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Meth Addiction: What It Is, Avoiding Its Risks, & Learning How to Overcome It

With shows like Breaking Bad making their way into the mainstream, methamphetamine is becoming one of the more well-known illicit substances.

And while these portrayals typically incorporate a few of the gritty details, they don't truly show how dangerous and destructive an addiction to meth can really be.

Do You Have Questions About Addiction? Call Our Recovery Experts Now.

Defining Abuse & Addiction

Before we jump into the specifics of methamphetamine addiction and abuse, it’s important to first understand what abuse and addiction really are. How are these two concepts different? How do they overlap? And most importantly, how can you tell the difference between a drug abuse problem and a full-blown addiction.

Here are a few definitions to help clarify things.

Determining what constitutes abuse is easy for illicit drugs like heroin. In these cases, using this drug in any way is a form of abuse. That’s because illicit drugs are 100% illegal. And since they have no legitimate medical use, using them even a little means they’re being abused.

Things get a little trickier when it comes to legal medications and substances. Alcohol, for example, is entirely legal when a user is of age. But drinking becomes a form of abuse when it impedes with their normal daily life.

For prescription drugs (like Desoxyn – a legal methamphetamine drug), using the medication in a way it wasn’t meant for is considered to be abuse. That includes:

  • Taking the medication at higher doses than prescribed
  • Using it with other drugs or alcohol against the doctor’s orders so as to increase its effects
  • Using someone else’s prescription or letting them use yours, even if you have the same condition
  • Taking it when you aren’t supposed to

Ultimately, prescription drug abuse comes down to using it in a way that it wasn’t intended to be used.

Addiction is more of a pattern of behaviors rather than a single instance of use. It’s helpful to look at a few different definitions of addiction and seeing what aspects overlap.

According to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is defined as:

a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is:

a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Dysfunction of these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.

Finally, the American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as:

a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.

According to these three definitions, addiction:

  1. Is a brain disease
  2. Involves uncontrollable (compulsive) drug use
  3. Is marked by continued use despite harmful consequences

As you can see, this is much different than abuse. And by definition, using a drug once does not constitute an addiction. It may lead to the development of an addiction at some point. But a substance use disorder is defined by a pattern of behaviors, not just a single event.

For more information on distinguishing between substance abuse and addiction, have a look at these major differences.

What Exactly is Methamphetamine?

Also known simply as "meth," methamphetamine is a drug that is as powerful as it is addictive. When abused, it creates an intense rush of energy and happiness (euphoria) in the user. It's typically smoked, but it can also be abused in a variety of other ways too.

The drug was first developed in the early 1900s and is synthesized from amphetamine, a less potent stimulant drug. While amphetamines are still used today in medications like Adderall, methamphetamine is largely used only as a recreational drug. However, there are a few legal forms available by prescription only.

Methamphetamine is highly addictive. It can also lead to a long list of negative health effects with continued use. These include HIV and hepatitis, poor oral hygiene, malnutrition, brain damage, and organ failure.

What Exactly is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is categorized as a Schedule II drug. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) defines Schedule II drugs as such:

Substances in this schedule have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

A few other substances that are also in this category are:

As a highly dangerous illicit drug, abusing and trafficking meth can carry some pretty severe penalties under the law.  For example, drug dealers caught with just 5 grams of pure meth face a mandatory minimum penalty of 5 years in jail. The punishment jumps to 10 years for over 50 grams. And for meth mixtures, the same penalties correspond to 50g and 500g respectively.

These punishments become harsher with each prior conviction, too. Past offenders who qualify for the 5-year penalty can see their sentencing shift to 10 years to life for a past felony.

For simple possession, there are a number of other minimum and maximum penalties. Simple possession of a controlled substance with 1 prior offense can lead to a minimum sentence of 15 days and a maximum of 2 years. For 2 priors, the penalties jump to 90 days minimum and 3 years maximum.

To better understand meth and its impact on the body, let’s take a closer look at how it works in the brain.

It is also a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. These types of substances can be artificially produced (like methamphetamine) and can also occur naturally. One example of a naturally occurring CNS stimulant is caffeine.

A stimulant, like the name suggests, causes the user to experience a burst of energy as well as feelings of elation and euphoria with certain kinds of stimulants. A stimulant achieves this effect by interacting directly with the nerve cells of the brain, called neurons.

