Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Meth Addiction

Understanding the signs and symptoms of meth addiction can help you or a loved one make a decision about treatment. Every experience with meth addiction is different, and if you or a loved one are struggling, we are here to help.

Understanding Meth Addiction

Learn about meth addiction and substance abuse

Methamphetamine, typically referred to simply as “meth,” is a stimulant substance that is a derivative of amphetamine. Meth causes the brain to release disproportionate amounts of the chemical dopamine, which acts as the controlling agent of a person’s feelings of well-being. This excessive release of dopamine not only increases an individual’s sense of well-being, but it also causes him or her to no longer have the ability to feel pain, adding to the overall sensation of euphoria. The high that a person gains after using meth occurs almost instantaneously and, while the longevity of the high can vary, it has been known to last for up to 12 hours, which makes it especially appealing to its users. It does not take long for an individual to build up a tolerance to the effects of methamphetamine, which forces him or her to increase the amount that he or she uses. This perpetual cycle can rapidly cause a person’s life to spiral out of control and treatment for meth abuse should be sought.

Statistics

Meth addiction statistics

According to reports provided by the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 1.2 million people in the United States admitted to using methamphetamine in the year prior to the survey. Of those individuals, 440,000 reported using the drug within the month prior to the survey’s distribution. Slightly more recent statistics show that an estimated 600,000 Americans use meth every week. The 2012 Monitoring the Future survey concluded that 1% of adolescents in the eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades were using meth. It is also said that, in the Midwest alone, methamphetamine abuse makes up 90% of all drug cases.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for meth addiction

The fact that some people who experiment with methamphetamine become addicted to it while others do not leads to the assumption that there is a combination of factors playing a role in determining one’s susceptibility of developing an addiction to the substance. Examples of these various factors include:

Genetic: Addiction itself is known to run in families, which means that when a person has a family member who is struggling with an addiction to meth or another type of substance, he or she is at a higher risk of having addictive tendencies as well. Additionally, research has shown that variations in the composition of different genes can play a role in increasing or decreasing one’s level of resistance to forming an addiction.

Physical: Once someone becomes addicted to meth, the pathways within his or her brain become significantly altered as the drug induces nerve cell changes. The high that people receive after using meth is the result of an increase in the amount of dopamine that the brain is releasing, which adds to the level of disturbances within the brain’s pathways.

Environmental: When people spend an extensive amount of time in an environment where the use of meth is prominent, they are inevitably at a higher risk of using the substance themselves. This is also true for people who have easy access to the drug. Additionally, some individuals may begin experimenting with meth as a means of trying to find an escape from the various stresses of life that they may be facing. This experimentation can quickly lead to an addiction.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of abusing other substances
  • Presence of mental illness
  • Peer pressure
  • Having easy access to the drug
  • Being surrounded by people who use the drug
  • Exposure to violence
  • Exposure to crime

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of meth addiction

Not everyone will display signs that they are using meth in the same manner. The amount of the substance that a person is using, along with the length of time during which he or she has been using, can alter the presentation of meth abuse symptoms. Examples of the various kinds of symptoms that may indicate that a person is using meth can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sudden, sporadic bursts of hyperactivity
  • Periodic, prolonged periods of excessive lethargy
  • Chaotic behavior
  • Lying
  • Stealing and/or participating in other types of criminal behavior
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family
  • Chronic absences from work or school
  • Episodes of sudden, unprovoked aggression
  • Rapid speech / incessant talking

Physical symptoms:

  • Increase in body temperature / excessive perspiration
  • Facial tics
  • Muscle spasms / uncontrollable twitching
  • Foul body odor
  • Dramatic changes in physical appearance, including decaying teeth, acne, and sores on the skin
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased blood pressure and/or heart rate

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Loss of memory
  • Having difficulty learning
  • Extreme confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Loss of sound judgment and reasoning
  • Paranoia

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Drastic mood swings
  • Intense anxiety and/or depression
  • Psychosis
  • Prolonged manic episodes
  • Decreased interest in things once enjoyed
  • Excessive agitation
  • Excessive irritability

Effects

Effects of meth addiction

The long-term effects of meth abuse can be life-shattering, sometimes even fatal. The severity of the effects that people typically experience will vary based on a number of different factors but can include the following:

  • Financial strain
  • Marital discord
  • Destroyed relationships
  • Permanent damage to and weakening of one’s immune system
  • Irreparable cognitive impairment
  • Job loss
  • Academic failure
  • Homelessness
  • Horrendous changes to one physical appearance
  • Contracting diseases such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C
  • Untimely death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Meth addiction and co-occurring disorders

Some individuals who abuse methamphetamine are suffering from a mental illness and may be using the drug to unconsciously self-medicate the symptoms of their disorder. Other individuals may have a susceptibility to developing certain mental illnesses and their use of meth causes an earlier or more dramatic onset. Examples of different mental health disorders that can co-occur with meth abuse may include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of meth withdrawal & overdose

Effects of meth withdrawal: When people abuse meth, and then suddenly stop using, the amount of dopamine that their brain is releasing lowers, putting them at risk for experiencing a number of different withdrawal symptoms, which may include:

  • Sudden, substantial weight gain
  • Loss of energy
  • No longer able to experience pleasure
  • Increased depression
  • Increased anxiety
  • Intense cravings
  • Psychomotor tics
  • Suicidal ideation

Effects of meth overdose: As people develop a tolerance for the substance, the amount that they use will continuously increase in order to achieve the high that they want. Without realizing it, these individuals may end up taking more than their bodies are capable of tolerating, leading to an overdose. When someone is overdosing on meth, it is imperative that he or she receive treatment from a medical professional immediately, as the end result could be fatal. Signs that could indicate that a person is overdosing on methamphetamine may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Kidney failure
  • Falling into a coma
  • Death