Meth Abuse Causes, Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

No one experiences meth addiction the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of meth addiction is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Meth Addiction

Learn about meth addiction

Methamphetamine, more commonly known as “meth,” or “crystal meth,” is an extremely powerful and highly addictive stimulant that acts on our body’s central nervous system. Medically methamphetamine is a Schedule II Stimulant, which means that it has a high potential for abuse. Medical methamphetamine is used to treat several disorders, including ADHD and narcolepsy, and is available by prescription only. Medical methamphetamine is prescribed at a much lower dose than the illegal street version of methamphetamine.

Street or illegal methamphetamine is created and produced in makeshift laboratories using over-the-counter inexpensive materials, which is why meth is such a dangerous drug. Similar to cocaine, methamphetamine is produced in two forms: white, crystalline powder or clear chunky rock crystals. The rock form of crystal methamphetamine is the purest form of the drug.

Originally, methamphetamine abuse was confined largely to Hawaii and eastern parts of the United States, but now the use and abuse of methamphetamine are spreading across the country and ravaging communities. Meth is rapidly becoming the world’s most abused drug. Methamphetamine abuse is a very serious and a growing problem in the United States and worldwide.

Methamphetamine is derived from its parent amphetamines which are both stimulants that provide increased energy, extreme talkativeness, as well as an overall feeling of well-being. Even at similar doses, methamphetamines are different from amphetamines – far higher amounts of methamphetamines are able to reach the brain, increasing the potency of the drug. Methamphetamine also has longer and more sustained effects, which can be pleasant for the user, however, this can cause greater damage to the central nervous system.

Like many street drugs, methamphetamine may be abused in a number of manners: smoking, snorting, injecting, or orally. The preferred route most methamphetamine abusers use is smoking. However, a meth user may progress from snorting to smoking, to injecting the drug into veins in the body to produce a more immediate high. Methamphetamines, like cocaine, are often abused in a binge and crash manner as the euphoria caused by methamphetamines only lasts for several minutes, while the feeling of being “high” can last up to twelve hours. A more sustained and euphoric high can be attained by smoking increasing amounts of methamphetamine. This type of abuse leads to a methamphetamine user going days without sleeping or eating and finally crash, exhausted and hungry.

Methamphetamine releases a surge of dopamine in the brain which causes feelings of extreme pleasure and euphoria. Over time, however, methamphetamines destroy these dopamine receptors, making it nearly impossible for a methamphetamine user to experience feelings of pleasure without using meth. While these pleasure centers may heal over time, research is suggesting that the damage methamphetamines cause to a user’s cognitive abilities may be permanent.

Methamphetamine abuse can lead to psychotic behavior including paranoia, insomnia, anxiety, hallucinations, delusions, intense and extreme aggression, and even death. This is why treatment and relapse prevention is vital to those who are suffering from methamphetamine addiction.


Meth addiction statistics

Methamphetamine abuse is a growing epidemic in the United States and worldwide. Current estimates are that there are 1.4 million methamphetamine users abusing methamphetamines in the United States – this number is only rising. While methamphetamine use has historically been associated with rural communities, studies are showing that methamphetamine is now being used by high school students, college students, as well as blue and white collar individuals. No longer is meth considered only a “rural” problem. In fact, methamphetamine is now considered to be the world’s most abused hard drug with 26 million meth addicts worldwide.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Meth addiction and co-occurring disorders

  • Depression
  • Mood disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Other substance abuse disorders, especially those that involve a sedation effect
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • ADHD
  • Other addictive disorder (i.e. gambling disorder)

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for meth addiction

Many people try recreational drugs because they are dissatisfied with some aspect of their lives. Reasons that many individuals have given for using methamphetamines are:

  • To fit in
  • To escape an unpleasant situation
  • To alleviate boredom
  • To rebel
  • As an experiment

While many turn to methamphetamines to solve a problem, the drug abuse eventually becomes the problem. Some causes of methamphetamine addiction include:

Genetics: It has been theorized that certain individuals are genetically predisposed to develop an addiction to methamphetamines or other substances of abuse. Those who have a family history of methamphetamine abuse or other types of addictions to substance abuse have a greater likelihood of developing an addiction themselves.

