Meth Symptoms & Effects

Methamphetamine, or meth, is a stimulant drug typically found in either a powder form or a crystal form. When ingested, meth produces a powerful euphoric high that tends to fade quickly. As a result, people who use meth sometimes use it in a bingeing pattern that can last for days. This powerfully addictive drug has the potential to damage nearly every aspect of a person’s life. However, because of the intense pleasure the drug brings and its incredibly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, people often struggle to stop using meth after they have become addicted.

Thankfully, however, the dream of a life free of meth is not impossible to fulfill. With caring support and expert treatment, it is possible to overcome a meth addiction.

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Statistics

Methamphetamine use is a persistent and pervasive problem, though thankfully it has shown some signs of decline. Data cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 2012 indicated that 1.2 million Americans reported using meth within the past year and 440,000 used it within the past month. For comparison, in 2006, 731,000 people reported past-month use. Despite the trend of declining use, meth is still a serious problem. Data from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH) found that 5.5% of people ages 26 and older have used meth at some point in their lives, and data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) found that meth use was responsible for 103,000 emergency room visits in 2011.

Causes and Risk Factors for Meth Abuse

Substance abuse experts agree that a person’s risk of developing a meth addiction does not come from a single gene or environmental factor. Rather, an individual’s risk of addiction is the result of a complex interplay of multiple genetic and environmental factors which may include:

Genetic: Most research supports the premise that a person’s risk of abusing meth can be partly tied to genetic factors. If a person has a family history of addiction, he or she is more likely to become addicted to drugs than a person without a family history of addiction.

Environmental: Families provide a person with his or her genes, but they also have an environmental influence on a person. Individuals who grew up in home environments where meth is readily accessible are more likely to become meth users themselves. In addition, other environmental factors, such as unemployment, poverty, exposure to traumatic events, and severe chronic stressors, also increase a person’s risk of developing a meth addiction.

Risk Factors:

  • History of exposure to traumatic events
  • Family history of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • History of abusing other substances
  • Growing up in, or living in, poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Enduring chronic, severe stressors, such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Having easy access to meth

Signs and Symptoms of Meth Abuse

While certain signs and symptoms of meth abuse are common among most people who use meth, each person’s struggle with meth abuse is different. For example, these signs and symptoms vary not only with an individual’s personality, but also with length and severity of that person’s use of this drug. That being said, below are some common symptoms of meth abuse that may serve as warning flags should they manifest in a loved one’s life:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Unexplained financial troubles
  • Erratic behavior
  • Secretiveness or defensiveness about one’s activities or whereabouts
  • Decline in work performance
  • No longer participating in hobbies or other activities a person used to enjoy
  • Changes in one’s social circle
  • Stealing
  • Lying
  • Failing to keep up with responsibilities
  • Increases in physical activity

Physical symptoms:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Tooth decay (known as “meth mouth”)
  • Body odors
  • Sores from scratching
  • Puncture wounds or scabs at injection sites
  • Tics, spasms, or twitching
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Problems sleeping
  • Reduced appetite
  • Fever
  • Severe weight loss

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Poor judgment
  • Decline in problem-solving skills
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Thoughts of suicide

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Withdrawal from relationships
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Fluctuations in mood
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Meth Abuse

Methamphetamine abuse can result in several negative consequences across virtually every domain of a person’s life. The following are some of the negative effects that those who use meth may suffer from if their addiction is left untreated:

  • Emotional and cognitive problems due to structural changes in the brain
  • Kidney or liver damage
  • Deterioration in one’s physical appearance
  • Contracting a virus, such as HIV, from sharing needles with others
  • Problems with performance at work
  • Job loss
  • Development of addiction substance abuse or mental health concerns
  • Legal problems, possibly including time in prison
  • Financial problems
  • Decline in quality of relationships
  • Divorce
  • Loss of child custody
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Death, either from suicide or overdose

Co-Occurring Disorders

An unfortunate truth is that people often struggle with other mental health disorders alongside a substance use disorder. People who struggle with a meth addiction may also meet criteria for the following diagnoses:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Gambling disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Cannabis use disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of meth withdrawal: With continued use, a person develops a tolerance to meth, meaning this person’s body has become adapted to operating in the presence of meth. When this phenomenon occurs, suddenly removing meth from one’s system causes a set of symptoms known as withdrawal. These symptoms can include:

  • Intense cravings for meth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxious feelings
  • Depression symptoms
  • Sharp drop in energy levels
  • Shaking, twitching, or tics
  • Frustration, agitation, or irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Sweating

Effects of meth overdose: When person uses meth for long periods of time, his or her body becomes habituated to the drug, requiring the person to take more and more to achieve a high. This trend of increasing one’s use and dose of the drug places people who use meth in constant danger of an overdose. An overdose, which can be fatal, occurs when a person ingests more meth than his or her body can either metabolize or excrete. The effects of an overdose can include, but are not limited to:

  • Organ failure
  • Trouble breathing
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Stroke
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
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