Last updated: 07/26/2021
Author: Caitlin Boyd
Nearly 1.5 million American adults use methamphetamine (meth) each year; more than half of meth users develop a substance use disorder.1 Meth addiction can adversely affect the most important things in your life, including your health, career, and relationships.
In this Article:
What Is Meth?
Methamphetamine, commonly known as meth, is a stimulant. This type of drug acts on the central nervous system. Meth can increase energy levels, boost your mood, and alter brain chemistry. The FDA-approved version of meth, called methamphetamine hydrochloride (Desoxyn), is prescribed on rare occasions for medical conditions such as obesity and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).2
Meth can be highly addictive.2 Some people who receive a prescription for the FDA-approved version of meth may start to misuse their medication. Others may experiment with crystal meth, an illicit form of the drug that can produce a feeling of euphoria. If you begin to use crystal meth, it can have a powerful effect on your brain. Many people who use this drug quickly develop powerful cravings.2
Meth use takes a tremendous toll on your health. For example, people who become addicted to meth often develop hyperthermia. This life-threatening condition causes a dangerous increase in body temperature.3 Meth use can also trigger stroke, heart disease, and overdose. Some research indicates that meth has adverse effects on the immune system that may increase the likeliness of getting infections, such as HIV, but there is not enough medical research to link meth use and immunodeficiency.4 However, those who inject meth have an increased risk of contracting HIV and other blood-borne infectious diseases such as hepatitis B, due to potential exposure to others’ blood and to nonsterile syringes. Targeted addiction treatment may help people experiencing meth addiction reduce their risk of these complications.
Who Is at Risk for Meth Addiction?
Many inaccurate stereotypes about meth use exist. Some believe that people who use meth are impoverished, uneducated, or careless. This belief is false. Anyone can become addicted to meth.
Addiction is a medical condition that requires treatment. During treatment, the medical team works to combat changes inside the brain and give people the support they need to stop misusing meth and reduce their risk of relapse in the future.5
If you or someone you know is addicted to meth, call (800) 662-HELP (4357) today to speak to a treatment specialist about your rehab options.
What Are the Signs of Meth Use?
Meth use can trigger many physical and behavioral changes.2 If you struggle with meth addiction, you may develop the following symptoms:
1. Weight Loss
Like other stimulants, meth can speed up metabolism and reduce your appetite or eliminate your natural hunger cues completely. Some people experiment with meth hoping to lose weight. This practice is extremely risky. Meth can cause rapid and potentially dangerous weight loss, including muscle wasting. Losing muscle tissue can increase your risk of accidents and falls. Muscle loss also disrupts your metabolism. If you lose muscle tissue, you may develop long-lasting problems including extreme difficulty restoring weight.6
During World War II, some countries gave their soldiers meth to help them stay awake. Meth was also used to treat conditions like narcolepsy, which causes daytime sleepiness. Misusing meth can lead to chronic insomnia.7
If you become addicted to meth, you may go on drug binges. During a binge, a person takes several doses of meth in quick succession. Binging on meth might produce a more potent high. Unfortunately, it also leads to destructive “crashes” later. After a binge, you may feel restless and agitated. You may also struggle with severe insomnia.2
If you use meth, you might experience high levels of anxiety. You might also develop physical anxiety symptoms, like chest pain or a racing heartbeat. Meth causes chemical changes inside the brain, which trigger high cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can make you feel anxious or restless.8
People struggling with anxiety may turn to drugs that combat the effects of meth, like sedatives, Mixing meth with other drugs can be fatal. Combining meth with sedatives can slow or stop your breathing. If you or a loved one are using multiple substances, seek medical guidance right away.6
Meth can trigger profound restlessness or hyperactivity. A person addicted to meth may seem euphoric or impulsive. They might have trouble calming themselves down. Many family members notice that their loved one speaks rapidly or has trouble sitting still.6
Hyperactivity can lead to reckless decisions. If you misuse meth, you might notice that you make impulsive choices when under the influence that you would not make when sober, such as quitting your job without giving notice or making extravagant purchases. People who misuse meth may engage in high-risk physical, social, or sexual behaviors which can have a long-term impact on your life.2
Doctors occasionally prescribe the prescription form of meth (Desoxyn) to treat ADHD.6 This medication can help ease symptoms, allowing you to function better at home or work. Desoxyn exactly as prescribed, see your doctor regularly for monitoring, and report any changes in your symptoms. If the dosage isn’t correct, your symptoms may worsen.9
As meth addiction worsens, you might start taking higher doses of meth. Severe dependency can trigger psychological disturbances, including paranoia. Paranoia can manifest in different ways, such as a persistent belief that a loved one plans to harm you or a nagging feeling that you are being followed when you do not have a concrete reason to believe so.2
Paranoia is a severe medical problem. People who develop this symptom are vulnerable to the development of belief systems, thought patterns, and behaviors that may harm themselves or others. Individuals experiencing clinical paranoia need psychiatric care. Treatment can help stabilize brain chemistry and protect the person’s physical and mental wellbeing.3
6. Dilated Pupils
Like other amphetamines, meth often causes pupil dilation. The drug acts on the sympathetic nervous system, triggering a release of neurotransmitters.10 These chemicals tell your pupils to dilate. Dilated pupils can sometimes be a sign of a meth overdose.6 If you suspect that someone has taken too much of any drug, call 911 right away. Overdoses are a medical emergency that requires immediate care.
7. Twitching or Muscle Spasms
People who use meth often develop repetitive movements or involuntary twitches.6 Researchers aren’t sure what causes these symptoms, but they know that meth damages muscles. If you are under the influence of meth, you can become dehydrated or develop hyperthermia.10 These meth side effects may also adversely affect muscle health.
