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Methamphetamine

Tackling the dangers of the highly addictive substance, methamphetamine

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Risk Factors

While anyone can quickly develop a dependence on methamphetamine, there are factors that make some people more likely than others to experience problems. People with a history of substance use disorders, whether involving alcohol or other drugs, may be more prone to developing a new addiction. And because meth can lead to psychosis and detrimental effects on the central nervous system and brain, users with a history of mental illness are at heightened risk for addiction.

Although national rates of methamphetamine use and addiction are declining each year, certain regions of the country have a greater prevalence of meth abuse, creating an environment that increases the risk of trying and becoming addicted to the drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, meth addiction is more common among people admitted for drug-related treatment on the West Coast, in the Southwest, and in many parts of the Midwest.

 

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms

A physical dependence on methamphetamine can develop after just one use, and users can suffer from withdrawal symptoms even before the drug completely leaves their system. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you may be experiencing a dependency on meth:

  • Withdrawal when not using. Withdrawal from meth can be very painful and may involve nausea, depression, anxiety, and trouble sleeping.
  • Tolerance. A tolerance for meth can develop within minutes of using it. If you find that you need more of the drug to feel the same rush or are binge-using for longer periods of time to keep the high, you may be developing a tolerance.
  • Lack of control. Losing control over how much meth you’re ingesting, or extreme changes in behavior while you’re on and off of the drug, may mean it’s time to reach out for support.

Problems with meth can extend beyond addiction. When meth becomes ingrained into your daily life, it can interfere with:

  • Education and career goals
  • Relationships
  • Physical and mental well-being

If you’re concerned about your own meth use or use by a loved one, several treatment options can help you take control. Find local support to start your recovery.

Signs of Meth Use

Physical Signs

  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased wakefulness and physical activity
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Increased breathing and body temperature
  • Intense itching and sores on the body
  • Pale complexion
  • Severe dental problems; rotted teeth and dry mouth (“meth mouth”)

Behavioral Signs

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Isolation
  • Erratic behavior and mood swings
  • Irritability and paranoia
  • Performing repetitive, meaningless tasks

Stages of Meth Use

The Rush

Smoking (crystal meth) or injecting meth causes an immediate rush, which intensifies the potential for addiction and physical and mental health consequences. A rush lasts for only a few minutes, but it gives users feelings of pleasure.

The High

A high follows the rush. For about four to 16 hours, depending on the drug’s purity and the amount consumed, users can become delusional, which can severely affect their behavior and mood.

The Binge

Since the euphoric feelings of meth diminish before the drug leaves the body, users may try to maintain the high by taking more of the drug in a period known as bingeing. During this period, which can last for several days, many users stop eating and sleeping. As a tolerance builds, users may binge more frequently and for longer periods of time.

Tweaking

Tweaking refers to the point at which the drug can no longer provide a rush or a high. Users experience feelings of emptiness, paranoia, and incurable cravings, coupled with intense sensations of itchiness and the inability to sleep for extended periods of time. During this phase, users can enter a state of psychosis in which they begin to hallucinate and grow more disconnected from the world around them — potentially leading to hostile and dangerous behavior.

The Crash

A crash is inevitable after a binge. The body shuts down after being exposed to so much of the drug. During a crash, users tend to sleep for multiple days.

Withdrawal

After a crash, users can feel extremely exhausted, nauseated, and anxious, followed by experiencing severe depression. Since it can take months for meth to completely leave the body, users may begin to crave more of the drug to self-medicate against withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment

Whether you are dealing with meth addiction yourself or are worried about someone else who may be using it, remember that methamphetamine treatment has been effective for many people.

It can be challenging to try to help someone who is using methamphetamine. Users may have become isolated or may demonstrate extreme changes in behavior that are difficult to handle.

If you are concerned about someone who is using meth, learn about treatment options and ways to encourage them to seek support.

Therapy

The most effective treatments for meth addiction are behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral and contingency management interventions. These incorporate incentives that reward patients for engaging in treatment programs and remaining abstinent.

Medication-Assisted Therapy

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any pharmacological solution to counteract the effects of methamphetamine, there are medications that help treat the depression as well as sleeping and eating disorders that many meth users experience. Researchers are actively pursuing more options for medication-assisted therapy.

Making Treatment Work for You

Recovery is a lifelong process. Along with continued therapy throughout recovery, many people have found community-based support groups helpful as they adjust to life without using methamphetamine:

Crystal Meth Anonymous

Crystal Meth Anonymous is a free resource for people recovering from problems with crystal meth or other drugs. CMA is a safe and open community that follows a 12-step program to support members on their journey to recovery.

The Meth Project

The Meth Project offers information and resources for people whose lives have been affected by their relationship with a meth user. Working with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, The Meth Project has a toll-free hotline to connect parents and loved ones with a licensed social worker. The hotline is answered Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

Find support and resources near you.