meth addiction

Facts, Symptoms, and Signs of Meth Use

Last updated on July 1st, 2019 at 12:46 pm

Meth is one of the most addictive substances in the world, and it comes in many forms. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that roughly 24.7 million people abuse amphetamine-type stimulants, including methamphetamine.

Moreover, the U.S. government found that 13 million Americans over the age of 12 had used meth in the year 2008. Of them, 529,000 were regular users.

The problem isn’t getting any better; it’s getting worse.

Whether you or you know someone is a meth user, now is the time to get help. Keep reading to learn the symptoms, facts, and signs of meth use.

Facts About Meth Addiction

It is important to note that there is a clear distinction between meth and crystal meth.

Methamphetamine is a human-made drug derived from the chemicals n-methyl-1-phenylpropan-2-amine. It’s a highly addictive stimulant similar to amphetamine that directly affects your central nervous system. Some street names for meth include “chalk,” “Tina,” “gak,” and “cranks.”

Unlike crystal meth, meth usually looks like a white crystalline powder. However, it can also come in other colors like pink, yellow-gray, and brown. It’s also important to note that meth in powder form has a bitter taste, has no smell, and dissolves quickly in water.

Crystal meth, on the other hand, is an addictive form of methamphetamine that looks like small shards of glass. Some variations even look like shiny blue-white rocks. These characteristics lend themselves to popular street names like “glass,” “ice,” and “crystal.”

Who Uses Meth?

Studies have shown that the demographics for meth users are pretty vast. In fact, most meth addicts are between the ages of 15 and 40.

It’s also worth noting that many meth users often abuse other drugs as well.

How Meth Affects the Body

Meth has several routes of administration. Most users snort, smoke, or inject it. Others take the drug orally. No matter what form it takes, meth has a powerful effect on the central nervous system and can lead to addiction in as little as a few weeks.

Once meth enters the body, it suppresses the user’s appetite and increases the user’s energy levels. If injected, snorted, or smoked, users will feel the euphoric effects immediately.

When users ingest meth orally, it takes between 15 to 20 minutes for the drug to take effect. The faster the drug is absorbed, the more powerful it is— and the higher the risk of addiction becomes.

The History of Meth

In 1893, Japanese scientist Nagayoshi Nagai developed methamphetamine. It was used in World War II to boost endurance and combat fatigue. Soldiers from all over used it during this time. In fact, the drug made its way to England, America, and even Germany.

After the war, pharmaceutical companies began profiting off of meth as an over-the-counter pill for the general public. As a result, the first meth epidemic began. It started in Japan and spread to the West Coast of the U.S. in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.

After this massive wave of meth use, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all forms of amphetamines as Schedule II drugs. Then, in 1996, Congress passed the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act, which regulated mail order and chemical companies that sold the chemicals that make up meth.

How is Meth Made?

People cook meth using over-the-counter medicines and chemicals commonly found at home. In fact, the easy accessibility of meth ingredients contributes to its high rates of use and addiction.

Basic meth ingredients include:

  • Acetone
  • Lithium
  • Toluene
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Red phosphorous
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Anhydrous ammonia
  • Ephedrine/Pseudoephedrine

Many of these chemicals are major ingredients in household items. For example, acetone is an ingredient in nail polish remover, anhydrous ammonia is a common ingredient in cleaners and fertilizers, and lithium can be found in normal batteries.

Other chemicals like ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are ingredients in diet pills and cold medicines.

Naturally, some of these meth ingredients are more harmful than others. For example, toluene is so corrosive that it can dissolve rubber, and it is a major ingredient in brake fluid. Red phosphorus from matchboxes and explosives are incredibly flammable. Sulfuric acid, a standard ingredient in most drain cleaners, can burn your skin if you come into direct contact with it.

Obviously, all of these items are extremely dangerous on their own. But when you mix them, they become lethal.

Plus, cooking meth is just as dangerous as using it. If you think you’ve found a meth lab, leave immediately. The volatile materials used to make meth are highly flammable. Meth labs can easily explode.

Factors of Meth Addiction

There are several reasons why people become addicted to meth. Doctors believe the following factors contribute to a high rate of addiction:

Biology

Meth addiction is partly biological. This drug, like many others, causes significant changes in the brain. These changes often make it difficult to experience pleasure naturally. So, in an attempt to regain feelings of euphoria, users abuse the drug at increasingly higher volumes.

Genetics

Genetics also play a role in addiction. If you have family members who struggle with meth addiction, such as siblings or parents, then you are at a higher-than-average risk of developing an addiction as well.

Environment

Even the user’s environment is a factor. Those who grow up in unstable homes are more likely to use drugs. For example, those who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other forms of past trauma may turn to drug use to cope.

Mental Illness

Overall, addiction is as much psychological as it is physical. It’s not uncommon for those who abuse drugs to also struggle with untreated or undiagnosed mental illnesses. Some even use illegal substances in an effort to self-medicate.