Chronic meth misuse can permanently damage your muscles. In rare cases, meth use may cause rapid destruction of muscle tissue.11 Without treatment, this condition can lead to irreversible organ failure. If you or a loved one develop muscle spasms, seek care right away.
8. Dental Decay
Meth can lead to severe dental problems, also colloquially known as “meth mouth.” About 96% of people who use meth develop cavities and 58% have untreated tooth decay. Some individuals also develop blackened or loose teeth. If a person continues to use meth, they may lose their teeth.12
Researchers believe that meth creates an acidic environment in the mouth. Acid erodes tooth enamel and increases the risk of decay.12
Poor personal hygiene can play a role, too. People who struggle with substance use disorders commonly have trouble keeping up with personal care tasks, including daily oral hygiene. They are also vulnerable to having a diet consisting heavily of sugary and low-nutrient, processed foods—these foods further increase the risk of tooth decay.1
Researchers have linked dental problems to many illnesses. Dental decay can increase your risk of heart disease, infection, and make you more vulnerable to developing certain types of dementia.14, 15 Protecting your teeth is an essential part of staying healthy. Addiction treatment can help you maintain health.
9. Itchy Skin
Using meth can make your skin feel tight or itchy.6 People who use meth may frequently scratch, which can cause scrapes and sores. Meth use can also trigger hallucinations that lead to skin-picking, such as seeing things on your body that aren’t there (aka visual hallucinations) and feeling crawling sensations on your skin when nothing is there (aka tactile or somatic hallucinations).
Meth use can also contribute to a decline in the quality of a person’s diet and hygiene. Nutritional deficiencies and poor hygiene can worsen itchy skin. These side effects may increase the risk of severe skin infections.10
10. Mood Swings
People who use meth often develop rapid mood swings. At times, the person may seem cheerful or even euphoric. Then they might become anxious, restless, or depressed. Mood swings can also include episodes of psychosis or irrational thinking.6
Many psychiatric conditions can cause mood swings. If you or a loved one experiences rapid mood changes, seek help from a qualified behavioral health provider. Treatment can help you achieve a stable mood and prevent erratic behavior.
Consequences of Meth Addiction
Long-term meth use can cause permanent brain damage. Like many addictive substances, meth highjacks the brain’s reward pathways.2 If you use meth, you will begin to crave the drug and you may develop compulsive drug-seeking behavior. Meth addiction can occur after using the drug just a few times and may progress quickly.1
If you use meth regularly, the drug damages the brain. You may develop memory problems or cognitive disorders.16 Some people notice motor or coordination issues. You may be at a high risk of stroke if you use meth. You’re also more likely to develop neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
Meth use may result in overdose. Without treatment, meth addiction often leads to a shortened lifespan.
If you’re ready to get help, a specialist can develop a treatment plan. Rehab facilities provide detox, medication, counseling, and referrals to other services. You can receive the medical care you need to overcome addiction.
Call to speak to a treatment specialist about nearby rehab centers. Our specialists can answer your questions about addiction and explore available treatments. We can help you find a rehab program in your area.
- Jones, C. M., Compton, W. M., & Mustaquim, D. (2020). Patterns and characteristics of methamphetamine use among adults — United States, 2015–2018. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69(12), 317-323.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine DrugFacts.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Drug Fact Sheet: Methamphetamine.
- Liang, H., Wang, X., Chen, H., Song, L., Ye, L., Wang, S.-H., Wang, Y.-J., Zhou, L., & Ho, W.-Z. (2008). Methamphetamine enhances HIV infection of macrophages. The American Journal of Pathology, 172(6), 1617-1624
- Parekh, R. (2017). What Is a Substance Use Disorder? American Psychiatric Association.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). Methamphetamine. MedlinePlus
- Defalque, R. J., & Wright, A. J. (2011). Methamphetamine for Hitler’s Germany: 1937 to 1945. Bulletin of Anesthesia History, 29(2), 21–32.
- Pirnia, B., Khosravani, V., Maleki, F., Kalbasi, R., Pirnia, K., Malekanmehr, P., & Zahiroddin, A. (2020). The role of childhood maltreatment in cortisol in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis in methamphetamine-dependent individuals with and without depression comorbidity and suicide attempts. Journal of Affective Disorders, 263, 274–281.
- Mihan, R., Shahrivar, Z., Mahmoudi-Gharaei, J., Shakiba, A., & Hosseini, M. (2018). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults using methamphetamine: does it affect comorbidity, quality of life, and global functioning? Iranian Journal of Psychiatry, 13(2), 111–118.
- Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Signs and Symptoms, Biology, and Awareness. Section 3: Facts about Methamphetamine Signs and Symptoms, Biology, and Awareness.
- Richards, J. R., Johnson, E. B., Stark, R. W., & Derlet, R. W. (1999). Methamphetamine abuse and rhabdomyolysis in the ED: a 5-year study. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 17(7), 681-685.
- American Dental Association. (2015). Meth Mouth.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2019). What is Meth Mouth?
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2016, October 16). Hidden tooth infections may be warning sign of heart disease. Harvard Medical School.
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2020). Good oral health may help protect against Alzheimer’s. Harvard Medical School.
- Guerin, A. A., Bonomo, Y., Lawrence, A. J., Baune, B. T., Nestler, E. J., Rossell, S. L., & Kim, J. H. (2019, December 17). Cognition and related neural findings on methamphetamine use disorder: insights and treatment implications from schizophrenia research. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10.