Methamphetamine is commonly used as a recreational drug. It is a stimulant with strong addictive properties. Using methamphetamine can lead to a physical and psychological dependence on the drug and put the user at risk of overdose and death. Meth destroys lives and families and has many severe effects on physical and mental health.

Professional meth addiction treatment is your best chance to kick the habit. Help is available, even if you’ve tried to quit meth but relapsed multiple times in the past. Call our meth helpline and we will connect you with a knowledgeable and compassionate advisor who will listen to your story and help you develop a plan to get your life back.

Substance Overview: Meth
Illegal unless under prescription
Around $20 per hit
Annual deaths in 2021 from psychostimulants
Side effects
Damage to brain and heart, mood disturbances, paranoia, violent behavior
Also known as
blue, ice, biker’s coffee, batu, glass, crystal

What Is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine, commonly called blue, ice, meth, poor man’s cocaine, glass, biker’s coffee, batu, or crystal, is a powerful central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It is an extremely addictive drug and one of the most commonly abused illicit substances worldwide. The illegal form of the drug is commonly called crystal meth. It is chemically very similar to prescription methamphetamines that are prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain sleep conditions.

Crystal meth can be easily manufactured using inexpensive and widely available chemicals and over-the-counter cold medications. The majority of meth distributed in the U.S. is manufactured in Mexico and trafficked into the U.S. by drug cartels across the land border.

Appearance wise, crystal meth is a hard crystalline substance that is glasslike but can be converted to powder or liquid form. [1] It is a derivative of amphetamines and produces a powerful and intense high. Crystal meth can be especially dangerous because it contains ingredients that are highly toxic. Meth use can have devastating health consequences, including memory loss, psychotic behavior, increased aggression, and malnourishment.

Not only does meth abuse have adverse effects on the user’s health, but it is extremely detrimental for entire communities. Studies show that meth use is linked to an increase in social ills such as child abuse and unemployment. [2]

How Is Methamphetamine Used?

People abuse meth in various ways. It can be smoked, snorted, injected, or ingested by mouth. Meth is long-acting and remains in the system for a much longer time than other stimulants. About 12 hours of using meth, 50% of the drug still remains in the bloodstream. This makes meth a popular drug because it provides a high that is much stronger and longer lasting than cocaine.

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 4 months, and within 18 months, hospital admissions from meth and the purity of meth had returned to pre-intervention levels. [3]

• The price per gram of meth has been falling over time and the purity has been increasing. Meth users typically pay around $15–$25 per hit (0.25 grams) of meth. Prices of meth can vary considerably based on the location and demand and supply.

Health Effects of Methamphetamine

Meth can cause many short- and long-term health effects. In addition, drug overdose deaths involving psychostimulants with abuse potential, such as meth, have been increasing. There were 547 meth-involved deaths in 1999. This number increased to 23,837 in 2020 and 32,537 in 2021. [4]

Short-Term Health Effects of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that induces a state of euphoria. It produces effects like enhanced energy, attention, and alertness and reduced fatigue, even when used in small doses.

However, meth can also cause unwanted health effects. Some of the short-term effects of meth use are:

  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Cardiovascular issues including increased heart rate and irregular heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased anger or irritability
  • Disturbed sleep patterns

Short-term use of methamphetamine causes damage which can be reversed for the most part. However, persistent or long-term use can lead to irreversible damage to the body and brain.

Long-Term Health Effects of Methamphetamine

Chronic methamphetamine use can cause serious effects on overall the user’s overall health, some of which can persist after the person stops using meth. Long-term health effects of meth use include:

  • Increased blood pressure – this is a risk factor for strokes, heart attack, and death
  • Irreversible damage to the brain and heart
  • Damage to other organs such as the lungs, liver, and kidneys
  • Confusion, insomnia, and anxiety
  • Severe itching, leading to skin wounds and infections caused by aggressive scratching
  • Meth mouth – this term is used to describe serious dental issues caused by meth abuse and is characterized by dry mouth, extensive dental decay, lockjaw, and extensive grinding and clenching of teeth. [5]
  • Mood disturbances, paranoia, violent or erratic behaviors, and delusions. [6]
  • Development of psychosis, with symptoms such as auditory hallucinations (hearing voices that aren’t there), visual hallucinations (seeing shadows or people that aren’t there), and tactile hallucinations (feeling like something is creeping under or on the skin).
  • Suicidal thoughts. [7]
  • Loss of appetite, resulting in weight loss
  • Increased risk of developing HIV and Hepatitis B infections due to non-sterile needles used to inject the drug. [8] 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 psychostimulants (primarily methamphetamine) were less than 600 in 1999. They have increased to over 32,500 in 2021. [9]

meth addict

Why Is Methamphetamine Addictive?

