According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methamphetamine abuse is on the decline nationwide. Still, in many communities and regions, meth continues to destroy lives and families at an unprecedented rate.
When someone uses meth, that person’s behavior is dramatically different from the person you know. Users may behave erratically and exhibit signs of anxiety, euphoria, and paranoia.
Some people even become violent as their brains react to the effects of meth. Other may try to cope with the sensitivity and alertness that comes with meth use.
Do you think you see any of these signs of meth use in someone you know and love? While meth use remains uncommon among the population at large, those who do struggle with meth use and addiction need help.
In this article, you will learn what symptoms of meth use look like and how to help your addicted loved one.
The Profile of the Average Meth User
The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that 1.2 million people used methamphetamine in the last year. This includes 440,000 who used it in the previous month.
Thankfully, the number of adolescents reporting meth use dropped significantly from the first survey in 1999. The same report showed that the average age of new users in 2012 was between 19 to 20 years old. Today, young users are more likely between the ages of 18 and 25 years old.
Data also suggests that the majority of those admitted to treatment for methamphetamine use are non-Hispanic white males.
Where in the U.S. Is Meth Use Most Common?
Since the start of the ongoing opioid crisis, meth use has been on the decline. However, in recent years, methamphetamine use resurged in both its old strongholds and new, unlikely places.
In the early 2000s, meth often came from local labs or abroad cartels. Today, some cartels from Mexico bring it across the border for national distribution. In fact, the amount of meth seized in San Diego, Laredo, and Tucson far outweigh meth seized in all other areas of the U.S.
Some states that are now struggling with the meth use include Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and even Hawaii.
Meth violations in Montana more than tripled in the five years between 2010 and 2015.
In Oklahoma, the top cause of drug-related deaths is methamphetamine. Oxycodone takes a distant second place.
Law enforcement in South Dakota and Hawaii are both battling against rising rates of meth use.
So, essentially, meth use can happen anywhere. If your friend or loved one has a history of drug use, particularly heroin, then a meth problem may not be far behind.
What Are the Signs of Meth Use?
Meth use has a few tell-tale signs that come in the form of behavioral changes like:
- Sleep loss
- Appetite loss
- Weight fluctuations
One of the most recognizable signs of meth use is insomnia and other sleeping problems.
Why Does Meth Cause Sleep Loss?
Staying awake for days at a time is one symptom associated with methamphetamine. But why does it happen?
The primary effect of meth is euphoria. Methamphetamine causes the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Releasing these neurotransmitters isn’t a bad thing, and drugs like prescription anti-depressants are designed to do the same thing. However, the effects of meth differ dramatically.
The effects of meth can last for as long as 12 hours, but it varies from person to person.
Upon first injecting, smoking, or snorting meth, the user typically experiences an intense euphoria that lasts only a few minutes. During this period, the user might also experience:
- Dilated pupils
- Sexual stimulation
It’s the first rush that encourages continued use, which can lead to addiction. Because the first high only lasts a few minutes, users find it hard to let it go.
After the Initial High
When those first five minutes pass, the high moves into the second phase. 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. This typically leads to binge use. Someone chasing the initial rush of euphoria may continue using meth for days at a time.
As time progresses, users begin “tweaking” for four to 24 hours. The euphoria is gone, but there are still intense physical symptoms. Tweaking usually entails:
- Scattered thoughts
As this point, a user could be awake for days, which only contributes to the symptoms.
After a while, users enter a period known as “the crash.”
A crash lasts from one to three days. Someone crashing will want to continue using meth, but they will also feel physically exhausted.
A period of normalization comes at the end of this cycle. It usually lasts between two to seven days. During normalization, many of the psychological and physiological symptoms subside. However, users still experience cravings— they still want to chase the initial euphoria that comes with the high.
If they don’t use meth again for a while, they begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
The intensity of meth withdrawal can easily lead to relapse.
In a clinical study, researchers found that users experience severe depressive symptoms during meth withdrawal. Though, people experience these symptoms across a broad scale with the average person suffering a mild-moderate level of severity.
Psychosis also occurs during meth withdrawal.
Most of these symptoms subside within a week, but some users may continue to experience cravings for up to five weeks after their last high.
What Are Some Other Signs of Meth Use?
