According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine abuse is on the decline nationally. But in many communities and regions, meth continues to destroy lives and families at a rate that feels unprecedented.
Discovering a friend or family member is using meth differs from seeing signs of the abuse of other drugs. The effects of meth last for hours and days because the drug drives users to binge.
When you see someone on meth, their behavior may differ dramatically from the person you know. They may behave erratically and exhibit signs of anxiety, euphoria, and paranoia.
Some people even become violent as their brain reacts to the effects of meth and they try to cope with the sensitivity and alertness that comes with meth use.
Do you think you see signs of meth use in someone you know and love? While meth use remains uncommon among the population at large, those who do encounter it need help.
We show you what meth symptoms look like and how to help a meth user help themselves.
The Profile of the Average Meth User
What does the average meth user look like?
Unlike alcohol or marijuana, methamphetamine comes with a specific profile in part because of the low numbers of its use.
The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that 1.2 million people used methamphetamine in the last year, and 440,000 used in the previous month.
The average age of new users was 19.7 years old. Thankfully, the number of adolescents reporting meth use dropped significantly from the first survey in 1999. Young users are now more likely between ages 18 and 25 rather than 14 and older generally.
In addition to being young, data suggests that the majority of those admitted to treatment for methamphetamine abuse tend to be males and non-Hispanic whites.
Where Is Meth Causing Problems?
Meth use began playing second fiddle to the opiate crisis. In the intervening period, methamphetamine resurged in both its old strongholds and new, unlikely places.
In the early 2000s, meth often came from local labs and cartels from abroad supplemented supplies. Today, cartels from Mexico attempt to bring it across the border where it then reaches national distribution. The evidence: the amount of meth seized in San Diego, Laredo, and Tucson far outweigh meth seized in all other US areas.
Some U.S. cities and counties struggling with the new meth include Montana. Meth violations in the state tripled – and then some – in just five years between 2010 and 2015.
In Oklahoma, the top cause of drug-related deaths is methamphetamine. Oxycodone falls in second place, but it is a distant second.
Law enforcement in Hawaii and South Dakota are both embattled in the fight against meth.
In reality, meth can strike anywhere. If your friend or loved one has a history of drug abuse, particularly heroin, then they aren’t safe from meth.
What Are the Signs of Meth Use?
Meth use comes with a few tell-tale signs that happen in the form of behavioral changes like:
- Appetite loss
- Sleep loss
- Sudden weight loss
One of the most recognizable signs of meth use is insomnia and loss of sleep.
Why Does Meth Cause Sleep Loss?
Staying up for days at a time is one symptom popularly associated with methamphetamine. But why does it happen?
The primary effect of meth is euphoria. Methamphetamine causes the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin in your brain. Releasing neurotransmitters isn’t a bad thing, and drugs like prescription anti-depressants do the same thing. But their effects differ dramatically.
The real effects of meth last for as long as 12 hours, but someone’s meth experience might last even longer than that because of euphoria.
Here’s what a meth high looks like for many abusers:
Upon first injecting, smoking, or snorting meth, the user experiences an intense euphoria that lasts only a few minutes. During this period, the user feels as though their brain moves a thousand miles per hour. They might also experience:
- Sexual stimulation
- Dilated pupils
It’s the first rush that encourages addiction. Because it lasts only five minutes, users find it hard to let it go.
After the Initial High
When those first five minutes pass, it moves into the shoulder phase. During this period, the user still feels euphoria, but it’s less intense. The other effects, like sexual stimulation and hyperactivity, remain the same.
Once the euphoria passes, users want more. The desire leads to the next period known as binge use. Someone chasing the initial rush may continue using for one to five days.
As time progresses, the user moves into a period called tweaking. A person might tweak for four to 24 hours. The euphoria is gone, but there are still strong physical symptoms. Someone tweaking might:
- Scattered thoughts
- Meth cravings
As this point, a user could be up for days, which contributes to the symptoms.
The Meth Crash
At some point, usually depending on the last hit, the user enters a period known as the crash.
A crash lasts one to three days. Someone crashing will still want to continue doing meth, but they will also feel physically tired and fall asleep.
The end of the cycle is a period of normalization. It may last two days or even up to a week. During this period, many of the psychological and physiological symptoms subside. Still, the user still wants cravings – they still want to chase the initial euphoria that comes with the high.
If they don’t shoot up again, they may go through withdrawal.
Meth withdrawal is closely linked to meth relapse because of the intensity of symptoms.
In a clinical study, researchers found users experience severe depressive symptoms. Though, people experience these symptoms across a broad scale with the average person suffering a mild-moderate level of severity.
Psychosis also occurs during withdrawal.