Biology: It has been postulated that methamphetamine abuse may be the result of lower levels of dopamine released by the brain, a neurotransmitter that does have a marked effect on our moods. This could make the high experienced by individuals who abuse methamphetamines a way to counterbalance that deficiency and boost mood.

Psychological: As methamphetamine does change the wiring in the brain by the destruction of the dopamine receptors, users cannot feel any pleasure without methamphetamine in their body (a condition called “anhedonia”). This can cause a deep, dark depression when a methamphetamine user stops using the substance. It is this major depression marked by an inability to feel the pleasure that often leads to relapse.

Environmental: Environmental factors may also play a role in determining the development of a methamphetamine addiction. It has been suggested that by modeling the use of methamphetamines or other substances of abuse by parents, a child starts to form the opinion that usage of substances of abuse are indeed proper coping mechanisms and can and should be used in times of stress. Modeling of substance abuse also normalizes the substance of abuse, making it less “scary,” and more of a comfortable reality for a child. This can create an atmosphere rife with addiction potential to methamphetamines and other substances of abuse.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of meth addiction

Methamphetamine is a very potent stimulant that produces both short term and long-term effects. Short term effects may include:

  • Increased wakefulness
  • An intense increase in physical activity
  • Increased core temperature of the body, often to very dangerous levels
  • Marked decrease in appetite
  • Very fast heart rate
  • Euphoric feelings of pleasure
  • An intense rush
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrhythmias

Addiction, a chronic, life-long disease that is characterized by relapse, compulsive drug-seeking, and use is one of the direst consequences of methamphetamine use.

While not all signs will be present in someone who has an addiction to methamphetamines, the most common severe long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse include the following:

Mood symptoms:

  • Anxiety and restlessness, an inability to sit still or keep thoughts from racing
  • Delusions of power
  • Severe depression following a methamphetamine binge
  • Euphoria and an intense rush
  • Mood disturbances, which can be violent
  • Aggression toward people and things that, while not high, would not produce the same levels of aggression

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Increased sexual activity
  • Unsafe, risky sexual activity
  • Social isolation
  • Placing self in unsafe environments
  • Avoiding loved ones
  • Avoiding activities once found pleasurable
  • Legal problems
  • Violence
  • Getting into fights
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • Trying to cut down methamphetamine use without success

Physical symptoms:

  • Functional and molecular changes to the brain
  • Insomnia – many methamphetamine users will be awake for days on end
  • Marked weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Acne or “picking” scars on face and body
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • “Meth Mouth” a condition characterized by broken, rotted, discolored teeth
  • Lowering of sexual inhibition
  • Liver damage
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Inability of the body tissues to repair itself
  • Increased heart rate
  • Constriction of blood vessels of the body, which can lead to problems in all organ systems
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack

Psychological symptoms:

  • Paranoia, which can become a permanent state of mind
  • Inability to care about anything beyond chasing the next high
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Delusions, especially the sensation of insects swarming underneath the skin
  • Disorganized lifestyle
  • Psychotic features such as rage, violence, or a complete break from reality
  • Confusion


Effects of meth addiction

As a parent who is addicted to methamphetamines:

  • Child endangerment
  • Child neglect – children being left to “fend for themselves” as their parents crash after a methamphetamine binge.
  • Child abuse – both physical and sexual abuse

Other effects include:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS
  • Liver damage
  • Psychosis
  • Brain damage
  • Kidney disease
  • Domestic abuse
  • Cirrhosis
  • Lung disease
  • Stroke
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Crippling depression
  • Legal consequences of risky and dangerous behaviors
  • Stroke
  • Heart Attack
  • Seizures
  • Death

Withdrawl Effects

Withdrawl effects of meth addiction

As is the case with other substances of abuse, withdrawal from methamphetamines is challenging. The following are the most common symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal:

  • Adhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure, is common as the levels of dopamine receptors in the brain have been damaged and take up to two years to regrow.
  • Marked depression
  • Increased sleeping
  • Increased caloric intake
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Intense cravings for methamphetamines, especially noticeable after being clean for several months