Meth Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Often times the signs of meth addiction can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of meth addiction.

Understanding Meth

Learn about meth and substance abuse

Methamphetamine, more commonly known as meth, is an illicit narcotic substance that is derived from the stimulant substance amphetamine. A drug that can be smoked, snorted, swallowed, or injected, meth provides users with profound feelings of euphoria that occur almost instantaneously. When meth is used, it causes the brain to release excessive amounts of dopamine, which is a chemical responsible for controlling a person’s feelings of pleasure. This dopamine release not only elicits pleasurable, euphoric feelings, but it also hinders a person’s ability to feel pain. The longevity of the high that this substance produces will vary, but has been known to last upwards of 12 hours, making it especially appealing to users.

Once an individual has begun using meth, he or she is at a heightened risk for developing an addiction to, or a dependency on, the substance. People who are addicted to meth often experience great difficulty when attempting to stop using and therefore typically require professional treatment and interventions in order to do so successfully. Fortunately, there are many treatment options and services available for meth abuse that can help put an end to this deadly addiction.


Meth addiction statistics

Estimates have shown that over one million people in the United States have used meth at some point in their lifetime. Furthermore, approximately 600,000 people in America alone are believe to use meth on a weekly basis. In the Midwestern part of the U.S. alone, meth is said to account for 90% of all drug abuse cases.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for meth addiction

Addiction specialists and professionals in the field of mental health agree that there are numerous factors that work together in making individuals susceptible to developing an addiction to, or a dependence on, substances, including methamphetamine. Such factors are described briefly in the following:

Genetic: Intensive research has offered evidence that addiction is a condition that can be inherited from family members. The genetic link that is believed to tie into the onset of drug addiction is found the presence of variations in the composition of certain genes that can be passed down from generation to generation. Especially for individuals who have a first-degree biological relative who has a history of substance abuse and addiction, there is a much higher susceptibility of their developing an addiction as well.

Physical: The use of methamphetamine causes nerve cell changes to occur in the brain as chemical pathways become altered and disturbed by the presence of the drug. Such nerve cell changes can ultimately result in the overall damage of nerve functioning, causing users to struggle to control or resist impulses, to use sound judgment and reasons, and to refrain from engaging in further drug use. As a person’s brain chemistry becomes altered by the presence of a chemical substance like meth, addiction and dependency often result.

Environmental: The environments in which people spend significant amounts of time can have a momentous impact on the behaviors that he or she engages in. Such is true for the onset of drug abuse, including the use of meth. If individuals reside in an area where meth use is prominent and therefore have relatively easy access to obtaining the substance, there is an increased likelihood that they will start using this drug. Furthermore, if individuals exist in home environments where any type of substance is frequently used, they are likely to see such as behaviors as being acceptable, therefore overshadowing any doubt that they may have in regards to the risks of beginning to use meth. In addition, individuals who have been the victim of abuse, neglect, or who have experienced severe trauma are a greater risk for abusing substances like meth in an attempt to numb the emotional pain that results from their negative experiences.

Risk Factors:

  • Pre-existing mental illness
  • Personal history of using other drugs and/or alcohol
  • Family history of chemical dependency
  • Exposure to crime
  • Exposure to violence
  • Peer pressure
  • Having easy access to obtaining the drug
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Chaotic home life
  • Relationship problems

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of meth addiction

The signs and symptoms that may indicate that someone is abusing methamphetamine will inevitably vary from one person to the next. Factors such as the length of time that one has been using the substance, the frequency of use, and the amount that is used at any given time can all play a role in determining which symptoms will be most noticeable. Examples of possible signs and symptoms that could infer that an individual is abusing meth may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • School refusal
  • Frequent absences from work
  • Erratic behavior
  • Belligerent behavior
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Random bursts of excessive hyperactivity
  • No longer participating in activities once enjoyed
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Talking incessantly or, conversely, not speaking at all
  • Unwarranted aggressive outbursts

Physical symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Significant weight loss
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Foul body odor
  • Lack of proper hygiene
  • Significant change in overall physical appearance
  • Development of skin sores
  • Decayed teeth
  • Excessive acne
  • Increased bodily temperature
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Muscle spasms / uncontrollable twitching
  • Tremors
  • Facial tics

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Learning difficulties
  • Lacking the ability to reason
  • Lacking the ability to use sound judgment
  • Loss of inhibition

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Dramatic and rapid mood swings
  • Prolonged episodes of mania
  • Prolonged episodes of severe depression
  • Unwarranted or unfounded feelings of fear
  • Increased feelings of anxiety
  • Excessive irritability
  • Excessive agitation
  • Declined interest in things that were once enjoyed
  • Decline in self-esteem
  • Suicidal ideation


Effects of meth addiction

The toll that abusing meth can take on a user’s life can be monumental. While the long-term effects of such use will ultimately vary depending on the length of time that an individual has been using, as well as the frequency of use and the amount that is being used, all will inevitably face some form of negative consequences. The following are examples of potential effects that occur from the abuse of methamphetamine:

  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Financial strain
  • Family strife
  • Relationship discord
  • Social isolation
  • Legal problems, including incarceration
  • Diminished self-esteem and sense of self-worth
  • Deteriorated physical appearance
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Irreversible damage to one’s physical health
  • Permanent damage to, or the weakening of, one’s immune system
  • Contraction of viruses like HIV/AID or hepatitis C
  • Homelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Overdose
  • Sudden death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Meth addiction and co-occurring disorders

There are many instances in which individuals who abuse meth are suffering from a mental health condition. People who have mental illnesses often turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a means of self-medicating the symptoms that cause them distress. Regardless of whether or not they have been formally diagnosed, the following mental health conditions have been known to occur alongside an addiction to methamphetamine:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Polysubstance abuse

Withdrawal and Overdose

Learn about meth withdrawal and overdose

Effects of meth withdrawal: The prolonged use of meth can render an individual susceptible to experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when he or she ceases usage. Withdrawing from meth can be an uncomfortable, painful, and, in some cases, life-threatening experience.  The following effects have been known to occur when someone is going through withdrawal from methamphetamine:

  • Increased feelings of depression
  • Increased feelings of anxiety
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Psychomotor tics
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Finding oneself incapable of experiencing pleasure
  • Overwhelming cravings for the substance
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal ideation

Effects of meth overdose: Any time that someone uses meth to an extent that his or her body is not able to metabolize the chemicals, he or she is at risk of overdosing. As people begin to use meth on a consistent, chronic basis, their bodies rapidly build up a tolerance to the substance. When this occurs, individuals find that they must use higher dosages of the drug in order to experience the pleasurable effects that they desire. As the dosage increases, so does one’s risk of overdosing. An overdose on any substance should be viewed as a medical emergency and immediate treatment should be sought so as to prevent fatal outcomes. The following are examples of effects that may occur when an individual has overdosed on methamphetamine:

  • Seizure
  • Chest pain
  • Significant difficulty breathing
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure
  • Stroke
  • Lapsing into a coma
  • Death
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I came here during the worst time of my life. I had so much anxiety coming in but the girls in the admissions area were so pleasant and answered all my questions. The hospital was clean and staff were friendly and helpful on the unit. The medicine they gave me helped so much, and I finally feel like myself again. If you’re willing to participate and go to all the groups, you will get something out of the program. I went right from inpatient to their day program for a week afterwards, and that helped me stay focused too.

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