Some of the 100 billion neurons of our brains have certain areas, called receptors, that are built to recognize and react to particular chemicals called neurotransmitters. When a specific molecule (or one that is similar) binds with these receptors, the neuron begins a chain reaction that results in certain physiological changes. Euphoria, for example, is often attributed to the release and reception of dopamine, one of the brain's neurotransmitters.

Stimulants like meth and cocaine achieve their energizing and often euphoric effects on the body because they contain chemicals that mimic these neurotransmitters when interacting with the brain. As such, the body produces higher levels of dopamine for longer periods, leading to what's known as a "high" or a "rush."

One common misconception is that meth and speed are the same drugs. While it's true that methamphetamines are sometimes sold as speed, it's more likely that speed obtained illegally on the street is actually made of amphetamines.

Amphetamines are much more commonly used in the medical sector to treat disorders like ADHD or insomnia.

When compared to the effects of amphetamines, meth is pronouncedly more potent and faster acting. As such, meth is also much more addictive than amphetamines and is more likely to be abused.

Like the street names used to refer to many other drugs, slang terms for methamphetamine and crystal meth are usually related to how they appear.

Powdered methamphetamine, for example, can appear brown, yellow, orange or pink. As such, its street names tend to reflect that. Here are just a few ways methamphetamine is referred to on the street.

  • Brown
  • Chalk
  • Cinnamon
  • Yellow Powder
  • Crank
  • Speed
  • Tweak

Crystal meth also has separate physically descriptive street names that correspond with its similar appearance to shards of glass. Here are just a few:

  • Crystal
  • Glass
  • Ice
  • Quartz
  • Shards
  • Blade
  • Hot Ice 

How Common Is Meth Abuse & Addiction?

Today, news of the opioid epidemic is on nearly every channel. And with good reason – the epidemic regularly kills about 130 Americans every single day.

Meth Addiction Resouces

But unfortunately, many people aren’t paying attention to the rise of other serious drug problems facing the country. Benzodiazepines, for example, were involved in 11,537 deaths in 2017a 916% jump since 1999.

How Common Is Meth Abuse & Addiction?

And over the past two decades, fatal cocaine overdoses had skyrocketed from 3822 in 1999 to 13,942 in 2017.

Just as other rising drug problems have gone unnoticed in recent years, so too has meth addiction become more of a growing concern. Below are a few statistics to help give some perspective to this alarming trend.

  • Methamphetamine use disorders (addictions) are higher than most people think. According to a 2017 national survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 964 thousand Americans over the age of 12 had a meth addiction. Compare this to 652 thousand heroin addictions in the same year.
  • According to data from SAMHSA’s survey, about 195 thousand Americans started using meth for the first time in 2017 (114 thousand more than first-time heroin users). This breaks down into 27 thousand 12 to 17-year-olds, 95 thousand 18 to 25-year-olds, and 73 thousand users aged 26 or older.
  • Methamphetamine fatal overdoses more than doubled from 2010 (1388) to 2014 (3728).
  • Some areas of the country like Ohio have seen meth overdoses spike by over 5000% in the past 8 years.
  • From 2011 to 2016, fatal meth overdoses increased 3.6-fold from 2011 (1887) to 2016 (6762). 

How Is Meth Used & Abused Today?

Surprisingly to some, meth has both legitimate and illicit uses.

On the legit side, methamphetamine is a prescribed medication used to treat hyperactivity disorders.

On the illicit side of things, meth is a highly dangerous recreational substance.

To some, illicit meth is considered a “party drug.” As a result, some of the most common places you can find it being abused are clubs, concerts, raves, and other late-night venues. To others, getting high on meth at home with a few friends is the preferred venue.

No matter where or how it’s abused though, using meth illicitly is both dangerous and illegal.

Contrary to many people's beliefs, meth isn't just a street drug. In fact, as with most drugs that are currently abused today, methamphetamines were at first used to medically treat certain ailments.

Like other CNS stimulants such as Ritalin, methamphetamine is also used in conjunction with other programs to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) under the brand name Desoxyn which comes in an immediate release and extended release tablet.

Due to the tendency for stimulants to put the body's processes into overdrive, Desoxyn has also been used in treatment programs aimed at reducing patient obesity as well.

As with other drugs that have a high risk of abuse, methamphetamines can only legally be used with a legitimate doctor's prescription.

