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What Does Meth Addiction Look Like?

Crystal meth is a form of the drug d-methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant drug.

Meth produces long-lasting euphoria, and it is typically smoked or snorted. The drug is often manufactured in makeshift home labs using pseudoephedrine (a medication commonly found in cold medicines), batteries, drain cleaner, antifreeze, and other dangerous ingredients.

Crystal meth, or meth, goes by a number of street names including:

  • Glass.
  • Crank.
  • Shards.
  • Ice.

What does meth look like?

Meth looks like small bluish white rocks or shards of glass.

Meth Abuse Statistics

meth addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NID), in 2017:

  • 5% of all adults over age 25 reported ever having used meth.
  • 5% of all young adults between 18 and 25 reported any lifetime meth use.
  • Over 5% of all individuals age 12 or over (nearly 15 million people) reported ever using meth.

NIDA also estimates that 10,000 people died from overdoses involving psychostimulants such as methamphetamine in 2017 alone.

According to a study in the Journal of the America Medical Association, meth use saw a huge resurgence as America struggled to control the opioid epidemic. Amphetamine-related hospitalizations rose nearly 250% from 2008 to 2015, and the cost of those hospitalizations skyrocketed from $436 million in 2003 to more than $2 billion in 2015.

Meth’s Effects

The high brought on by meth may include the following short-term effects:

  • Euphoria.
  • Increased wakefulness.
  • Reduced need for sleep.
  • Increased activity.
  • Suppressed appetite.
  • Increased respiration.
  • Racing or irregular heartbeat.
  • Hyperthermia (dangerously high body temp).

Meth and the Brain

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that crystal meth is highly addictive and extremely dangerous. It is a powerful stimulant that results in massive increases in the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of reward and motivation. The increase in dopamine elicited by methamphetamine makes the user feel good and encourages repeat use.

While dopamine is released via natural activities too (e.g., working out), the dopamine release from methamphetamine far surpasses that of the natural reward, making the natural reward pale in comparison.

Long-Term Health Effects of Meth Use

Insomnia

Chronic methamphetamine abuse may result in persistent problems that could include:

  • Severe anxiety.
  • Insomnia.
  • Confusion.
  • Mood swings.
  • Violent outbursts.

Psychotic symptoms may also be brought on by chronic meth use. These may include:

Methamphetamine-induced psychosis can last beyond the point where a person stops using the drugs. These symptoms may even last years after the last use. Stress may trigger the onset of psychotic symptoms in someone who suffered these symptoms while using the drug.

Tolerance and Dependence

With repeated use, a person can become tolerant to methamphetamine. When tolerance grows, a person requires more and more meth to experience the kind of high that they’re used to. They may have to take the drug more often or change their method of use (e.g., begin injecting it) to try and achieve the high they’re looking for.

With continued meth use, the person may start experiencing an inability to find pleasure from other activities, propelling their drug use. As meth use continues, the person may develop a physical dependence on it, meaning they’ll need to use it to feel normal. Without it, they may go into withdrawal.

Symptoms and Warning Signs of Meth Abuse

Meth abuse affects a person’s physical and mental health in numerous ways. Signs of meth abuse may include the following:

  • Significant weight loss without attempts to lose weight
  • Dark circles under the eyes and a gaunt and unhealthy appearance
  • Dilated pupils or bloodshot eyes
  • Odd ticks or twitches, such as an eye twitch
  • Dry skin, cracked skin, acne that occurs especially around the lips, or dried skin on the fingertips
  • Issues with the nose, such as nosebleeds, chronic runny nose, etc.
  • Skin sores, burn marks around the mouth or fingertips, or red spots or abbesses on the skin (Meth users often pick at their skin.)
  • Meth mouth, which is rapidly advancing tooth decay that begins rather quickly and presents as rotting teeth and extreme tooth loss (due to the corrosive nature of the drug)
  • Chronic bad breath, dry mouth, or significant clenching or teeth grinding
  • Being very fidgety, an inability to sit still, talking excessively, or rambling on excessively They may often appear
  • Appearing overheated and perspiring excessively
  • Periods of insomnia
  • Severe mood swings
  • The development of compulsive or repetitive behaviors
  • Becoming suspicious, acting paranoid, or beginning to see or hear things that are not there
  • A number of cognitive issues, such as issues with attention, short-term memory, and problem-solving abilities

