Methamphetamine is an extremely potent central nervous system stimulant also referred to as meth, crystal meth, ice and glass. Methamphetamine is a derivative of amphetamine with long-lasting effects.

Originally derived from amphetamine in 1919, methamphetamine began as a nasal decongestant in bronchial inhalers. The drug was later outlawed in the U.S. as part of the Drug Abuse Regulation Control Act of 1970. Today, methamphetamine is a Schedule II drug and is often labeled a “club drug.”

It is common for meth to be produced in illegal laboratories and sometimes in larger “superlabs,” across the U.S., particularly in California and Arizona.

Signs And Symptoms Of Methamphetamine Abuse

There are some signs and symptoms that may indicate someone is abusing methamphetamine. Due to the way meth interacts with the brain, there are both immediate effects and delayed effects which may be experienced by any person who abuses the drug.

Signs that someone is under the influence of meth can include:

  • euphoria and energy spike
  • increased physical activity
  • increased blood pressure and breathing rate
  • dangerously high body temperature
  • loss of appetite
  • sleeplessness
  • paranoia
  • unpredictable behavior
  • performing repetitive, meaningless tasks
  • dilated pupils
  • heavy sweating
  • nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • tremors
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • seizures and potentially death

Long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse can appear during or after use. These effects may include:

  • brain damage similar to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease
  • high blood pressure
  • prolonged episodes of anxiety, paranoia and insomnia
  • psychotic behavior, violence, auditory hallucinations and delusions
  • homicidal or suicidal thoughts
  • weakened immune system
  • cracked teeth
  • sores, skin infections and acne
  • stroke, heart attack, lung disease, kidney damage and liver damage
  • increased chance of risky behaviors

If someone is behaving in an abnormal way, they may be suffering from a methamphetamine substance use disorder. Chronic use of meth may also cause individuals to display poor personal hygiene, a pale, unhealthy complexion and sores on their bodies from picking at ‘crack bugs’—a common tactile hallucination which some people may experience if they have an extended reaction to the drug.

Another indicator is badly cracked teeth, which could be a result of tight jaw-clenching while under the influence of meth.

People who are abusing meth for the first time may not experience most or any of these symptoms. The high they experience will cause them to be very active, hyper alert and euphoric between six and 12 hours after use. The first high is often the most pleasurable, which can compel people to seek the same experience as their first high, and may quickly result in an addiction.

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Dangers Of Methamphetamine Abuse

In addition to being physically addictive, methamphetamine can also be highly psychologically addictive. While under the influence of meth, some people may experience bursts of energy, talkativeness and excitement.

The most dangerous effect of methamphetamine abuse may happen when someone has not been able to sleep for three to 15 days, and becomes irritable and paranoid. This behavior is referred to as “tweaking.”

In this excited state, people are able to go for hours, even days, without wanting sleep or food. People who are tweaking also crave more methamphetamine, but find it difficult to achieve the original high.

This can cause the individual to become irritated and act in unstable and unpredictable ways. Due to the unpredictability of their behavior, people who tweak have an increased risk of participating in domestic disputes, impulsive crimes and car accidents.

Chronic, large doses of methamphetamine have also been associated with increased nervousness, irritability, paranoia and sometimes violent behavior. Withdrawing from high doses of meth generally ends in severe depression.

Psychosis similar to Schizophrenia is another symptom of chronic meth abuse. It is displayed by symptoms like paranoia, picking at the skin, self-absorption, auditory and visual hallucinations and occasional episodes of violence.

It is also possible for someone to overdose on meth. An overdose happens when someone has absorbed too much methamphetamine for their body to process at one time, causing a toxic reaction that may result in serious, potentially lethal symptoms or death. Symptoms of methamphetamine overdose can include stroke, heart attack and damage to internal organs.

How Methamphetamine Affects The Brain

Methamphetamine is a strong psychomotor stimulant that mimics the actions of certain chemicals in the brain, which influence mood and movement. The drug causes a release of dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for the euphoric effects felt after abusing it.

After the initial rush wears off, the brain remains at a high level of alertness, keeping the individual’s body on edge. Once the drug has completely worn off, the brain becomes depleted of dopamine and serotonin, which commonly results in a depressed state.

Methamphetamine can be very addictive because the highs are very pleasing but the lows are barely tolerable. Once a tolerance to methamphetamine develops, larger and more frequent doses will be needed to achieve the same level of effects that a smaller dose once did. With repeated misuse, meth can be toxic to the brain and cause permanent damage to brain cells.

Continued meth abuse causes changes to the brain’s reward structure. These changes are a result of the damage caused by the chemical reaction between meth and brain tissues. People who abuse meth for a prolonged period also have severe changes to the parts of the brain involved with emotion and memory.

This may explain some emotional and cognitive problems seen in those who abused methamphetamine later on in life. Even though some changes to the brain may be reversed after stopping the drug for a year or more, in some cases, changes to the brain may never heal, even after a long period of no longer using.

How Methamphetamine Abuse Affects The Body

Meth abuse causes the destruction of tissues and blood vessels by hindering the body’s ability to repair itself. With chronic meth use, people can develop acne or sores that take a long time to heal, and their skin loses its luster and elasticity. This can make people who suffer from addiction to meth look years, even decades, older than they actually are.

Loss of appetite is another common side effect of meth abuse and can lead to poor diet and malnutrition. Grinding teeth and major tooth decay can also be a sign of meth abuse.

Co-Occurring Disorders

It is possible for individuals suffering from addiction to methamphetamines to experience co-occurring disorders. These typically come in the form of an undertreated or undiagnosed mental health disorder, which can include:

  • depressive disorders
  • anxiety disorders
  • bipolar disorders
  • schizophrenia
  • conduct disorders
  • antisocial personality disorder

It is important that all symptoms experienced are discussed with a medical health professional. If someone enters treatment with an undiagnosed mental health disorder, which remains undiagnosed, their chances of relapsing may increase because the root cause of their addictive behavior has not been appropriately addressed.

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Treatment For Methamphetamine Addiction

Treatment for methamphetamine addiction will vary depending on an individual’s needs and circumstances. Detox, often the first stage of recovery, may occur more smoothly in a medically-supervised setting, where experienced medical staff can help monitor an addicted individual’s symptoms. Withdrawing from meth can also be an extremely uncomfortable process.

Risk of relapse is higher during detox and withdrawal, and having the support offered with an inpatient treatment program could be the difference between a successful recovery and an unsuccessful one.