The powerful effects of methamphetamine and its high addictive potential are largely related to its effects on dopamine supplies in the brain. Dopamine is a natural brain chemical that is released when a person engages in pleasurable activities such as eating food or having sex. Dopamine is also closely related to the development of addiction to various substances.

Over time, drugs such as methamphetamine which cause the release of large amounts of dopamine create addiction pathways in the brain. These pathways make it difficult for a person to stop using the drug. Meth causes the release of very large amounts of dopamine. This makes it more addictive than other stimulants like cocaine. The user experiences that occurs as a result of the brain being flooded with dopamine includes intense pleasure or euphoria, high amounts of energy, increased sexual drive, and an overall boosted mood.

Over time, repeated use of a drug like meth causes the brain to conserve dopamine by releasing less of the chemical when the drug is used. This causes a desensitization of dopamine receptors and leads to tolerance, where a meth user needs larger quantities of the drug over time to get the same effects. Therefore, it is because of tolerance that many meth users increase their dose to experience similar effects as before. But this accelerates the addictive process and makes them physically and psychologically dependent on the drug.

Signs of Methamphetamine Addiction

The immediate euphoria, commonly called a “rush”, is the most common reason why people use meth recreationally.

But over time, meth users unknowingly shift their focus in life to achieving a “rush.” They lose interest in things that they previously used to enjoy. Loss of interest in work affects job performance, sometimes leading to unemployment. Meth users also lose the urge to sleep or eat. This can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days following meth use.

A long period of sleeplessness, ranging from 3 to 15 days, can be followed by a stage called tweaking. The symptoms of the tweaking stage are:

  • An extreme level of frustration
  • Unpredictable and sometimes violent behavior
  • Drastic mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Fast eye movements
  • Shaky voice
  • Quick and jerky movements
  • Loss of weight due to loss of appetite
  • Red eyes

A person in the tweaking stage of meth use is potentially dangerous and should be dealt with using extreme caution. A short temper and unpredictable decisions are characteristic of this stage and can make a meth user extremely dangerous to themselves and others around them.

Another important sign of meth addiction is the desire to hide the addiction from loved ones. Meth users frequently display social withdrawal and isolate themselves from family and friends.

Withdrawal from Methamphetamine

People who have developed a physical dependence on methamphetamine typically experience a range of symptoms when they attempt to quit using the drug. These are called withdrawal symptoms and are one of the main reasons for relapse to drug abuse.

Meth withdrawal is uncomfortable and begins quickly after a person stops using. It occurs because the body and brain need time to readjust to the absence of meth in the system.

Research has found that meth withdrawal can be divided into two phases: acute and subacute. Acute withdrawals occur first (within 24 hours of last use).  They can be quite severe and typically last for about a week. [10] Symptoms of acute withdrawal include extreme fatigue, increased appetite, and mood changes such as anxiety, irritability, and sadness. Some people also experience psychosis. The next phase of meth withdrawal (subacute phase) is less severe and can extend over a few weeks.

In general, meth withdrawal symptoms are worse in users who have been on meth for longer periods or used more of the drug. Such individuals tend to have many psychological symptoms, including moodiness, irritability, and anxiety. Studies show that withdrawal symptoms disappear completely within 2 weeks to 20 days of meth use cessation. [11]