Methamphetamine abuse can come in several forms. The only legally available form of the drug is a tablet that can be either immediate or extended release and can only be obtained by prescription.

Illicit abuse of meth can occur in a variety of other ways. In addition to taking a pill or tablet without the explicit permission of a doctor, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) points out that meth abuse can involve:

  • Inhaling/Smoking
  • Swallowing in pill form
  • Snorting
  • Injection by dissolving the powder in water or alcohol

Some users may also administer the drug in a more unusual fashion known as “plugging” or “booty bumping.” This is when meth is inserted directly into the anal cavity and absorbed into the body from there.

This method is reported to absorb more of the drug than simply swallowing it. However, it can lead to serious tissue harm and a range of other health problems as a result.

What Is Crystal Meth & Why Is It So Dangerous?

Many people make the mistake of thinking that meth and crystal meth are the same thing. However, there are a few key differences to be aware of.

Meth typically comes in the form of a pill or an odorless powder. That powder can be snorted or dissolved into a liquid and later injected.

Crystal meth, on the other hand, comes in the form of small crystalline shards. These shards are a more condensed and more potent form of meth. And since it has fewer impurities, the high associated with it is stronger and more addictive.

Another factor that makes crystal more dangerous is that it is usually smoked or injected, not snorted like regular meth. This makes the drug even more hazardous because the high comes on much faster than if it is snorted.

As a result, users reach an intense high very quickly, but it doesn’t last quite as long. And soon, the abusers are looking for another rush faster than if they used regular meth. This cycle of abuse continually reinforces the behavior and, eventually, the abuse becomes compulsive and uncontrollable.

Since it’s much stronger, it can also lead to a fatal overdose more easily, too.

To sum up, since crystal meth is a purer form of meth, it is also:

  • More powerful
  • More dangerous
  • More addictive

Meth and more commonly, crystal meth, are both commonly abused on the club scene and are thought of by many as "party drugs." Given the manic and energizing effects produced, it isn’t hard to imagine why.

The unwavering confidence, ecstatic joy, and the boundless energy from meth all work together to create a more intense experience for the user. And when that’s combined with an already vibrant venue like a nightclub, concert, or rave, the effects are even more pronounced.

A few other party drugs that are typically used in these environments include:

Party drugs have their own set of unique dangers associated with them. For instance, many people who abuse party drugs also are using other substances at the same time. Someone using meth, then, might also be binge drinking alcohol, bumping cocaine, and taking ecstasy all at the same time.

This kind of overlapping drug use (known as polydrug abuse) drastically increases the risk of a dangerous or fatal overdose. The drugs can also counteract and intensify each other’s effects, making bad trips or temporary psychosis all the more likely.

Added to that, party drug abuse also typically happens in social situations. And with proper judgment gone entirely out the window, polydrug abusers may be accidentally opening themselves up to crimes like assault, robbery, rape, or countless other dangers. 

A Closer Look at The Methamphetamine High

The high associated with meth is both intense and rapidly acting, especially when it's smoked in the form of crystal meth. In fact, users have described the drug's onset as being almost instantaneous.

The feelings produced by the sudden flooding of the brain with dopamine are, as mentioned before, a combination of extreme energy as well as euphoria. Abusers might have a significantly increased motivation to complete goals as well as a sudden surge of confidence in both physical and mental abilities (which, of course, is entirely imagined).

And given just how much dopamine is released from this drug, it isn’t any wonder why the effects are so strong. According to National Geographic, “One hit of meth may trigger more than 1200 units of dopamine. That’s a rush 3 and a half times more intense than cocaine and about 6 times what the body can do on its own.”

Meth users report feeling “instantly lighter,” “ultra-motivated,” “like I could do anything I ever wanted.” It’s an incredibly potent high. And many recovering addicts report that it’s the most powerful feeling the ever experienced.

As intense as the rush usually is, coming off of a meth high can be even more extreme. The comedown can bring with it a host of dangerous and uncomfortable physical feelings and emotions. Some of these effects may include:

  • Paranoia
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Anger
  • Unexplainable fear
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Feelings of edginess
  • Repetitious behaviors like scratching

For a closer look at what it feels like to get high on crystal meth, check out this user experience below.

One of the things that most differentiates meth and crystal meth from other stimulants like cocaine or even amphetamines is the fact that the high from it lasts so much longer.

