Methamphetamine, also known as meth, is used by roughly 4% of the American population. Meth is an illicit stimulant and Schedule II drug with a high potential for abuse, dependency, and addiction, and produces a wide range of serious long-term health problems including tooth loss, anxiety, and hallucinations. Using meth is dangerous for your physical and mental health, and can lead to an overdose followed by stroke, heart attack, organ failure, and death.
Meth is highly addictive and can be difficult to stop using without professional help and support. The longer a person uses meth, the more serious their health problems will become as the drug continues damaging major organs. But the sooner you can spot signs of meth addiction, the sooner you or your loved one can get help as needed to become healthier and addiction-free.
Here are 20 meth addiction symptoms that can indicate whether you or your loved one needs help, along with information about safe, effective meth treatments.
Rates of Meth Addiction in America
With the exception of marijuana, meth is used by more Americans than any other illicit drug including heroin, cocaine, and LSD. In 2014 there were about 569,000 Americans who reported using meth in the previous month — a 29% increase from 2012 when only 440,000 people reported using this illicit stimulant. Meth use rates in the U.S. are continuing to rise on behalf of the drug’s availability, low cost, and a purity rate that ranks above that of heroin.
Though meth use rates in the U.S. tend to be higher than that for other illicit drugs, the number of Americans who die from meth overdoses every year are far lower than the number of people who die from heroin, fentanyl analogues, and other opioids. But drug overdoses — including those caused by meth — continue to be a major public health concern, as there were more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths across the U.S. in 2016.
Meth Overdose Deaths in the U.S.
Meth caused about 3,700 overdose deaths in 2014, and almost 4,900 overdose deaths in 2015 — a 30% increase from the previous year. In 2016 the number of meth overdose deaths increased by 57% and caused 7,700 fatalities. In comparison, opioids including heroin caused over 53,000 overdose deaths in 2016.
While meth overdose rates may not seem as intimidating as those related to opioid overdoses, the long-term health problems caused by meth often result in deaths that are not counted toward the overdose death toll. For instance, death caused by meth use is normally characterized by stroke, heart attack, and gradual organ failure. Since these events can also be caused by common risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and genetics, sometimes meth use isn’t always taken into consideration when determining the cause of death.
Not only does meth use increase the risk for death, but meth addiction can trigger a long list of other serious problems that can compromise one’s overall livelihood. Long-term debilitating health problems, financial struggles, loss of family and relationships, and incarceration are just some major issues that can stem from meth use, and destroy one’s quality of life. But knowing how to identify symptoms of meth addiction can bring you closer to saving your own life, or that of your loved one.
20 Meth Addiction Symptoms
Meth addiction produces many physical and psychological symptoms and side effects. Here’s what to look for if you think you or a loved one might be suffering from meth addiction.
1. Tooth Loss and Decay
Xerostomia, also known as dry mouth, is a common side effect of meth use. Saliva contains antibacterial properties that naturally help maintain your oral hygiene, but dry mouth leads to less saliva, and heightened exposure to harmful bacteria. Meth use can lead to what’s known as “meth mouth,” and cause inflammation, gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss.
2. Violent Behavior
Meth addiction is tied to aggressive, violent behavior. A recent study conducted on violence among meth addicts found that 56% admitted the drug caused them to commit violent acts, while 59% reported specific violent criminal behaviors such as robbing and homicide. If you or someone you love is acting uncharacteristically violent when using meth, it may be time to seek help for meth addiction.
3. Open Sores
Severe itching is a common side effect of meth use, which can lead to relentless scratching and a number of huge, red, open sores. The chemicals in meth can dry out one’s skin and also induce hallucinations that make users think there are bugs crawling beneath their skin. Open sores that won’t go away or that become infected is a common sign of meth addiction. These sores may appear on the face, arms, and chest, and can even occur after first-time meth use.
Hallucinations are a common side effect of long-term meth use. Meth users may see disturbing images and people who aren’t there, hear phantom sounds and voices, and smell odors that don’t exist. Many times, open sores on meth addicts are caused by hallucinations of bugs crawling under the skin.
5. Weight Loss
Meth is a stimulant that increases your energy and suppresses your appetite to trigger weight loss. But the weight loss caused by meth is normally due to malnutrition, stress, and other adverse physiological factors. Extreme weight loss that happens suddenly or gradually over time can indicate meth addiction.
Since meth stimulates the central nervous system to boost alertness and energy, those addicted to meth often suffer insomnia and sleep disturbances. Meth addicts can often stay awake for days or weeks on end, and may crash for two to three days in between long bouts of awakeness.
7. Increased Sex Drive
Stimulants like meth can increase your sexual libido, and lead to impulsive and risky sexual behavior. Studies show that meth users who are also sexually promiscuous tend to suffer higher rates of HIV and AIDS due to having unprotected sex, and that continued meth use can actually worsen the progression of these diseases.
