Methamphetamine is used as a recreational drug. It has strong addictive properties which can cause dependence and put the user at risk of overdose and even death. It destroys lives and families, and has many dramatic effects on your physical and mental health.
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Substance Overview: Meth
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Methamphetamine?
- 2 How is Methamphetamine used?
- 3 Street Value of Methamphetamine
- 4 Health Effects of Methamphetamine
- 5 Why is Methamphetamine Addictive?
- 6 Signs of Methamphetamine Addiction
- 7 Withdrawal from Methamphetamine
- 8 Methamphetamine addiction in the United States
- 9 Methamphetamine Overdose
- 10 Treating Methamphetamine Addiction
- 11 Calling a Meth Hotline: What to Expect
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine, commonly called blue, ice, meth, poor man’s cocaine, glass, biker’s coffee, batu or crystal, is a powerful CNS (central nervous system) stimulant and is extremely addictive. It is one of the most commonly abused drugs around the world.
It is available in the form of a white crystalline powder that is odorless, dissolves easily in water and alcohol, and tastes bitter.1 It is a derivative of amphetamine, a drug used as a bronchial inhaler or nasal decongestant.
Methamphetamine misuse can have devastating consequences like the loss of memory, psychotic behavior, heightened aggression, and malnourishment. It can not only affect an individual’s health adversely but also prove extremely detrimental for an entire community by introducing or increasing social ills like child abuse and unemployment.2
How is Methamphetamine used?
Depending upon the method of use, methamphetamine can produce varied effects. It can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally. The effect of the drug lasts approximately 6–12 hours.
- When smoked, the user reaches a state of euphoria quite rapidly and remains in the state of intense high for a few minutes.
- Injecting meth intravenously can also produce an intense high.
- Though one reaches a high within 3 to 5 minutes by snorting meth, users report a less intense feeling than through smoking or injecting.
- Similar to snorting, there is a lack of rush when meth is taken orally after dissolving in a beverage. It takes around 15 minutes to reach a state of high.
Street Value of Methamphetamine
• In 1995 in California an intervention was attempted to disrupt the market for meth by restricting the supply of precursors (ephedrine and pseudoephedrine). This led to a tripling in price and a fall in purity from 90% to 20%. However prices returned to normal within four months, and within 18 months hospital admissions from meth and purity of meth had returned to normal levels.3
• The price per gram of meth has been falling over time, while purity has been increasing. Meth users typically pay around $15–$25 per hit (0.25 grams) of meth. There are large regional differences in price.
Health Effects of Methamphetamine
Meth creates a range of short-term and long-term health effects, and is responsible for around 7,000 drug overdose deaths per year. Meth consumption also leads to poor lifestyle choices, and makes it difficult to have healthy relationships and be economically productive.
Short-Term Health Effects of Methamphetamine
Being a potent stimulant, methamphetamine induces a state of euphoria and is capable of producing effects like enhanced physical activity and alertness even when taken in small doses.
Other short term health effects are:
- Reduced appetite
- Rise in blood pressure and body temperature
- Cardiovascular issues like increased heart rate and irregular heartbeat
- Enhanced attention and lowering of fatigue
- Rapid breathing
- Disturbance in sleep patterns
Short term effects of methamphetamine can cause immediate damage, most of which can be reversed. However persistent use can lead to lasting and irreversible damage to the body and brain.
Long-Term Health Effects of Methamphetamine
Chronic methamphetamine use can cause deleterious effects on overall health and some may even persist after one stops meth usage. These effects include:
- Increase in blood pressure that can eventually cause strokes, heart attacks, or death
- Irreparable damage to the brain and heart
- Damage to the liver, lungs, and kidneys
- Confusion, sleeplessness, and anxiety
- Severe itching leading to skin wounds due to aggressive scratching
- Meth mouth – the term used to describe serious dental issues caused due to meth abuse and is characterized by dry mouth, extensive dental decay, lockjaw, and extensive grinding and clenching of teeth.4
- Mood disturbances, paranoia, violent or erratic behavior, and delusions.5
- Development of psychosis with symptoms like auditory (hearing of voices that are not there), visual (seeing shadows or people that are not there), and tactile (feeling as if something is creeping under or on the skin) hallucinations.
- Suicidal thoughts6
- Loss of appetite resulting in weight loss
- Engagement in risky sexual activities owing to the impairment in judgment
- Increased risk of developing HIV or Hepatitis B infection due to non-sterile needles used to inject the drug.7 Meth abuse has also been reported to cause increased resistance towards antiretroviral medicines along with an increase in immune dysfunction.
Deaths from Methamphetamine
- Overdose fatalities from meth increased from around 2,000 to 7,000 between 2011 and 2016, more than a 3x increase.
- Methamphetamine is responsible for around 10% of drug overdose deaths in the United States.8
Why is Methamphetamine Addictive?
Methamphetamine produces a pleasurable high in the users by affecting the neurotransmitter systems of the brain. The users experience a sense of well-being that cannot be replicated by anything natural.