The actual high associated with crystal meth can last anywhere from 8 to 24 hours according to some sources. But as with most substances, it depends primarily on the individual.

Even still, many people end up taking meth for the first time not knowing that they’re in for a half-day trip. Consequently, some people even end up taking other drugs like alcohol, marijuana, or benzodiazepines to try and come down quicker.

Others, however, crave the long-lasting high and use meth over and over for days at a time. This is what’s known as a “meth run.”

Methamphetamine abuse typically occurs over a period of time where abusers (sometimes referred to as "meth heads") will go on a prolonged binge known as a "run," using every few hours to stave off the unpleasant side effects of crashing. The result can be patterns of continuous use that could extend for several days, sometimes neglecting sleep and food entirely.

Below are the 7 stages of a meth run and a brief description of each. 

  • The Rush – Initial stage, marked by intense euphoria, energy, and confidence
  • The High – Motivation and activeness is especially high after the rush has subsided. Users will be driven to accomplish many tasks – some of which are important and others which are trivial (e.g., washing a car vs. washing a car over and over again).
  • The Binge – Once the high begins to disappear (8-24 hours later), the user will get high again to maintain the buzz. They will cycle from rush to high to binge for up to several days at a time, skipping work, meals, and even sleep along the way.
  • Tweaking – Continual binging leads to an inability to produce the same euphoric high as before. And that can lead to frustration, mania, and even psychosis. The user’s actions become unpredictable and erratic. At this point, they may be a serious danger to themselves or to others.
  • The Crash – Once the user has finally come down completely, their body will go through a severe crash. They may sleep for days at a time during this stage.
  • The Hangover – After the initial crash, a long period of depression and powerful fatigue is likely to follow. Users likely won’t be able to experience much joy or satisfaction during this time due to the especially low levels of dopamine. Many turn back to using again during this stage just to feel relief from these symptoms.
  • Withdrawal – If the meth abuser was able to stay clean during the hangover, they’ll soon be launched into a host of other uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These include depression, anxiety, and overwhelming urges to use again (cravings). These symptoms are hard to overcome without help. And many abusers turn back to using, thus starting the cycle over again. 

What Are Some Long-Term & Short-Term Health Effects of Methamphetamine Use?

Meth is an incredibly potent and dangerous drug with a plethora of both short-term and long-term side effects.

Some of these side effects are physical in nature – risk of skin infections, increased heart rate, nausea or diarrhea, meth mouth, malnutrition.

What Are Some Long-Term & Short-Term Health Effects of Methamphetamine Use?

Others are psychological – depression, loss of self-control, confusion, irritability, cravings, joylessness, psychosis.

And some can end up being permanent like contracting blood-borne infections, ruining oral hygiene beyond repair, or even causing irreversible brain damage.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the short and long-term effects that meth abuse can have on both the body and the mind.

In the short term, meth produces effects that are similar to many other stimulants. Some of the basic side effects of meth include:

  • Restlessness
  • Upset stomach
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Unpleasant taste
  • Headache
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Itching
  • Changes in sex drive or ability
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a part of your body
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Slow or difficult speech
  • Seizures
  • Motor or verbal tics
  • Believing things that are not true
  • Feeling unusually suspicious of others
  • Hallucinating
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Shivering
  • Severe muscle stiffness or twitching
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Mania
  • Aggressive or hostile behavior
  • Changes in vision or blurred vision
  • Paleness or blue color of fingers or toes
  • Pain, burning, or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Unexplained wounds appearing on fingers or toes

Coming down from using methamphetamine or going on a meth run can often cause an unbearable condition known as anhedonia. Someone with anhedonia is essentially unable to experience any joy. Eating, sleeping, and even sex likely won’t have any effect. And for them, the world is a grey and depressing place.

Anhedonia is especially common among meth users because the drug is so dependent and impactful on the dopamine system. This system in the brain is responsible for nearly all pleasurable feelings we experience. And after repeated meth use, the body becomes unable to activate this system all on its own.

So while someone may have really enjoyed exercising or eating a delicious meal before, continued meth use can make these activities bland, unenjoyable, and even downright depressing.

Here’s a brief explainer on anhedonia.

One of the most devastating short-term effects that methamphetamine abuse can have on an individual is an overdose. Like any other intoxicating substance, the body can only handle so much meth before it loses control of vital functions.

And in the case of meth, this is often the circulatory system.

