek help to minimize the risks and get on a healthier path.

Contact Us

Ascendant New York Editorial Guidelines

Here at Ascendant New York, we understand the importance of having access to accurate medical information you can trust, especially when you or a loved one is suffering from addiction. Find out more on our policy.

Sources

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023, March 3). Methamphetamine drugfacts. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/overview on May 3, 2023.

[2] Yale Medicine. (2022, October 29). Stimulant use disorder. Yale Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stimulant-abuse on May 3, 2023.

[3] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, January 12). What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine misuse? National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-long-term-effects-methamphetamine-misuse on May 3, 2023.