Meth Abuse Signs, Symptoms & Treatment Options

Meth addiction is a mental health disorder that causes many physical and emotional side effects. This stimulant drug is highly dangerous and extremely addictive, but treatment is available.

Methamphetamine (meth) is a stimulant drug that impacts people all across the United States. This drug goes by several street names.

Some of the most common slang terms for meth include:

  • speed
  • ice
  • stove top
  • tweak
  • chalk
  • crystal
  • crank

Meth is highly addictive, and although it causes short-term euphoria, it also causes many unpleasant and even dangerous side effects.

According to United States meth laws, this drug is illegal in all 50 states. However, one legal form of meth is available as a prescription to treat ADHD.

Below, we’ll answer questions regarding the meth cooking process, the side effects of meth, addiction treatment for meth abuse, and more.

What Is Meth?

Meth belongs to a class of drugs called stimulants, which are drugs that speed up the central nervous system (CNS).

The history of meth began in the early 1890s when it was manufactured as a narcolepsy medication and alertness aid.

As a stimulant, this drug shares similarities with Adderall, though there are also several differences between Adderall and meth.

Meth is made through a complex cooking process that involves laboratory equipment, strong chemicals, and ingredients that come from common medications. The high cost of meth is due in part to this complicated manufacturing process.

Unlike naturally occurring drugs such as cocaine (which is made from coca leaves) or heroin (which is made from the opium poppy plant), meth is made entirely of synthetic substances.

Common meth ingredients include:

  • ephedrine
  • pseudoephedrine
  • amphetamine
  • sulfur
  • ethanol
  • acetone
  • petroleum ether
  • metals and salts

Learn more about the difference between meth and cocaine, as well as the difference between meth and heroin.

How Meth Works In The Brain And Body

Meth produces several effects in the brain and body. Meth can stay in the system for varying lengths of time, depending on several factors.

As long as meth remains in the system, it can create devastating short-term and long-term effects on a person’s health.

Learn how long meth stays in the body.

Meth’s Effects On The Brain

Because meth is a stimulant, it works by impacting the brain’s supply of dopamine. Dopamine is one of the brain’s reward chemicals.

The brain releases dopamine during certain healthy activities, such as exercising or eating.

This dopamine release makes the person feel happy and energized. As a result of this reward, the behavior is reinforced, and the person is more likely to repeat it.

Some stimulants work by prompting the brain to release dopamine. Others work by slowing the reuptake of dopamine, which means that they stop the brain from “recycling” its dopamine supply.

Meth does both, stimulating the brain’s dopamine supply while holding that dopamine in place. As a result, a meth high feels especially powerful compared to the high that results from certain other drugs.

In addition to this more powerful high, meth impacts the brain in several negative ways.

What does meth do to the brain? It can cause:

  • depression or loss of pleasure when not using the drug
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • mood swings
  • paranoia
  • meth-induced psychosis

Meth’s Effects On The Body

Meth also has a profound impact on the body. The drug can impact everything from the skin to sexual impulses, and the longer the drug use, the worse these effects become.

Below are a few of the most serious and common side effects of meth use:

  • Meth mouth: loss of teeth due to tooth decay
  • Meth sores: lesions that come from scratching, as well as sores that result from injecting the drug
  • Meth eyes: pupil dilation and eye redness
  • Meth and sleep: insomnia and similar sleep disturbances due to meth’s stimulant effects
  • Meth and skin: skin problems from scratching or picking at their skin
  • Meth and weight loss: extreme weight loss and malnutrition due to meth’s appetite suppressant effects
  • Meth and sexual behavior: a proclivity toward risky sexual behaviors due to impaired decision-making skills

Meth Use Statistics

According to data from the National Institute On Mental Health (NIDA), about 1.5 million people had a meth use disorder in 2020.

In the same year, over 23,800 people died from a non-cocaine stimulant drug overdose. Meth was the primary drug of abuse in these instances.

Meth has a more prominent impact on some communities than others. For example, crystal meth’s impact on the gay community is greater than its impact on straight communities.