The increased heart rate and blood pressure that accompanies meth abuse can lead to some serious heart abnormalities like an irregular heartbeat or high pressure on the arteries. And when these effects are particularly severe, it can result in a cardiac event like a heart attack or a stroke.

Hyperthermia (extremely high body temperature) can also cause the brain and body to overheat, resulting in life-threatening seizures or other complications.

In order to ensure the best outcome after an overdose, it’s vital to call 911 immediately after you’ve identified the signs. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Chest pain
  • Coma or unresponsiveness
  • Heart attack
  • Irregular or stopped heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Very high body temperature
  • Kidney damage and possibly kidney failure
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Stroke

Long-Term Side Effects of Meth Abuse

Some of the long-term signs of meth addiction and abuse include a drastic alteration of physical appearance. Changes like severe oral hygiene decay, poor nutrition and loss of body weight, and various scabs and sores all over the skin are just a few of the most noticeable.

These changes can be incredibly drastic in some cases. Have a look at the video below for some of the more extreme examples.

And finally, crystal meth addiction has been shown to have a link with severe changes to areas of the brain responsible for memory and emotion. Researchers theorize that these physical effects on the brain might explain some of the emotional and cognitive problems that many long-term users exhibit. Even more frightening is the fact that while some of these changes may reverse after periods of abstinence from using, many may in fact be entirely permanent.

One of the most noticeable side effects of using meth is the development of what’s known as “meth mouth.”

This condition is marked by especially poor oral hygiene and rotted teeth. Mouths of long-term meth users are often filled with blackened, rotted, crumbling teeth along with infected gums and especially horrendous breath.

Meth mouth occurs for a couple of reasons. 

  • Meth itself contains a host of toxic and corrosive compounds. When meth is smoked, those chemicals wear down the strength and condition of the teeth.
  • Meth users are more likely to crave calorie-dense foods while high. These include sugary drinks, sweet snacks, and generally foods that lead more quickly to tooth decay.
  • Many abusers of this drug tend to put oral hygiene (along with eating and sleeping) on hold while they continue to get high. This makes an already at-risk mouth even more likely to experience tooth decay and infection.
  • Tweaking on meth can lead to damaging repetitive behaviors. For some, this includes grinding or gnashing teeth, which can further destroy the integrity of the tooth.
  • Meth both dehydrates the mouth and cuts of blood supply at the same time. This leads to a much higher likelihood of infection and no way to fight it off once it strikes. 

And besides the horrendous visuals of the condition, it can also lead to a host of dangerous conditions like oral cancer, gum disease, severe tooth decay, and extreme pain.

Have a look at the video below for more info on meth mouth along with some seriously jarring pictures.

Methamphetamine addicts will likely also be severely undernourished. Both the intensification of the body's natural processes caused by using the stimulant as well as the manic state produced make meth abusers less likely to eat regularly.

Methamphetamine is also an appetite suppressant, making it even more likely that a user will either forget to eat or skip it entirely.

Many users on meth will completely forego meals even for days at a time during a meth run.

And over the course of an addiction, these behaviors can and often do lead to severe weight loss along with malnutrition.

The methamphetamine high and come down also result in abusers typically engaging in highly repetitive behaviors such as scratching. As such, a meth addict may have an alarming number of open sores or scabs covering their body - the result of the manic behavior caused by the drug.

To make matters worse, another side effect of methamphetamine abuse is a condition known as “formication.” People suffering from this strange disorder often hallucinate visual and touch sensations all over their skin. And sometimes, the brain interprets these sensations as actual bugs. This, of course, leads the meth user to scratch obsessively.

This is also referred to as “meth bugs.” And it can have a devastating effect on someone’s appearance.

What's more, meth also causes a constriction of the blood vessels, making it much harder for your body to heal itself and letting even a minor cut remain visible for several weeks.

And as you can imagine, all of this can add up to a face and body that’s absolutely covered with unsightly scabs and sores.

Have a look at this article from BuzzFeed entitled, “You Will Never Want To Do Drugs After Seeing These Faces Of Meth.”

Another long-term health effect of continuous meth abuse is a higher likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. One noticeable change characteristic of the high is an increased likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors like unprotected sex or mixing with other drugs. Both of these can result in transmission of diseases like HIV, hepatitis, and other blood-borne pathogens.

