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Meth Addiction: Signs, Side Effects, Treatment & More

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Apr 22, 2023 • 11 cited sources

Methamphetamine is a highly potent, very addictive and dangerous substance that’s relatively easy to obtain and use. Unfortunately, far too many people within the United States experiment with the drug. 

In the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 2.5 million people older than 12 admitted to methamphetamine use in the prior 12 months, and about 1.6 million met the criteria for a methamphetamine use disorder.[1] 

Using meth just once can start a person on a path towards developing a substance use disorder (SUD). While there’s no approved pharmaceutical therapy for meth use disorders, therapy and support groups can help.

What Is Meth?

Methamphetamine is a man-made stimulant that works directly on the central nervous system. The drug was designed in the early 20th century by chemists hoping to ease cold and asthma symptoms.[2] But some people found an entirely different use for meth and a new way to make it. 

Methamphetamine molecules prompt brain cells to release powerful chemicals, triggering alertness combined with euphoria. People using meth feel like they can and should do almost anything. And once the hit wears off, they want another almost immediately.

As the mood-boosting properties of meth became clear, at-home chemists started making crystal meth. Combining over-the-counter cold medications with substances like brake fluid, drain cleaner, paint thinner and fertilizers creates a potent form of meth that’s easy to transport and use. 

Most of the meth consumed in the United States is made in very small laboratories.[3] Those meth labs create toxic byproducts that pollute their neighborhoods long after the labs have shut down. 

Meth’s Effects & Side Effects

After using crystal meth, the user may experience short-term effects, including these:[4]

  • Intoxication
  • Paranoia
  • Dry mouth
  • Dilated pupils
  • Higher activity levels
  • Increased breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature
  • Decreased appetite or ability sleep

The side effects of long-term regular crystal meth use can include the following:[5]

  • Psychological disorders or symptoms that mimic psychological disorders
  • Malnutrition and breakdown of organ function as a result
  • Inability to manage responsibilities, such as finances, a job or care of dependents
  • Physical health problems, especially cardiovascular issues, dental problems and skin changes

Why Is Meth So Addictive? 

When crystal meth is ingested, it triggers the release of dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical in the brain.[6] This chemical is associated with the brain’s pleasure center, which is connected to the ability to manage compulsive behavior, emotional response, motor function and motivation. 

When someone takes crystal meth, they not only experience a high while under the influence, but they also begin to crave more of the substance. These cravings increase with persistent use. 

Meth is one of the most difficult drugs to quit long term because the compulsion to use the substance can arise months into recovery. While long-term recovery can be challenging, it is achievable with proper support.

Why Is Meth Addiction So Widespread?

Methamphetamine is also known as speed, ice, tweak, crystal, crank, or meth, depending on the region.[7] The drug has so many names because it is so popular within the United States. 

Meth is easy to make, easy to use and incredibly powerful. Just one tiny dose delivers major changes in the way people think, feel and react. Some people will spend the rest of their lives chasing the sensations they felt the first time they used meth, no matter the consequences. 

Any powerful drug that is relatively easy to make or buy can lead to widespread addiction issues. Meth falls into this category.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Meth Addiction?

Every person is different, and reactions to meth can vary from person to person. But understanding common changes can help you spot an addiction in someone you love, and that could encourage you to help them. 

Physical Effects of Meth

The physical effects of crystal meth are hard to miss and can begin within just a few weeks of regular meth use. They include the following:[8]

  • Dental problems: Tooth decay happens very quickly with everyday meth use. The term meth mouth refers to the damage that can occur in the teeth and gums due to ongoing methamphetamine use. 
  • Skin issues: It is common for people under the influence of meth to pick at their skin, resulting in bleeding, scabs, pockmarks and long-term damage. Many feel as if they have bugs crawling under their skin. 
  • Weight loss and malnutrition: Some people begin using crystal meth to speed up their metabolism and quell appetite, but malnutrition leading to other health problems can result.
  • Cardiovascular risks: Crystal meth is a stimulant, speeding up heart rate and increasing blood pressure. When this happens, it can create demand on the heart and increase the risk of heart attack and eventual heart failure. 

