Signs and Symptoms of Meth Addiction

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Understanding Meth Addiction

Learn about meth and substance abuse

Methamphetamines, also known as meth, crystal, and ice, are a highly potent, illegal stimulant structurally similar to amphetamines. Methamphetamines are far stronger, more addictive, and provide a longer rush than amphetamines, which increases the dangers of this drug. People abuse meth in a number of ways – most begin by snorting or dissolving the drug into food or drinks. As the drug abuse grows, they may opt for a faster route of administration, such as smoking meth or dissolving it in liquid and injecting the drug straight into a vein. Methamphetamines increase the amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, which provides the euphoric rush users feel after abusing meth. Repeated use of methamphetamines can quite easily lead to addiction and physical dependence upon the drug, which causes severe effects in every area of an addict’s life. With proper support, rehab, detox, and treatment programs, those who are addicted to meth can learn the skills needed to kick the habit and lead a normal, happy, and sober life.


Meth addiction statistics

In 2012, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that about 1.2 million people in the United States (or 0.4% of the population) reported past-year methamphetamine use; 440,000 (or 0.2% of the population) people disclosed past-month usage. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported that in 2011, methamphetamines accounted for over 100,000 emergency department visits in the U.S. Of these, meth was the fourth most commonly mentioned drug, following cocaine, marijuana, and heroin.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for meth addiction

Addiction specialists have determined that addiction is not the result of a single cause, rather addiction is caused by a complex interplay between physical, environmental, and genetic risk factors. The most commonly accepted causes and risk factors for methamphetamine addiction include:

Genetic: Addiction is known to have a genetic component. People who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling who have struggled with addiction – current or past – are at higher risk for developing an addiction themselves. That said, many people who become addicted to meth have no family history of addiction and many people who do have a familial history of addiction do not go on to become addicts.

Physical: Chronic meth usage actually changes the way the brain works, especially areas of the brain involved in impulse control, cravings, and decision-making abilities. Functional imaging studies have shown that chronic meth use does affect the structures within the brain.

Environmental: People who begin to abuse drugs at a young age are more prone to develop an addiction later in life. In addition, people who are born into home environments in which addiction was present are more likely to consider abusing drugs as a way of coping with life events.

Risk Factors:

  • Increased stress
  • Peer pressure
  • Being male
  • Untreated co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Childhood history of abuse or trauma

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of meth addiction

Every person who becomes addicted to meth will have different signs and symptoms of the drug abuse based upon genetic makeup, frequency of use, presence of co-occurring mental health disorders, other drugs in the system, and length of the addiction. The most commonly cited signs and symptoms of meth abuse include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Withdrawing from previously-enjoyed activities
  • Withdrawing from loved ones and friends
  • Lying to cover up meth usage
  • Hiding stashes of meth around the house
  • Poor work performance
  • Legal problems
  • Sudden need for money
  • Stealing from loved ones
  • Increased criminal activity
  • Reckless behaviors
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Increased libido
  • Unsafe sexual practices
  • Increase in violent behavior

Physical symptoms:

  • Meth mouth – distinctly rotted teeth
  • Brain damage
  • Tachycardia
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Increased respiration
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperthermia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Malnutrition
  • Open sores
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Death

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Decreased attention span
  • Diminished short-term memory
  • Global memory loss

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mania
  • Memory loss
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Paranoia
  • Worsening of emotional health and mental illnesses
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Meth-induced psychosis
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors


Effects of meth addiction

The effects of chronic methamphetamine abuse will depend upon the length of abuse, the amount used, frequency of use, genetic makeup, and usage of other drugs (polydrug abuse). One thing is certain; chronic methamphetamine abuse causes significant damage to many individuals.

Common effects of meth abuse include:

  • Anhedonia
  • Emaciation and malnutrition
  • Loss of interpersonal relationships
  • Financial ruin
  • Joblessness
  • Social isolation
  • Mounting legal problems
  • Incarceration
  • Brain damage
  • Meth mouth
  • Anxiety, confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Mood disturbances
  • Extremely violent behaviors
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations – visual and auditory
  • Delusions – especially “meth bugs” crawling under the skin
  • Psychotic tendencies
  • Transmission of bloodborne illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C
  • Self-harm
  • Death by suicide
  • Death from physical complications of meth use

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of meth withdrawal & overdose

The effects of withdrawal for chronic methamphetamine abuse vary tremendously. Symptoms may persist for days to weeks depending upon the severity of the addiction. Anyone attempting to detox from meth should do so under the supervision of trained medical personnel to manage symptoms and prevent complications.

Effects of methamphetamine withdrawal may include:

  • Intense cravings
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Vivid dreams
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Hunger
  • Suicidal ideation and behaviors

Effects of methamphetamine overdose: A meth overdose occurs when a person has a large amount of meth in the body. A lethal dose of meth will depending on the purity and strength of the drug and the person abusing it – each person has a specific meth sensitivity. Unlike other drugs, overdosing on meth does not produce immediate signs; overdose is characterized by a rapid physical deterioration that may eventually lead to heart attack, stroke, or death, which occurs suddenly and unexpectedly.

The actual effects of a meth overdose will vary depending on the amount of methamphetamines abused and if it was used with other drugs. Symptoms that may indicate an overdose on methamphetamines may include:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Confusion
  • Changes in heart rhythm
  • Fast breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Hyperactivity
  • Muscle pains
  • Shakes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Coma
  • Stroke
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Meth addiction and co-occurring disorders

Methamphetamine abuse and addiction often co-occurs with other types of mental illnesses. The most common co-occurring, comorbid mental illnesses include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Conduct disorders
  • Alcoholism
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