And as NIDA notes, that means that meth addicts in particular are at risk of contracting these diseases.

Meth also reportedly increases sexual desire. And when a methamphetamine users’ abilities to make fair judgments are combined with insatiable appetites, it means that they’re far less likely to engage in safe sex.

On top of that, sharing needles is another serious concern among meth abusers. And as research has shown, this practice can have deadly consequences. 

Am I Addicted to Meth?

When it comes to the biggest barriers to getting treatment for a meth use disorder, the number one thing stopping people from getting help is downright denial.

In fact, according to data from a national survey from SAMHSA, a whopping 94.3% of addicts in the United States didn’t think they needed treatment. That’s 17.1 million people who do not (or cannot) acknowledge just how bad their substance abuse problem has really become.

Part of the problem is the changes that happen in the brain of an addict. Over the course of substance abuse, the mind is rewired to become a drug-seeking machine. It becomes convinced that the high that these drugs create is absolutely essential to survival.

Convincing a brain like this that drugs are really the problem is like trying to talk a starving person out of eating – it just doesn’t work.

That's why it's so important to recognize the actual signs of an addiction rather than relying on a gut feeling. While the brain might be screaming, "It's not a problem!" these signs of an addiction to meth might tell a different story altogether.

Below are a few self-assessment resources that can help you or a loved one accurately take stock of just how bad the problem has really gotten.

These resources range from simple, 5-minute tests to more intensive dives into whether or not a substance use disorder is really present.

Taking a short online meth addiction quiz is one of the easiest – and quickest – ways of determining just how big of a problem methamphetamine abuse has really become. It only takes a few minutes to complete (just 20 questions), and it can be a great way to get a better idea of the level of addiction.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition) or the DSM-V has long been the gold standard for helping experts diagnose mental health problems. In fact, physicians and psychiatrists around the world use it as their primary source of what makes something a disorder. And thanks to NIDA, you can see the 11 specific criteria these experts use to identify whether or not someone is an actual addict.

As the source of the most trusted online information about addiction available, it isn’t surprising that the National Institute has loads of resources out there on diagnosing substance use disorders. They even have a long list of tools that questioning users can take advantage of to evaluate their own possible addiction. Whether you only have a few minutes or are looking to dive a deep, this list has a tool for every need.

Finally, anyone looking for help or guidance on how bad their problem has really gotten should always feel welcome to reach out to a professional program. Many of these programs offer 100% obligation free phone assessments where callers can describe their personal situation and get the opinion of an addiction professional. This allows for a much more individualized approach. And in most cases, callers are encouraged to ask questions and voice their concerns along the way.

What to Look for If You Suspect a Friend Has a Meth Problem

Identifying that someone you care about is addicted to methamphetamine is the first step towards a drug-free life. In addition to being able to function without having to endure constant cravings to use, they'll also be able to avoid some of the devastating and potentially permanent effects of this dangerous substance.

So, what are some of the signs of a meth addiction in someone you care about?

What to Look for If You Suspect a Friend Has a Meth Problem
  • A significantly altered physical appearance (e.g., drastic weight loss, numerous scabs and sores on face and arms, "meth mouth")
  • Frequent anxiety and restlessness
  • Money problems
  • Has a hard time maintaining a job and regularly misses school or work
  • No longer attends social engagements or activities they may have enjoyed before

These are just a few things to look out for when it comes to trying to spot an addiction problem. There are plenty of other meth addiction signs to keep your eyes open for.

What's important is getting them the help they need.

Once you’ve spotted the signs of a meth addiction in a friend or loved one, the real work begins. While you may be tempted to let them make their own choices and recover on their own, the truth of the matter is often that addicts simply cannot overcome their substance abuse alone.

As NIDA points out, the mind of an addict can become so physically altered that areas of the brain used for judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control can all be impacted. And in fact, scientists actually believe that these physical changes are behind the compulsive and destructive behaviors so common in addiction.

It’s critical, then, that if you recognize the signs of addiction in a friend or loved one, you take steps to help. Because the reality just may be that they can’t even help themselves.

Step one is reaching out to the person you’re worried about. This can be harder than you think, especially since they are so likely to outright deny that they have a problem at all. But in order to bring about real change, it all starts with you deciding to say something about it.

Below are a few tips for talking to a friend or loved one about their addiction.