Sometimes, drug withdrawal symptoms can persist for months. This 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 by recovering meth users. Studies reveal that around 30% of people who have used meth have experienced anxiety disorders. [12]
  • Depression: Feeling low or experiencing a depressed mood is quite common during meth withdrawal. This does not typically last beyond the third week of stopping meth use.
  • Sleepiness and fatigue: Meth use causes hyperactivity. It is therefore not surprising that withdrawal from meth can make recovering drug users extremely inactive, drowsy, and tired. Sleepiness tends to peak on around the fifth day, at which point a person may sleep up to 11 hours a day.
  • Cravings for methamphetamine: People with a dependence on meth frequently experience an increase or reappearance of meth cravings during the withdrawal phase.
  • Increased appetite: During meth withdrawal, drug users can become voracious eaters.
  • Psychosis: Symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions and hallucinations, 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 (DEA), methamphetamine is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and addiction. Prescription methamphetamines are carefully regulated and only prescribed to people with legitimate medical conditions such as narcolepsy or ADHD.

Methamphetamines were initially developed as prescription drugs in the 1930s. They began to be abused in the following years with meth abuse peaking in the 1950s and 1960s, during which time the drug was mainly abused by injection. Its popularity then declined over the next couple of decades as cocaine use became more prevalent. But by the 1990s, meth had returned in the form of crystal meth (a form of meth that is smoked) and swept across the U.S. in epidemic proportions. 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 2022, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that over 16.5 million people in the United States over the age of 12 years had used meth at least once in their lifetime. In addition, 2.7 million people above the age of 12 reported using meth within the past year and 1.6 million people reported using this stimulant drug within the past month. [13]

Meth use is most prevalent in the western and midwestern states, where it is perceived as the greatest drug threat by police.

Methamphetamine Overdose

A meth overdose is a medical emergency. It occurs due to the intake of a large amount of meth in a short period of time. The body fails to neutralize this large dose of meth, and consequently, the drug user experiences severe side effects. If it is not treated in time, a meth overdose can be fatal.

Research indicates that the main 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 dangerous rise in blood pressure which can cause severe health complications such as hemorrhage (internal bleeding) and liver failure.

The risk of overdose is much higher when methamphetamines are taken in combination with other drugs, especially opioid drugs. Half of all meth overdoses involve the use of an opioid. [15] Even when meth is not taken with other drugs, people who buy the drug from illicit sources are always at an increased risk of purchasing an adulterated or more potent dose, which can lead to a fatal overdose.

Signs of Meth Overdose

Exposure to large amounts of meth can result in the following signs and symptoms:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Fast or slow heartbeat
  • Hypertension or hypotension (high or low blood pressure)
  • Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature)
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis

Recovery and survival after a meth overdose depends on how quickly a person receives professional medical care. The chances of survival are highest when a person gets immediate medical attention. Once the emergency is dealt with successfully, substance abuse treatment and therapy should follow to prevent further incidents.

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.

Emergency medical treatment for a meth overdose typically involves 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 health complications such as cardiovascular issues or weakened kidney function

Calling a Meth Hotline: What to Expect

Meth withdrawal causes anxiety, depression, lethargy, and increased 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 they cannot tolerate the intense symptoms of meth withdrawal. Sadly, with every failed attempt to quit, a person can start to feel more and more powerless against the drug.

Our meth hotline helps you learn about meth detox centers, treatment facilities, and specialized counselors in your area. We can put you in touch with the most appropriate care based on your drug use history. Even if you are not sure whether you are ready to stop using meth right away, calling our hotline can help you understand your options, so that when you are ready to make a change, you know where to get help. Our helpline is also a great resource for meth users who are feeling isolated. We offer you the opportunity to discuss whatever is on your mind and obtain helpful advice from friendly, knowledgeable, and non-judgmental advisors.

Last updated: March 26, 2024

Hailey Shafir, M.Ed., LCMHCS, LCAS, CCS

Hailey Shafir is a licensed addiction specialist and mental health counselor. She graduated from North Carolina State University with a master of education in clinical mental health counseling in 2012, and has developed deep expertise in the areas of mental health, behavioral addictions and substance abuse. She is passionate about using this knowledge to raise awareness, provide clear and accurate information, and to improve the quality of treatment for these disorders.

Hailey is an LCMHCS (license number: S9539) under the North Carolina Board of Mental Health Counselors, and an LCAS (ID: LCAS-21333) and CSS (ID: CCS-20721) under the North Carolina Addictions Specialist Professional Practice Board.


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