Meth Abuse Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment
Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant often abused for the euphoric “high” it provides. Some signs of meth abuse include frequent paranoia, agitation, sweating, insomnia, skin changes, weight loss, and more.
Abusing this powerfully addictive drug can have deadly consequences. Stimulant dependencies rank amongst the most difficult to overcome. Frequently, treatment is needed to help someone quit using meth.
What Is Methamphetamine?
Pharmaceutical grade methamphetamine is approved for use in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and obesity under the trade name Desoxyn, but it is rarely prescribed because the drug has strong potential for abuse and safer alternatives are available.
Symptoms and Signs of Methamphetamine Use
Like other stimulant drugs, methamphetamine acts by raising levels of several neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. By increasing the activity of these neurotransmitters, methamphetamine can deliver a powerful, temporary boost to energy and mood. Short-term effects of methamphetamine use can include the following:
- Increased energy and mania.
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate.
- Increased body temperature—sometimes to dangerous levels.
- Heavy sweating.
- Loss of appetite.
- Tremors and jaw clenching.
- Obsessive focus on performing repetitive actions.
Effects of Meth Abuse
Crystal meth use can lead to many detrimental physical and mental effects over time. Some of the most common long-term side effects of methamphetamine abuse include:
- Damage to brain cells (neurotoxicity).
- Paranoia, anxiety, and insomnia.
- Deterioration of teeth (meth mouth).
- Sores and infections on the skin.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Liver, lung, and kidney damage.
- Birth defects when used by women during pregnancy.
- Hallucinations and psychosis due to sleep deprivation.
Other Effects of Methamphetamine Use
Some types of brain damage observed in both an experimental animal population and long-term methamphetamine abusers resembles that seen in patients with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
In long-term users, paranoia and anxiety caused by methamphetamine becomes more intense and can persist even when a person is not taking the drug.
In addition to symptoms caused by the drug itself, methamphetamine users are also at increased risk of blood-borne diseases like hepatitis B and C and HIV. This is because abusers who inject methamphetamine often share needles. Even those who do not inject meth may still be at increased risk because of engaging in unsafe sex while high. The National Institute on Drug Abuse also reports that methamphetamine use may speed up the progression of HIV/AIDS and worsen symptoms of the disease.
In some cases, dangerous and life-threatening side effects may occur with methamphetamine use, including seizures and sudden death.
Meth Abuse Statistics and History
Methamphetamine has a long history. It was given to soldiers during World War II to help them stay alert during long nights at the front. Methamphetamine first appeared as a recreational drug in the 1960s, and its use rose dramatically in the 1980s and peaked in the 1990s.
One big factor contributing to meth’s continued popularity is ease of access, since it can be created in informal household laboratories from commonly available chemicals and cold medicines. Some key statistics on the use of methamphetamine include:
- According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2013, over 12 million people in the U.S. over the age of 12 had used methamphetamine recreationally at some point in their lives.
- The Drug Awareness Warning Network (DAWN) reported that there were over 100,000 emergency room visits due to methamphetamine use in 2011.
- The Drug Enforcement Administration seized over 4,000 kg (8,800 lbs) of methamphetamine in 2013.
Teen Meth Abuse
As with other age groups, the popularity of methamphetamine among adolescents has declined since reaching a peak in the late 1990s. In 1999, Monitoring the Future, a national survey of teen drug use by researchers at the University of Michigan, found that 4.6% of 10th graders and 4.7% of 12th graders reported using methamphetamine in the past year. These rates declined to 0.8% and 1.0% for 10th and 12th graders in 2014.
This steep decline in teen meth use corresponded with an increase in how risky young people perceive methamphetamine use to be. In 1999, only 51.2% of high school seniors thought using crystal methamphetamine (ice) once or twice was very risky.
These figures illustrate that education and awareness are huge prevention factors for teen methamphetamine use. Ongoing talks between parents and children about substance abuse and the dangers of meth can go a long way toward the prevention of teen drug abuse.
Types of Meth Treatment Programs
There are currently no medications available to treat methamphetamine dependence, so treatment consists of behavioral therapies. Some of these therapies include contingency management interventions—which offer incentives to stop taking a drug and remain abstinent—and the Matrix Model—a combination of behavioral therapy, education, counseling, drug testing, and peer support.
These behavioral therapies are available through either inpatient or outpatient treatment facilities.
Inpatient drug rehabilitation programs provide patients with a safe, controlled environment, counseling, and medical supervision for a period that typically spans at least 4 weeks.
For patients with important responsibilities at home or work and strong systems of support from friends and family, treatment at outpatient programs may be appropriate. These programs provide many of the same facilities and therapies as inpatient treatment centers offer, but patients attend sessions for only a few hours a day while continuing to work during the day and returning home at night.
After completing a drug treatment program, most people in meth recovery will require continued support in order to make a successful transition to a happy and productive life. There are several support options that are widely available.
Inpatient and outpatient treatment centers often provide aftercare support for individuals who have completed treatment. The support varies depending on the facility, but it can consist of further counseling and support groups to discuss the challenges of life after treatment.
Sober living facilities allow recovering people to become accustomed to greater independence while living in communities of other sober people. Peer support groups—including Narcotics Anonymous and LifeRing—provide low- or no-cost nonprofessional support and a sense of community, and these groups can be very effective in helping people maintain long-term abstinence from drugs.
Find Meth Addiction Treatment Programs
If you or a loved one is struggling with meth addiction, help is available and recovery is possible. Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S., and a variety of treatment types is available. You can use SAMHSA’s Find Treatment tool to search for meth rehab facilities. Many state government websites will provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’ Once your state website is located, substance use resources shouldn’t be hard to find, and they should provide further phone contacts for your assistance.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading rehab program provider. Please contact us free at for helpful advice, information, and admissions. You can also call free narcotics and drug abuse hotline numbers.