8. Premature Aging
Meth addiction accelerates the body’s natural aging process, and can make a person look years older than their true biological age. A 2015 study found that meth use alters a person’s fatty acid metabolism in a way that boosts rates of inflammation, cellular damage, and cell death. Meth addicts will often suffer premature signs of aging including wrinkles, sunken cheeks, bulging eyes, and muscle and bone loss.
9. Lowered Immunity
Since meth use is linked to higher rates of inflammation and cell damage, many meth addicts tend to have lowered immunity, or a weakened immune system that makes them more susceptible to illness and disease. In addition to suffering high rates of HIV and AIDS, meth addicts are often at high risk for staph infection or MRSA, liver disease, kidney disease, and cancer.
10. Burn Marks on Skin
People who smoke and inhale meth may have burn marks on their lips and fingers. Those who cook meth at home may even have burn marks on their arms, face, and exposed parts of skin that may have come into contact with chemicals during the cooking process. Look for visible burn marks on clothing as well, and for red rashes that can sometimes develop on the skin after one has been working with toxic chemicals.
11. Uncontrollable Twitching
Meth addiction can lead to loss of motor control and cause twitching, spasms, and poor coordination. Eye twitching is especially common among meth users, some of whom may experience several eye twitches per minute. Evidence shows that meth users are also three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than non-illicit drug users. Parkinson’s is characterized by tremors, muscle stiffness, and loss of balance.
Meth use affects the portion of the brain that controls rational thinking and emotional response, and can trigger imbalances that lead to the onset of paranoia. Those addicted to meth will often become suspicious toward everyone in their lives – including close friends and family — and believe that lots of people are “out to get them.” Paranoia joins hallucinations, delusions, and aggression with other psychosis symptoms commonly brought on by meth use.
13. Dilated Pupils
Meth can dilate pupils for more than 24 hours after use, and cause eyes to become red and bloodshot. Examine your loved one’s pupils to keep track of how often they’re dilated, and pay attention to whether they wear sunglasses indoors and when not needed to hide their pupils.
14. Anxiety and Nervousness
Meth is a central nervous system stimulant that makes users feel more anxious and nervous on a constant basis. Anxiety is one of the most common psychiatric symptoms reported among meth addicts, and evidence shows that roughly 75% of all meth users either currently struggle with anxiety, or have a history of anxiety disorders.
15. Disorganized Thoughts
The chemicals in meth can lead to imbalances in the brain that cause disorganized thoughts and thinking processes. In fact, many other meth addiction symptoms are partly linked to or triggered by disorganized thoughts in the brain such as violent behavior, confusion, and disorganized speech. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it may be time to get help for meth addiction.
16. Repetitive Behavior
Meth addicts may perform a series of repetitive behaviors due to the way this stimulant affects regions of the brain that control movement and memory. Repetitive behavior is also a common symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD — an anxiety disorder that affects nearly 25% of people addicted to meth.
Depression affects almost 48% of those who struggle with meth addiction. Meth use can alter the natural balance of brain chemicals responsible for controlling one’s mood, and can lead to depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health disorders.
18. Brain Damage
Long-term meth use can damage blood vessels in the brain, and cause stroke and other fatal events such as heart attacks. Meth has also been shown to decrease gray brain matter, which increases the risk for memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease later in life. If you’ve been suffering from poor cognition and memory, or other health problems linked to brain damage, it’s possible meth addiction could be the root cause.
19. Organ Failure
Meth is often made with multiple toxic chemicals that put undue stress on a person’s organs. Since the liver and kidney are responsible for filtering and processing these chemicals as waste, a person who uses too much meth can cause these organs to permanently shut down and stop working. Common signs of meth addiction are organ failure — particularly of the liver, kidney, lungs, brain, and heart.
20. Withdrawal Symptoms
A person addicted to meth will experience a wide range of withdrawal symptoms upon quitting meth abruptly, or reducing use. Common meth withdrawal symptoms include night sweats, weight gain, fatigue, suicidal ideation, and drug cravings. The majority of meth withdrawal symptoms are psychological, and can be safely and effectively treated at a meth addiction treatment center.
Treatment Options for Meth Addicts
Meth addiction is often treated using a medical or medically assisted detox combined with therapies that treat psychological symptoms of meth addiction. Those in recovery from meth addiction often suffer anxiety, depression, and drug cravings, and may tend to sleep a lot and binge-eat to cope with their symptoms.
Behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational incentives are cited among the most effective therapies for meth addiction. CBT helps meth addicts identify, cope with, and avoid situations that could influence them to use meth, while motivational incentives encourage patients to stay drug-free using prizes like vouchers and cash rewards. Meth patients who are also diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders may be prescribed medications to manage and relieve their symptoms.
Use our rehab directory to find nearby meth treatment centers in your city and state.