DRUGS: WHAT YOU
NEED TO KNOW Booklet
Signs and Symptoms of Methamphetamine Addiction
Methamphetamine is a very strong and addictive stimulant drug. While there is a prescription form of methamphetamine (methamphetamine hydrochloride, known by the brand name Desoxyn), the form of the drug that normally makes problems for drug abusers is the illicit form of the drug.
While in the last few years, there has not been a large increase in use, looking back a decade, it’s possible to see the harm being done. Overdose deaths related to methamphetamine use have increased by factors of four or five, depending on the ethnicity of the drug user.2 The hardest-hit group has been American Indians/Alaskan Natives, followed by Non-Hispanic Whites.
It’s estimated that 1.5 million people struggle with methamphetamine addiction.1 Because methamphetamine is so rapidly addictive for many people, it is essential to identify any signs or symptoms of methamphetamine addiction before this drug can rob a person of their quality of life.
Physical Signs of Methamphetamine Addiction
A person who smokes or injects methamphetamine will feel the effects in less than a minute. The signs will take longer—up to a half-hour—when the drug is snorted or ingested. You may observe these signs shortly after the drug is consumed:
- Euphoric rush
- Rapid rush of ideas and speech
- Lack of fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Increased alertness
- Rapid breathing
- Bruxism (teeth grinding)
- Dilated pupils
- Physical agitation
- Light sensitivity
The high of methamphetamine lasts much longer than the high of other stimulants like cocaine. While cocaine’s effects may last less than a half-hour, a methamphetamine high can last between 4 and 24 hours.
A methamphetamine user will typically begin to lose weight when drug use becomes frequent because they may begin to go long periods without eating. If the drug is available in quantity, the user may keep themselves up for days, eating, drinking and sleeping very little. Finally, they will crash and sleep around the clock.
Behavioral and Emotional Signs of Methamphetamine Use
Behaviorally, you may see the following signs in a methamphetamine user:
- Unusually high confidence
- Increased curiosity
- Improved sense of self-worth
- Decreased anxiety
- Erratic sleeping-waking schedule
The Long-Term Physical Damage of Methamphetamine Addiction
- Involuntary and purposeless movements
- Heart attack
- Cardiovascular collapse
- Multiple organ breakdown
A methamphetamine user is more subject to serious illnesses such as infections, abscesses, collapsed blood vessels and malnutrition. The damage to their nervous system can result in some people developing symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease.4
Because methamphetamine dries out a user’s mouth and because their nutrition is normally very poor, it’s common for long-term meth users to suffer “meth mouth.” This is an oral and dental condition marked by severe tooth decay and loss of teeth as well as gum disease.
Prolonged and heavy use of methamphetamine can be associated with a serious condition called rhabdomyolysis which means that a person’s muscles begin breaking down. Toxic products are released into the bloodstream. Without immediate treatment and medical support, it can be fatal.
The Long-Term Emotional and Mental Damage of Methamphetamine Addiction
Methamphetamine has a harsh and damaging effect on the mind as well as the body. It can take a chronic user’s brain a long time to recover from its use, meaning that these mental and emotional signs can last quite a long time after drug use stops.
These signs will often begin showing up after long-term use:
- Impaired memory
- Poor executive function
- Neglect of hygiene
- Neglect of responsibilities
- Repetitive, obsessive behavior
- Mood disturbances
- Violent and erratic behavior
“Executive function” refers to the ability of a person to plan, make correct decisions, focus attention and control oneself. When this ability and one’s memory are both impaired, it can be very difficult for an individual to correctly conclude what has caused them to be in poor condition. Thus they may not be able to grasp the fact that they have harmed themselves with methamphetamine use. They may not, then, seek help to resolve their addiction.
One of the oddest delusions of a meth-addicted person is the idea that insects are crawling under their skin, a phenomenon called formication. As a result of this delusion, many methamphetamine addicts pick at their skin, trying to get the bugs out. You will often see them with sores on their bodies and faces after they’ve tried to get rid of these imaginary bugs.
The development of psychosis among methamphetamine users normally takes place among heavy users who use the drug over a prolonged period of time. But the amount of the drug required, the speed at which psychosis appears and the length of time needed to recover are quite variable. Recovery from a meth-induced psychotic episode may take place in a week or the condition may last indefinitely. When symptoms finally subside, they can be triggered again by stress.
A person who consumes too much of this drug can suffer severe symptoms that can even lead to death.
- Multiple organ failure
- Heart failure
- Heart attack
Because the drug stimulates the body so strongly, it can cause overheating and symptoms of heatstroke. This can be the cause of organ breakdown and death.
Withdrawal from Methamphetamine
Withdrawal from methamphetamine can be extremely difficult because of the drug’s intensely damaging effects on the brain, endocrine system and organs. An addicted person who stops using the drug may be unable to feel any pleasure and may slip into a deep depression.
The drug’s unique harm to the brain, nervous system and emotional state of a methamphetamine user makes it hard for treatment to be successful. Persistent confusion, depression and cravings impede their recovery. For this reason, it is important to find an effective rehabilitation program at the first sign of methamphetamine use, before the person can suffer this damage. Any delay could be harmful to a person’s ability to recover.
Long-term rehab may be needed for a person who is addicted to methamphetamine so that their nervous systems and brains can recover as fully as possible. With the support of rehab staff, family and community, a person who was once addicted to methamphetamine can gradually rebuild their life and once again enjoy sobriety, care for themselves properly and contribute to their families.
SAMHSA. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2021. Samhsa.gov. SAMSHA Publication (PDF) ↩︎