Meth use among gay and bisexual men is reported in higher numbers than meth use among other communities, due in part to the stressors and discrimination that these men face.

Additionally, the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) reports specific meth abuse patterns among different demographics.

According to their findings, people who abuse meth tend to have a few things in common.

Some common traits among people who use meth include:

  • lower income levels
  • poor access to education
  • limited or no health insurance
  • residing in small counties
  • additional substance abuse or mental health conditions

Are There Different Types Of Meth?

Much like cocaine, meth generally appears in white powder form. However, it may be slightly shinier than cocaine due to its different ingredients.

Meth is often sold in eight-ounce batches, which are commonly called 8-balls of meth. This “bump” of meth may appear in its typical white form or another.

The following are some of the most common types of meth:

  • Pink meth: Meth may appear pink depending on its additives and the drug used as its primary ingredient.
  • Fake meth: Other drugs or harmful substances may be sold as meth, unbeknownst to the person purchasing the drugs.
  • P2P meth: P2P is a recent form of meth created when the U.S. government began restricting the sale of certain medications.
  • Blue meth: This form of meth was created with added colorants to appeal to people trying the drug for the first time.
  • Liquid meth: Meth dissolves easily when added to water. Some people use this form of the drug for injection.

Meth Vs. Crystal Meth

One of the most common forms of meth is called crystal meth, or crystal methamphetamine.

Unlike meth, which looks like a powder or liquid substance, crystal meth often looks like white “rocks” or “crystals.” It may also have an appearance similar to glass shards.

Crystal meth produces an intense, fast-acting high, but this high dissipates within a few minutes.

Identifying Methamphetamine

When identifying meth use, loved ones may look for physical signs, such as “meth face,” characterized by sores, skin imperfections, and other effects on the face from meth use.

Likewise, certain tools and ingredients may signify the presence of a meth lab, which is a home, structure, or building where meth is produced.

Meth itself may also be identified by loved ones who suspect that a friend or family member is using this drug.

The following are common ways to identify meth by appearance, smell, and taste:

  • Meth appearance: Meth is generally white, shiny, and powdery. However, it sometimes has other colors and textures depending on the type of meth.
  • Meth smell: Meth produces a strong chemical smell when smoked.
  • Meth taste: Meth often tastes bitter, though it may taste like chemicals.

Spotting Meth Paraphernalia

Knowing how to identify meth paraphernalia can also help loved ones spot meth use.

Some items clearly point to drug use, but others may simply be household items, making paraphernalia more difficult to identify.

Some forms of meth paraphernalia include:

  • meth bongs
  • lighters
  • meth pipes
  • plastic baggies
  • straws
  • aluminum foil
  • needles and syringes
  • miniature spoons

A single item, such as a straw or spoon, may not necessarily indicate substance abuse.

However, if you notice two or more items together, or your loved one is concealing these items and carrying them around regularly, this can point to meth addiction.

How Is Meth Used?

Meth can be abused in several ways, and each of these methods creates its own risks.

For instance, some methods of meth abuse, such as smoking, carry a higher risk of nearby people experiencing a meth contact high.

Apart from rare instances of medically-prescribed meth use, all forms of meth use are illicit and dangerous.

Some of the most common ways to use meth include:

  • Snorting meth: Powdered meth may be arranged into a line a snorted through a straw.
  • Smoking meth: Crystal meth is a smokable form of the drug.
  • Shooting meth: After dissolving meth into water, the mixture can be injected.
  • Eating or drinking meth: Rarely, people may eat meth, or they may drink liquid meth.
  • Hot railing meth: “Hot railing” is a form of vaporizing. The end of a glass pipe is heated, and the heated end is placed over a line of meth. A person can then inhale meth vapors through the pipe.
  • Plugging meth: “Plugging” refers to inserting meth into the rectum.

Signs Of Meth Use

Meth use may be identified when a person displays the physical and mental signs listed above, including the possession of paraphernalia.