Risks of Meth Addiction

Known symptoms of meth use include anxiety, insomnia, and depression.

Moreover, it’s not uncommon for meth users to experience psychotic symptoms such as violent behavior. These symptoms can also last even after the user has stopped using meth.

This drug severely changes the way your brain functions. It increases the release of dopamine, the brain’s “feel-good” chemical. But, at the same time, it also blocks the brain from absorbing the dopamine that gets released.

As a result, people who have abused or are currently abusing methamphetamine may experience reduced motor skills and impaired verbal skills.

Signs of Meth Use

It’s helpful to recognize the signs of someone abusing meth. If you see someone’s appearance or overall health taking a turn for the worse, it’s a sign that something is wrong.

Meth use can cause premature aging within months of regular use. Users can also lose teeth, a side effect that is commonly called “meth mouth.”

Other signs of meth use include sleeplessness, jitters, decreased appetite, increased breathing rate, or higher-than-normal body temperature.

Convulsions and hypertension are also common in meth users. And, as is the case with cocaine and speed, small amounts of meth can cause rapid or irregular heartbeat. High doses of meth can even cause stroke, heart attack, or organ failure.

Meth also increases libido, which is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, increased risky sexual activity in meth users may result in the contraction of hepatitis or even HIV.

Tweaking

“Tweaking” is another sign of meth abuse. It occurs at the end of a drug binge when the user can no longer feel the euphoric effects and is left with intense cravings.

Users who are “tweaking” may be picking at their skin or hair, causing scabs and bruises. Dilated pupils, rapid eye movements, constantly talking, jerky movements, or unusual outbursts or mood swings are other signs of “tweaking.”

“Tweaking” may cause users to stay awake for days or weeks, which may result in psychosis. Hallucinations are not uncommon, either.

If someone you know is “tweaking,” exercise caution. Meth users are more likely to harm themselves or others during this stage of drug use.

Meth Withdrawal

Admitting to a drug problem isn’t easy for anyone. If you or someone you love needs to stop using methamphetamine, know that it will not be an easy or pleasant process; but it is a necessary one.

Luckily, detoxing from this drug is not particularly risky or dangerous. But that doesn’t mean addicts should try to stop on their own.

To ensure a safe and successful detox, you should always detox in a proper rehab center where trained medical professionals will supervise your recovery.

Signs of a Meth Withdrawal

There are quite a few signs of meth withdrawal. Common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Cravings
  • Irritability
  • Weight gain
  • Night sweats
  • Teeth grinding
  • Decreased energy
  • Increased appetite
  • Intense depression
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Suicidal ideation or thoughts of self-harm

The more meth you use and the longer you use it for, the harder it is to recover. In fact, it can take as much as two years to fully recover from meth addiction. This is especially true if your meth use has caused long-term damage to your organs.

This is why specialized treatment is so necessary. Professional help will minimize the possibility of relapsing. You’ll need continuous care to get and stay sober.

The sooner you stop using, the sooner you can begin to heal.

Levels of Care for Meth Addiction Treatment

If you’re ready to get help, the first step is to check with your insurance company to see what type of care they’ll cover. This is a vital step.

You don’t want to enter a treatment program only to find out that your insurance company won’t cover the costs. Once you know what your insurance covers, then you can figure out what type of rehab is best for you.

Detoxification

Detox takes anywhere from five to ten days. Usually, the length of time depends on you, your addiction, and the type of treatment center you choose.

Most detox services involve close monitoring. Others utilize medicines to help you detox. In any case, detox is a vital first step in the recovery process.

Inpatient Care

Inpatient care is when you enter a rehab treatment facility and stay there. At an inpatient facility, you’ll be safe and under the supervision of medical professionals who are trained to handle meth addictions.

You’ll receive counseling, participate in group therapy, and do other treatments to assist in the healing process. Overall, inpatient care is a great way to get away from your triggers and focus on yourself and your health.

Partial Hospitalization (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Care (IOP)

This type of treatment is more or less a hybrid of inpatient and outpatient care. Patients spend their work week at a treatment center to focus on healing. Then, on the weekends, they get to be at home with their families.

Most insurance companies cover this type of rehab for much longer than they would for an inpatient residential program. In fact, intensive outpatient treatments with partial hospitalization are becoming more popular with insurance companies.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that these types of programs usually don’t offer the same full range of services as an inpatient treatment center would.

Outpatient Care

Outpatient care is a good option for when you need to be at home. This level of care allows you to receive the help you need without staying overnight at the facility. You’d be staying at home in the evenings, surrounded by your friends and family.

During outpatient care, you can continue working to support yourself and your family. You’ll attend scheduled group therapies and address your triggers so you can stay sober.

Get Help for Meth Addiction Today

Meth addiction destroys your brain, your body, and your life. And it doesn’t affect just you— it affects every person you know and care about.

Contact us for more information about meth addiction treatment options.

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.