Psychological Effects of Meth

When under the influence of meth, it is common to feel a euphoric high, a sense of focused energy or extreme paranoia. These feelings can exist in phases at different periods of crystal meth use. Psychosis, including both aural and visual hallucinations, may also occur.[9] 

Behavioral Effects of Meth

Meth users can exhibit erratic behavior, including the following:

  • Jumping from one subject to the next
  • Irregular speech and thought patterns
  • Speaking very quickly (“pressured” speech)
  • Spending hours engrossed in tiny details
  • Aggression or violence

In the beginning, these effects may wear off along with the drug. Over time, these issues can evolve into significant behavioral problems that are difficult to manage even when not under the influence of crystal meth. 

Can You Overdose on Meth? 

In 2020, almost 24,000 people died of an overdose caused by a psychostimulant other than cocaine, usually methamphetamine.[10] 

The stimulant properties of meth work directly on the cardiovascular system. Your heart rate can speed up, slow down or move between these two states. Some people develop heart attacks or strokes due to meth’s impact on their bodies. 

Large meth doses can also harm critical organs, including the kidneys. Some people develop severe pain, sweating and agitation due to this organ damage. 

Some people also develop severe mental health challenges during an overdose, seeing or hearing things others cannot. They could harm themselves or others during these psychotic episodes, and sometimes, they face law enforcement action while they’re high. 

What Are the Meth Addiction Risk Factors?

Many issues can increase the risk of developing a methamphetamine addiction after using the drug, including these:[11]

  • History of substance misuse, including misuse of heroin, alcohol and other substances
  • Family history of drug or alcohol misuse, especially among parents or siblings
  • Family history of crime
  • Risky sexual behavior, such as unprotected or promiscuous sexual behavior
  • Some psychiatric disorders
  • Smoking

What Is the Best Treatment for Meth Addiction?

No medications are available to treat methamphetamine use disorder. The best programs address the psychological effects of the drug and help motivate the individual to discontinue use.

What Support Groups Are Best for People in Recovery From Meth Use?

Support is crucial during every stage of recovery. Support groups, made up of peers on the road to long-term recovery, can be essential in maintaining sobriety. Here are some of the available options:

  • Crystal Meth Anonymous: This is the most popular in-person, 12-step support group specific to crystal meth. The meetings are held locally and run by volunteers who are also in recovery. A commitment to anonymity and a genuine desire to avoid relapse are all that are required to attend. 
  • Narcotics Anonymous: This support group is also based on the 12 steps and is open to anyone seeking recovery from any addictive substance, including crystal meth. 
  • Meth Addiction Recovery and Family Support: This Facebook group provides online support to people in recovery from crystal meth and their families.

Resources for People Struggling With Meth Addiction

If you are seeking more information about crystal meth addiction, recovery or treatment, check out any of the resources below:

By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More

  1. 2021 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Releases. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed February 2023.
  2. What Is Methamphetamine? National Institute on Drug Abuse. October 2019. Accessed February 2023.
  3. How is Methamphetamine Manufactured? National Institute on Drug Abuse. October 2019. Accessed February 2023.
  4. Methamphetamine Drug Facts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. May 2019. Accessed February 2023.
  5. What Are the Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Misuse? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed February 2023.
  6. Methamphetamine Induces Dopamine Release in the Nucleus Accumbens Through a Sigma Receptor-Mediated Pathway. Neuropsychopharmacology November 2017. Accessed February 2023.
  7. Methamphetamine. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Accessed February 2023.
  8. How Meth Destroys the Body. NPR. Accessed February 2023.
  9. Tips for Teens: Methamphetamine, The Truth About Methamphetamine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. Accessed February 2023.
  10. About Underlying Cause of Death, 1999- 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed February 2023.
  11. Risk Factors for Methamphetamine Use in Youth: A Systematic Review. BMC Pediatrics. October 2008. Accessed February 2023.

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