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Meth Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Getting Help

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that increases activity in the central nervous system (CNS) and is often used recreationally for its effects like increased alertness and energy.1 However, meth misuse can produce adverse effects and even lead to meth addiction.1

Approximately 2.6 million people reported using methamphetamine in the United States between 2019 and 2020 alone.3

This article will cover:

  • What methamphetamine is and how it works.
  • Meth use and misuse.
  • The difference between methamphetamine and crystal meth.
  • The dangers and effects of meth use.
  • Signs of meth addiction.
  • Finding help for meth addiction.
  • FAQs about meth.

What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a synthetic (man-made) stimulant drug with a chemical structure that resembles amphetamine, the drug from which it was derived.3 Street names include “crank,” “tweak,” and “speed.”2

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has designated meth as a Schedule II stimulant drug due to its high potential for misuse.2

Doctors may legally prescribe methamphetamine in controlled amounts and at very small doses. However, it is far more common for people to take the illegal street version of methamphetamine. Only 1 form of legal methamphetamine exists in the United States, under the brand name Desoxyn and is used to treat ADHD and obesity on very rare occasions.2

Illicit use stems from people covertly manufacturing the drug in small labs or houses using pseudoephedrine, an active ingredient found in certain cold medicines.3 The drug typically comes in powdered form or a pill that can be swallowed.2 Other routes of administration often associated with meth addiction include smoking, injecting, or snorting the drug.3

Difference Between Meth and Crystal Meth

Methamphetamine is widely recognized as a powder form while crystal meth resembles fragments of glass or shiny white-blue rocks.2 Although both drugs generate intense feelings of euphoria, crystal meth is typically smoked or injected, which can lead to a more intense rush or “high.”3

How Does Meth Work?

Meth floods the brain with dopamine, a natural chemical responsible for physical activity, motivation, and pleasure.5 When consumed, meth hijacks the brain’s reward system, producing powerful feelings of euphoria.5

Consuming meth and then experiencing prolonged feelings of pleasure can reinforce its use.5 Since meth activates pleasure centers in the brain, many people repeatedly use meth to sustain its intensely euphoric effects.5 Those who engage in this drug-taking cycle may be at increased risk of developing meth or crystal meth addiction.2, 3

Meth differs from other stimulants like cocaine because it is metabolized far less rapidly and lingers in the body for significantly longer periods of time, thereby having a lasting effect on the brain.3 Meth’s stimulating effects do not stop shortly after ingestion as they do with other stimulants. The euphoric effects of meth can last for over 12 hours.3 Meth also releases dopamine at far greater rates than cocaine.3

Dangers and Effects of Meth Use

Meth misuse poses grave dangers, especially when consumed consistently over time. Serious psychological and adverse health effects can accompany short- and long-term meth use, including:

  • Psychosis.1
  • Aggressive or violent behavior.1
  • Seizures.1
  • Tooth decay.1
  • Cardiovascular damage.1
  • Skin sores, often due to picking behaviors associated with drug intake.5
  • Brain damage.1
  • Depression.5
  • Damage to the kidneys and liver.5
  • Respiratory problems.1
  • Abscesses or infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS if injected.1

Meth misuse occurs when someone consumes increased doses, uses it more often, or switches routes of entry—for example, initially smoking meth but eventually injecting it.2

When consumed at high doses, meth misuse can be fatal. Meth overdose can trigger seizures, and if left untreated, may result in death.1 If someone is experiencing an overdose, call 9-1-1 immediately.

What Are the Signs of Meth Addiction?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), includes an overview of signs and symptoms associated with substance use disorders like meth addiction, which is classified as a stimulant use disorder. The manual helps physicians determine if a stimulant use disorder diagnosis is appropriate for a given person.6

If you or a loved one experience at least 2 or more of the following criteria over a 12-month period, you may consider seeking help for meth misuse:6

  • Consuming the stimulant in greater amounts over a longer period than anticipated
  • Wanting but unsuccessfully attempting to stop or cut down the use of the stimulant
  • Spending considerable time seeking, obtaining, using, and recovering from the stimulant
  • Possessing an intense desire to use the stimulant
  • Failing to fulfill duties at work, school, or home due to persistent stimulant use
  • Continuing to use stimulants despite glaring disruptions to social or interpersonal relationships
  • Relinquishing activities such as work, school, hobbies, or relationships due to stimulant use
  • Using stimulants in physically dangerous environments
  • Continuing to use stimulants despite knowledge of having a problem with the drug
  • No longer experiencing the desired effects from the stimulant and requiring greater amounts to illicit its effects
  • Using the stimulant to avoid experiencing withdrawal from the drug

Find Help for Meth Addiction

The most common meth addiction treatment is behavioral therapy.3 The goal of behavioral therapy is to change specific behavioral patterns that are damaging and that have contributed to meth misuse.7 Therapists support people in replacing problematic behaviors with helpful techniques to reduce distressing feelings or urges.7

Behavioral interventions that may be used in treating meth addiction include:3

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • The Matrix Model.
  • Contingency management interventions.
  • Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR)

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any medication to treat meth addiction specifically.3

Typically, meth withdrawal does not pose a medical danger.4 However, people struggling with meth addiction may experience intense and lengthy depressive episodes, prolonged dysphoria, or intense negative feelings and thoughts during withdrawal.4

Meth withdrawal can present risks because of dysphoria and subsequent suicidal ideation or attempts at taking one’s own life.4 People should be monitored to help them safely manage meth withdrawal.4

If you or someone you love is experiencing meth addiction or withdrawal, call American Addiction Centers’ 24-hour helpline at . Our caring admissions team is ready to help you find treatment, check your insurance coverage, and help you get a fresh start.