Some of the signs of meth use are social.
Someone who regularly uses meth might experience changes like:
- Mood swings
- Angry outbursts
- Strange sleeping patterns
- Psychotic or paranoid behavior
- Lack of care for hygiene or personal appearance
- Asking to borrow money, stealing, or selling their possessions
These are all signs of meth use, but drug abuse may not always be the cause of these behavioral changes. With this in mind, it is essential to reach out and understand any changes in your loved one’s behavior before jumping to any conclusions about drug abuse.
How to Recognize Meth
Finding the drug itself is the most significant sign that a person is either using or planning to use.
Meth tends to be:
- Soluble (i.e., dissolvable)
- White, clear, or transparent
If you find a bag of white crystalline powder or cloudy crystals that look like ice, then it is likely that you have discovered meth.
It’s also vital to look for signs of any paraphernalia, including:
- Razor blades
- Surgical tubes
- Pieces of glass
- Burned spoons
- Short, cut straws
- Rolled up paper bills (of money)
Finding both drugs and drug paraphernalia is a pretty definite sign of meth use. If you have found evidence that your loved one has a meth problem, here’s what to do next.
When Someone You Love Is Using Meth
Even if you discover that someone you care about is using meth, it’s important to remember that the chemical properties of meth make it easy to become dependent or even addicted after only a few uses. Meth cravings can last for a month after last use— it’s a difficult drug to beat.
So, don’t judge your loved one. The best thing you can do to help when someone you know is on meth is to listen.
Listening will allow your loved one to open up about the problem— and also about whether or not your loved one wants help.
As you listen, remember that you are there to support your loved one. You can ask questions, but be respectful. The decision to enter rehab is not up to you.
Starting Positive Change
Meth is one of the most challenging drugs to quit. So, if your loved one isn’t immediately ready for rehab, you shouldn’t push.
People have to want to change to make the most of rehab.
Instead, maintain your relationship, but set boundaries that promote safe behavior. Make it clear to your loved one what is and isn’t acceptable. Enforce clear consequences for any broken boundaries.
Also, be sure to avoid enabling any harmful behavior. For example, be very careful about giving money to your loved one if he or she is still actively using meth.
Gather Support from Others
Trying to help a loved one tackle a meth addiction is stressful. The user may need help, but you shouldn’t be the only one to offer love and support.
Get support for both your loved one and yourself. Safety is the most important thing for both the person you’re concerned about and yourself.
Then, when everyone involved is ready, consider holding an intervention to talk to your loved one about giving up meth. It’s a hard drug to kick, but nothing good comes from meth use.
If your loved one decides to get help, look into different treatment options.
Rehab and Treatment Options for Methamphetamine
Treatment for meth addiction can take place in several different settings. Popular methods of care include:
- In-patient programs
- Out-patient programs
- One-on-one counseling
- Pharmacological therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
In most cases, treatment begins with detox, which helps manage any lingering withdrawal symptoms. Remember, withdrawal symptoms from meth use tend to last up to one week. Symptoms also vary from person to person. Some may experience depressive symptoms, while others deal with psychotic symptoms.
The difficulty of undergoing detox often lies in dealing with meth cravings, which last up to four weeks after the last dosage.
And, depending on the patient, medically managed withdrawal is sometimes necessary to avoid fatal side effects.
Other types of detox may include:
- Ambulatory detoxification
- Medically supervised detox
- Non-medical residential detox
- Clinically managed residential detox
Keep in mind that no one form of drug detox is better than another.
What to Look For in an Effective Treatment Program
Getting and staying sober 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.
Some other effective methods include:
- Drug testing
- 12-Step support
- Family education
- Individual counseling
- Participation in sober activities
As of right now, there are no medications on the market that aid meth abstinence. However, ongoing trials are working to change that.
Ultimately, support from counselors, friends, and family play the most critical role in a successful recovery from meth addiction.
Meth Addiction Isn’t the End
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 fuels its widespread use.
If you spot signs of meth use in someone you know, it doesn’t mark the end. Willingness to seek treatment and enrolling in an appropriate treatment program will help users get and stay sober.
Are you or your loved one ready to start your recovery? Contact us today to talk to a counselor and initiate an intervention.