An increase in levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine has been observed after methamphetamine administration. This leads to the rewarding feeling of euphoria and mood enhancement which in turn are the chief factors that contribute to the addictive potential of methamphetamine.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is released by the brain cells when a person engages in activities that give pleasure or are vital for a person’s survival like eating food or having sex. Methamphetamine stimulates the brain cells to produce an excess of dopamine, thereby tricking the brain into believing that the drug is benefiting the body.
Methamphetamine produces seemingly desirable effects like long periods of alertness, prolonged duration of high energy, enhanced libido, and improved mood. This leads to an urge for seeking more of these feelings again.
Persistent use of methamphetamine leads to alterations in the decision-making centers inside the brain. Initially, the decision is made in the prefrontal cortex of the brain as it is a voluntary choice of indulgence. After a few instances of getting high, the decision-making shifts to the hindbrain, which in turn, is responsible for involuntary actions such as blinking of eyes. This is when meth addiction sets in.
The desensitization of dopamine receptors results in the rapid onset of tolerance. In the pursuit of intensification of the pleasurable effects, users can progress from one method of use to another.
Signs of Methamphetamine Addiction
The immediate onset of euphoria, commonly called ‘rush’, is the most common reason for meth addiction.
As meth users unknowingly shift their prime focus in life to achieving ‘rush’, they tend to lose interest in things that they used to like earlier. Loss of interest in their job can affect their performance leading to unemployment. They lose the urge to sleep or eat and this can last for a couple of hours and may extend to a few days following meth consumption.
After a long period of sleeplessness, ranging from 3 to 15 days, the user enters into a stage called tweaking and the symptoms of this stage are:
- Exhibiting an extreme level of frustration
- Unpredictable and, at times, violent behavior
- Drastic mood swings
- Fast eye movements
- Shaky voice
- Quick and jerky movements
- Obvious loss of weight due to loss of appetite
- Redness of eyes
A person in the stage of tweaking is potentially dangerous and needs to be dealt with using extreme caution. Their short temper and unpredictable decisions can prove to be extremely detrimental for themselves and those around them.
Another important sign of addiction is the desire to hide your addiction from your loved ones. Meth users may show social withdrawal and isolate themselves from family and friends.
Withdrawal from Methamphetamine
Meth withdrawal is extremely uncomfortable, and commences soon after the discontinuation of meth use. It takes time for withdrawal symptoms to fade off as the body gets used to the absence of the drug.
According to research, meth withdrawal can be divided into two phases: acute and subacute. The first one is quite severe and sets off within the first 24 hours of the last meth use and can extend for about a week.9 The next phase is less severe and can extend over a few weeks. It has been observed that the withdrawal is worse in users who have been on meth for longer periods. Similarly, older people experience worse withdrawal symptoms than those who are young.
Another study suggests that the withdrawal symptoms disappear completely within 2 weeks to 20 days of meth use cessation.10
When the withdrawal symptoms persist for months, it is referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). The signs and symptoms of meth withdrawal are as follows:
- Anxiety: During meth withdrawal anxiety is one of the most common symptoms experienced. Studies reveal that around 30% of individuals using meth have experienced anxiety disorders.11
- Depression: Feeling low or remaining in a depressed mood is quite common during withdrawal. This does not typically last beyond the third week of cessation.
- Sleepiness and fatigue: Meth use causes hyperactivity and, therefore, withdrawal of meth makes the user extremely inactive, drowsy, and tired. Around the 5th day, sleepiness hits its peak which means a person may sleep up to 11 hours a day.
- Cravings for methamphetamine: The user can experience an increase or reappearance of meth cravings during the withdrawal phase.
- Increased appetite: During the withdrawal phase meth users can become voracious eaters.
- Psychosis: Delusions and hallucinations, the symptoms of psychosis, can occur during meth withdrawal.
Methamphetamine addiction in the United States
Meth addiction continues to be a serious issue in the United States. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, methamphetamine falls in the category of Schedule II stimulants. Hence, it can be legally availed only by producing a nonrefillable prescription. Initially introduced as a prescription drug in the 1930s, meth abuse peaked in the 1950s and 1960s during which time the drug was injected. Its popularity then declined in the next couple of decades as cocaine became more prevalent. By the 1990s, meth returned in the form of crystal meth (a form of meth that is smoked) and swept across the U.S. as an epidemic. This led to the enactment of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA) of 2005 to curtail the illicit manufacture, sale, or possession of methamphetamine.
In the year 2017, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 1.6 million people in the United States were using methamphetamine.12
There are large regional differences in meth use. It is most prevalent in western and midwestern states where it is perceived as the greatest drug threat by police, while being much less prevalent in places east of the Mississippi River.13
A meth overdose is a medical emergency that occurs due to the intake of an excessive amount of meth. As the body fails to neutralize the excess dose, the user experiences deleterious side effects. If the user is not treated in time, a meth overdose can lead to death.
Research indicates that the prime reason for deaths related to meth overdose is heatstroke, which in turn, causes multiple organ failure.14 During an overdose of methamphetamine, there is a steep hike in blood pressure that may cause a hemorrhage or liver failure.