Recognizing a Meth Addiction

Signs of a methamphetamine addiction, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) include:

  • Taking more meth or taking it more often than you meant to.
  • Trying to stop using meth or to cut down but failing.
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from meth.
  • Craving meth when not using it.
  • Not fulfilling domestic, professional, or educational obligations because of meth use.
  • Giving up hobbies or recreational activities in favor of using meth.
  • Using meth in scenarios where it could be physically dangerous, such as while operating machinery or driving.
  • Continuing meth use knowing that is caused or worsened health problems (physical and/or mental).
  • Needing increasing amounts to feel a high (tolerance).
  • Feeling discomfort when not using (withdrawal).

Other signs may include:

  • Issues with personal hygiene, neglecting personal appearance, and appearing not to be aware of these changes
  • Selling personal possessions and borrowing money from others
  • Engaging in a number of dishonest behaviors, such as stealing, lying, and so forth to either finance their drug use or to cover it up

Methamphetamine and Co-occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders refers to the coexistence of a substance use disorder and another mental health disorder. Methamphetamine abuse may increase the likelihood of the development of certain mental health issues.

For example, research has shown that depressive symptoms and disorders are commonly associated with meth use.

Chronic meth users are also at risk of developing psychotic symptoms that are severe and that may recur. In fact, one Australian study of meth users found that, among the sample, 23% had experienced symptoms of psychosis in the prior year.

Meth users may also be at an increasing risk of developing severe anxiety. Another study out of Australia found that, of 301 chronic amphetamine users, more than 3/4 of them reported having severe anxiety and more than 1/3 began having panic attacks after starting to use methamphetamine.

Depressive symptoms may lead to suicidal thoughts, which are considered to be the biggest cause for concern for someone crashing from or otherwise withdrawing from stimulants like meth. Getting professional help during withdrawal can ensure that you are monitored around the clock in a safe environment.

Methamphetamine Withdrawal

Withdrawal from methamphetamine may be very uncomfortable but is unlikely to be particularly dangerous, unlike the withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepines.

Withdrawal from methamphetamine begins quickly, within a few hours. The withdrawal syndrome from crystal meth includes:

  • Fatigue and lethargy.
  • Problems sleeping or sleeping too much.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Vivid or frightening dreams.
  • Slowed physical and emotional reactions (psychomotor retardation) or meaningless, repetitive movements (psychomotor agitation).
  • Slowed heart rate (bradycardia).

Acute withdrawal tends to last about 7-10 days after an individual discontinues use of the drug. Some symptoms, such as cravings and depressive symptoms, may persist over several weeks.

Treatment

meth addiction support group

Addiction to meth is a disease that requires professional treatment in a high-quality, accredited addiction treatment program.

Treatment often begins with detox, where certain medications may be given to help relieve some of the symptoms of withdrawal. After detox, the therapeutic portion of treatment is at the core of the process. Rehab involves a structured daily schedule of classes, group therapy, drug education, and study/reflection time. Alternative and holistic therapies may also be utilized to help you learn new ways of expressing and coping with negative emotions.

Often, rehab is a starting point for involvement in some form of recovery group, such as a 12-Step program (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous), that you are encouraged to continue once you leave treatment.

Should you suffer from a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as depression, find a facility, such as Laguna Treatment Hospital, that is equipped to treat co-occurring disorders. When only the meth addiction is treated and other issues are ignored, you may be more prone to relapse outside of treatment, especially if using meth had become your primary coping skill for dealing with your mental health symptoms.

If you’re worried about the cost of meth addiction treatment, consider that your insurance may cover you. Many programs will accept at least some insurance policies on an in-network basis. If you do not have insurance or are not in-network, you may be able to look into options such as financing or loans, or even government-sponsored treatment programs.

Meth addiction can ravage your life, but there is a way back. With treatment, you can rediscover the person you were meant to be and find a renewed sense of peace. Learn more about how Laguna Treatment Hospital in Orange County, CA can help you leave addiction behind you.

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About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Laguna Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More