  • Educate yourself about addiction. Put in the time and effort to understand that addiction is a disease, not some sort of moral failing.
  • Come prepared with specifics. How specifically has their substance abuse affected you or the ones you love? What specific events had the biggest impact?
  • Don’t blame or judge the addict. Come from a place of love, understanding, and support, not of anger.
  • Make your point and stand by it. Emotions can often run high in these situations. But be sure not to crumble under the pressure of the person in question. Getting your message across is the main goal here, not keeping them happy.

One of the most important ways of helping a meth addict is to stop enabling their drug-related behaviors immediately. And while this one is critical, it can often be one of the hardest too.

Because just like an addict spins their own thinking, most friends and family members continue to make excuses for the people they love. They’ve had a hard week, or it’s not my place to stop them are just a few common ways that people justify continuing to help and make excuses for an addicted friend or family member.

And over time, that can lead to enabling behaviors like covering their share of the rent, continuing to loan them money, cleaning up after their binges, and not confronting them when they don’t fulfill obligations because they were high.

But if they are ever going to have any hope of overcoming their addiction, the bottom line is you have to stop enabling them.

Below are just a few ways to stop enabling the meth addict in your life.

  • Start attending Nar-Anon meetings to educate yourself and build support
  • Encourage the person you care about to get professional help
  • Take a stand if they refuse treatment and start setting boundaries (i.e., no more paying for their rent, no more loaning money, etc.)
  • Learn how to say no and stick to your guns.
  • Look into other local addiction resources so if they do hit rock bottom, you’ll be prepared to show them where to get help.
  • Consider holding an intervention – with proper professional help of course.

What Does Meth Withdrawal Look Like?

Continuous and prolonged use of meth or crystal meth is highly likely to result in addiction. Like all other illicit substances, meth abuse can cause the brain and the body to acclimate to the higher levels of dopamine that accompany using. As such, addiction to meth will typically lead to consumption of higher amounts of the drug to produce an equivalent high. This is called building tolerance.

When a user experiences the negative effects associated with withdrawal, their bodies are returning to a normal state of functioning without the chemical crutch of the substance. The result for meth users is that symptoms of withdrawal might include:

What Does Meth Withdrawal Look Like?
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Anhedonia
  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite changes
  • Concentration problems
  • Cravings delusions
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Low energy
  • Muscle weakness
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Sleepiness
  • Suicidal thinking
  • Sweating
  • Weight gain.

As you can see, the list of methamphetamine withdrawals is quite extensive. It isn’t any wonder, then, that so many meth addicts aren’t able to push through these grueling symptoms and often end up using again just to get some form of relief.

It’s also worth noting that many of these symptoms are psychological in nature. Drugs like opioids, for example, can cause incredibly uncomfortable physical withdrawals like nausea, muscle aches, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms.

Since meth mainly impacts the brain chemicals dopamine and adrenaline, though, the withdrawal process is confined mostly to effects on the brain.

But don’t be fooled – just because the withdrawals are mostly mental doesn’t mean the process is any easier to get through than other drugs. Detoxing can be incredibly hard without the right kind of help. And for meth users, this is especially true.

The depression can be debilitating. The anxiety can be overwhelming. And symptoms like psychosis can make meth withdrawal especially horrific.

While meth is structurally and chemically similar to many stimulants, it has a significantly longer half-life in the body which means it takes longer for our systems to break it down. While this contributes to the especially long-lasting effects of the drugs, it also results in an especially intense and drawn-out withdrawal process, sometimes taking up to 4 weeks in certain extreme cases.

However, for most people symptoms will begin to taper off after two weeks. However, getting through the first 24 hours of withdrawal is usually the hardest. During this time, the cravings can be incredibly intense. And on top of that, the psychological symptoms (depression, anxiety, paranoia, etc.) can also be quite overwhelming.

That’s why it’s so important to partner with a professional program early on in the recovery process, especially during detoxification. 

Crystal Meth Addiction Treatment & Recovery

As of now, there are no government-approved medications used specifically to treat the withdrawal effects of meth and crystal meth addiction making medication-assisted recovery highly unlikely. 

With no treatments to lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms and incredibly intense cravings for the drug, rehabilitation for meth addicts can be particularly difficult. Researchers have even estimated that relapse rates for meth users can be upwards of 88%.