Signs of Meth Overdose
There is always a risk of overdose for those who use meth as there is no way to reliably confirm the strength or the purity of the drug prior to use. Besides, the addictive potential of meth will always tempt the user to go for more. A large exposure to meth may result in the following being present:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Hypertension of hypotension
- Chest pain
- Agitated behavior
- Breathing difficulty
- Fast heartbeat or very slow heartbeat
Recovery from a meth overdose depends on how quickly the user was brought in for professional medical care. Chances of survival are higher in cases of immediate medical attention. Once the emergency is dealt with successfully, de-addiction therapy should follow.
Treatment for Meth Overdose
If you suspect a meth overdose, call 911 right away. While waiting for the team of emergency medical professionals to arrive, stay with the person at all times. In the case of a seizure, tilt their head to one side to prevent choking.
Emergy medical treatment will typically involve the following:
- Decontamination through the administration of oral activated charcoal
- Poison and drug screening
- Intravenous administration of fluids to manage raised blood pressure and relieve side effects like nausea
- Medications to control specific systemic complications like cardiovascular problems or weakened kidney function.
Treating Methamphetamine Addiction
Meth addiction is very hard to break free from. There is no definite set of drugs that have been formulated to treat meth addiction, however there are a some that can help in alleviating withdrawal symptoms like tremors, depression, and anxiety.
If a person has been using meth for a very long time, it means that the dose of methamphetamine is likely to be high. This also indicates that their drug dependence would be quite intense making withdrawal extremely difficult.
A comprehensive treatment program for meth addiction consists of medical detox and behavioral therapies. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends a minimum of 90 days of participation in addiction treatment programs to achieve the best results.
Detoxification is the process through which the body flushes out harmful materials. For methamphetamine to be completely washed out of our system, it takes around 50 hours. During the process of detox, one may experience increased hunger, tiredness, anxiety, or depression. This is part of the body bouncing back to a healthy state.
One can choose to stay at home to complete the detox phase. However, doing it in a medical facility meant for detox and addiction therapy is ideal as it may be easier to relapse in the home environment. Moreover, any complication during withdrawal can be taken care of by trained health professionals in a medical facility.
Methamphetamine is highly addictive and can lead to intense drug cravings and relapse if you fail to be vigilant throughout the treatment period. That is why addiction treatment programs should be of a longer duration so that enough meth-free time is allowed for the inculcation of healthy habits, for the formation of new connections inside the brain and for the mastering of effective techniques of managing meth cravings.
According to studies conducted by NIDA, behavioral therapy has been shown to provide long-lasting results in treating meth addiction. The two types of behavioral therapy are:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: It involves the development of coping strategies that help bring back an individual into a normal and healthy life. Individual and group sessions are conducted during CBT to instill life skills that help with shunning the drug totally and overcoming the cravings. The introduction of an exercise routine or meditation session are valuable methods of keeping oneself distracted. Stress management and enhancement of the thinking and behavior pattern are other areas addressed during CBT. Research suggests that an improvement can be observed after a few sessions of CBT.15
- Contingency management: This involves the use of motivational incentives like rewarding the individual with gift vouchers or coupons for coming clean in drug tests. Contingency management encourages treatment compliance and motivates individuals to stay meth-free.
Similar approaches include 12-step support groups through which a person can find peers who have gone through the same program.16Support groups are meant to provide hope and encouragement to the participants so that they feel that they are not alone in their struggle against meth addiction.
Calling a Meth Hotline: What to Expect
Meth withdrawal causes anxiety, depression, lethargy, and an increase in meth cravings. The longer the period of meth use, the longer and tougher the withdrawal process. Many people quit, and then go back to using because of the intense symptoms of withdrawal. Sadly, with every failed attempt to quit, you may feel more and more powerless against the drug.
Through our hotline you can learn more about meth detox centers, treatment facilities, and specialized counselors. In fact, we can put you in touch with the most appropriate care based on your situation.
Maybe you are unsure about treatment, and it feels like you just need to talk to someone. Our 24/7 number has empathetic staff who have helped many others going through similar struggles. Sometimes opening up takes a load off your chest, and is the first step on the path to recovery.
Last updated: July 13, 2020
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- Pabst A, Castillo-Duque JC, Mayer A, Klinghuber M, Werkmeister R. Meth Mouth-A Growing Epidemic in Dentistry?. Dent J (Basel). 2017;5(4):29. Published 2017 Oct 30. doi:10.3390/dj5040029
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- Zorick T, Nestor L, Miotto K, et al. Withdrawal symptoms in abstinent methamphetamine-dependent subjects. Addiction. 2010;105(10):1809-1818. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03066.x
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- Jones CM, Compton WM, Mustaquim D. Patterns and Characteristics of Methamphetamine Use Among Adults — United States, 2015–2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:317–323. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6912a1
- NIDA. What is the scope of methamphetamine misuse in the United States?. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-scope-methamphetamine-misuse-in-united-states. April 8, 2020 Accessed July 10, 2020.
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- Donovan DM, Wells EA. ‘Tweaking 12-Step’: the potential role of 12-Step self-help group involvement in methamphetamine recovery. Addiction. 2007;102 Suppl 1:121-129. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2007.01773.x