Most of these symptoms resolve themselves within a week, but the user may continue experience cravings for up to five weeks after their last hight.
What Are Some Other Signs of Crystal Meth Use?
Some of the signs of crystal meth use are also social.
Someone who regularly abuses meth might also experience changes like:
- Lack of care for hygiene or personal appearance
- Sudden weight loss
- Strange sleeping patterns
- Asking to borrow money, stealing, or selling their possessions
- Mood swings
- Angry outbursts
- Psychotic or paranoid behavior
These signs are characteristic of crystal meth, but they do not immediately point to meth as the only cause. It is essential to reach out and understand any changes in behavior before jumping to any conclusions.
Did You Find Crystal Meth? How to Recognize the Drug
Finding meth itself is likely the most significant sign that a person is using or intends to use crystal meth.
What does it look like?
- Clear or transparent
If you find a bag of powder or cloudy crystals, then it is unlikely you have discovered meth.
Additionally, if you find meth, you may also see it with paraphernalia including:
- Razor blades
- Burned spoons
- Surgical tubes
- Pieces of glass
- Short, cut straws
- Rolled up money
Finding a combination of drugs and drug paraphernalia is a good sign of meth use. Your job is not to call the police, or issue accusations. Here’s what to do next.
What to Do When Someone You Love Is on Meth
If you see the signs of meth because someone you know and love is using, then it’s not your place to judge or report them.
Because of the chemical properties of meth, it’s easy to become dependent or addicted even after only a few uses. The cravings last for a month after last use – it’s a difficult drug to beat.
The best thing you can do when someone you know and love is on meth is simple: listen.
Listening to someone who uses meth gives them a safe space to tell you whether or not they believe a problem – and whether they want or need help.
As you listen, remember that you are there to support them. You can ask respectful questions, but it’s not up to you to force the issue.
Giving up meth is hard, and if your loved one isn’t immediately ready for rehab, you can’t push them.
People must want to change to make the most of rehab.
Instead, maintain your relationship, but set limits that promote safe behavior. If their response is unsafe or challenging, let them know what is and isn’t acceptable. Add clear consequences for broken rules.
Think carefully about whether you feel comfortable giving them money. It isn’t easy to see someone take on risky or illegal behaviors to get money for drugs. But you also shouldn’t lend more money than you can afford to lose.
When everyone is ready, talk to your loved one about giving up meth. It’s hard to kick, but nothing good comes with methamphetamine abuse. If they need help, know that you have treatment options.
Don’t Try to Do It On Your Own
Trying to help a loved one tackle meth is painful and stressful. They may need help, but you shouldn’t try to help them alone.
Get support for yourself and your family if need be. Safety is the most important thing for both the person you’re concerned about and yourself.
Rehab and Treatment Options for Methamphetamine
Treatment for meth addiction can take place in several different settings using methods like:
In most cases, treatment begins with a detox program to help them manage the withdrawal symptoms. As you might remember, meth withdrawal symptoms tend to last one week. Symptoms also vary between people with both depressive and psychotic symptoms.
The difficulty often lies in dealing with meth cravings, which last up to four weeks after the last dosage.
Depending on the patient, they may need a medically managed withdrawal to help avoid any fatal side effects. Other types of detox may include:
- Ambulatory detoxification
- Non-medical residential detox
- Medically supervised detox
- Clinically managed residential detox
No one detox is better than another; it will vary person to person.
What to Look For in an Effective Treatment Program
Getting help depends on getting the right form of support. Different programs work for different people, and no single treatment works for everyone.
Methamphetamine rehab tends to work best when it includes both cognitive behavioral programs and contingency management interventions.
A good rehab will also run for a significant period. Length of time spent in rehab is critical for success. Spending more time there helps beat cravings and gives patients more time to change the behaviors that lead to drug use and abuse.
Some of the other effective methods noted by research include:
- Family education
- 12-Step support
- Individual counseling
- Encouragement to participate in non-drug-related activities
- Drug testing
There are not currently any drugs available that aid meth abstinence. Though, some trials have tried. For example, AV411 attempts to suppress the neuroinflammatory cells that inhibit meth use.
Ultimately, both the support of a counselor and the friends and family are what currently play the most important role in therapy.
Meth Abuse Isn’t the End of the Road
Methamphetamine is a dangerous and addictive drug that continues to ravage communities in the United States. It is a cheaper alternative to opiates, and its abundance helps it spread.
If you spot signs of meth use in people you know, it isn’t the end of the road. Willingness to seek treatment and enrolling in an appropriate treatment program can help them kick the drug.
Are you or someone you love ready to start your recovery? Contact us today to talk to a counselor and initiate an intervention.