That's why it's critical that you or your loved one who is struggling with a crystal meth problem seeks out the help of a qualified professional treatment center. They'll be able to use a variety of addiction therapies (scientifically proven to be the most effective methamphetamine treatment method) in order to get you clean and help prevent future relapses.

The first phase of recovery is detox, and it helps your body get over the physical side of addiction.

This is when meth addicts typically experience the worst physical and mental withdrawals after quitting. Essentially, it’s when the body reacclimates to life without meth.

As we’ve seen, though, these withdrawals can be incredibly brutal for methamphetamine users. In addition to the overwhelming cravings involved, the psychological symptoms like depression, paranoia, and even psychosis can make it nearly impossible for users to not give in to using again. In fact, the pull to fall back into old bad habits can be so strong that the overwhelming majority of meth addicts relapse during this stage.

That’s where professional detoxification comes in. A professional meth detox program can help patients get through these powerful withdrawals by reducing the severity and duration of the symptoms. They may use treatments involving medications, specially crafted meal plans, and a variety of other therapies too.

These programs also have two other important functions.

  1. They act as a physical barrier to using again. And if willpower fails, they’ll be there to prevent relapsing.
  2. They can both prevent and treat any serious complications that can pop up too. Malnutrition, dehydration, psychosis, self-harm, and so many other dangers can come along with meth withdrawal. Having a professional program on your side means you can rest assured that your safety isn’t in jeopardy when trying to quit.

After detox comes meth rehabilitation. And in truth, this is where some of the hardest work actually begins.

While detoxification covers a lot of the physical side of addiction, meth rehabilitation is more concerned with the mental aspect of a substance use disorder. The compulsive behaviors, poor life strategies, ineffective coping mechanisms, and self-destructive tendencies of addiction are all targeted during rehab.

Detox vs Rehab

And in fact, while detox is a vital part of any recovery program, research shows that without rehabilitation, it actually does little to prevent future drug use on its own.

Treatment Phase 2: Rehabilitation

Rehab attempts to tackle the mental component of addiction by generally using three main types of therapy: one-on-one counseling, group talk, and behavioral therapy.

On top of that, there are three different kinds of rehab programs that patients need to choose from.

  • InpatientAn inpatient program requires patients to stay on campus grounds at all times. They often eat, sleep, and go through treatment in the same facility and are rarely allowed to leave without a chaperone. This helps cut down on relapses and provide a greater focus on recovery.
  • OutpatientWhile inpatient may offer more intensive care, it can be quite disruptive to daily life. Holding down a job, attending classes, and even fulfilling certain family obligations can be tough. Outpatient addresses that problem specifically. Treatment sessions in these programs usually happen in the evenings and patients are free to live out their normal day-to-day lives outside of treatment.
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)An IOP offers the flexibility of a standard outpatient program but with a higher level of care. Treatment sessions still take place in the evenings, but are quite a bit longer and occur more frequently.

Finding the Right Facility

When it comes to treatment, the most important factor is whether a facility is right for you. But finding the right one can be harder than most people anticipate.

Below are just a few questions to consider when looking for the right kind of meth detox and/or rehabilitation program.

In the end, the absolute best way of ensuring future recovery is finding a facility that meets your specific needs, not necessarily one that’s just close and cheap.

What kind of program do you have (inpatient, outpatient, IOP, detox, etc.)?
What is your staff-to-patient ratio?
Are you nationally accredited?
Do you have experience treating methamphetamine addiction?
What kinds of evidence-based treatments do you use?
Do you have co-occurring disorder experience?
Do you accept my insurance?
Do you offer any other payment arrangements (financing, payment plans, sliding scale pricing)?
Are your treatment plans individualized to meet the needs of each patient?
Can my family be involved in treatment?
How long is your program?
Do you offer aftercare referrals?
What is your program graduation/success rate? 

Ashwood Recovery

Methamphetamine: A Dangerously Addictive Drug

As you can see, crystal meth is an incredibly dangerous drug and should be avoided at all costs. Not only is it one of the most highly addictive substances on the market today, but it can also result in a myriad of both psychological and physical side effects that might last for the rest of your life, even after full rehabilitation.

So if you or a loved one has a methamphetamine use disorder, be sure to get the help you need today.

Talk to a Rehab Specialist

Our admissions coordinators are here to help you get started with treatment the right way. They'll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.

(208) 906-0782 Contact Us

Full Infographic

Meth Addiction Infographic