Immediately after using meth, a person may display erratic behavior for several minutes to days at a time. They may also display abnormally high levels of energy.

Afterward, this person may experience a “crash” as the effects of meth dissipate.

Learn more about the signs of meth addiction.

What Happens If You Overdose On Meth?

Meth is a highly powerful drug that can cause an overdose quickly.

Signs of meth overdose include:

  • changes in blood pressure
  • heart attack
  • difficulty breathing
  • seizures
  • confusion
  • dark urine
  • stomach pain
  • paranoia
  • aggression

If someone you know is having a seizure, struggling to breathe, or becoming violent as the result of an overdose, call 911 immediately and get help.

Hold the back of the person’s head to prevent them from getting injured during a seizure and tilt them on their side to prevent choking on vomit.

Common Substances Combined With Meth

Meth is often combined with other drugs, which can heighten the dangers of meth abuse and increase the risk of overdose.

Some common combinations include:

  • meth and alcohol
  • meth and heroin
  • meth and suboxone
  • meth and marijuana
  • meth and cocaine

A person might use meth with another substance to intensify the high or balance out the effects of the drugs.

For example, while meth stimulates the body, alcohol has a depressant effect. So, a person may combine these substances to balance the effects and create a more “pleasant” high experience.

However, mixing drugs (polysubstance abuse) is never safe, and this push and pull effect on the brain and body can have serious negative consequences and increase the risk of overdose.

Understanding The Meth Withdrawal Process

Meth withdrawal involves uncomfortable physical and mental symptoms that occur when a person attempts to stop using the drug.

These symptoms occur due to adjustments in the brain and body.

Symptoms of meth withdrawal include:

  • headaches
  • muscle pain
  • twitching or spasms
  • clouded thinking
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • intense cravings
  • increased appetite
  • fatigue
  • psychosis
  • insomnia and other sleep disturbances
  • dehydration

As the brain gets used to the amount of dopamine that meth use provides, it becomes less sensitive to dopamine from other sources.

The body, meanwhile, begins to expect the heightened levels of energy that result from meth use, so it makes adjustments of its own.

When the brain and body become accustomed to meth use, they will experience difficulties after the drug is taken away.

Meth Withdrawal Timeline

The meth comedown timeline differs from one person to the next, depending on several factors. However, for most people, severe symptoms dissipate within one to two weeks.

People who have used meth for many years may have longer-lasting withdrawal symptoms.

When people do begin the comedown process, the resulting withdrawal symptoms may drive them back to the drug.

Treatment For Methamphetamine Addiction

Fortunately, meth addiction treatment is available to help people overcome meth abuse.

For many people, addiction treatment begins with meth detox programs. These programs provide medical care and symptom relief as the drug leaves the body.

Because many of the withdrawal symptoms are psychological, clients will receive medical monitoring, behavioral health care, and medications to ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and paranoia.

Methamphetamine addiction treatment may also include the following:

  • Inpatient meth rehab: This type of treatment provides therapy, medical care, and 24-hour supervision to help people understand their addictions and learn how to recover.
  • Outpatient addiction treatment: Outpatient programs (OP) may be used as step-down care after inpatient rehab, or for people who have less intense addictions.
  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHP): If you or your loved one need more intensive care when recovering from meth addiction, PHP is a good outpatient option that still allows you to live at home during treatment.
  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOP): During IOP, clients attend weekly group therapy sessions and individual counseling, and receive psychoeducation to learn about drug abuse and how to cope with methamphetamine addiction.

After addiction treatment, support groups such as Crystal Meth Anonymous can provide a sense of community and prevent the chances of relapse.

Meth Abuse And Addiction FAQs

Meth addiction is a difficult and complicated disorder, but there are several resources for people who need help overcoming meth abuse.

If you have additional questions about meth addiction, the answers to commonly asked questions about meth abuse below may help.

Is There Meth Addiction Treatment In New England?

There are several Massachusetts rehab centers, Connecticut addiction centers, and other rehab facilities in New England states to help people overcome meth addiction.

Is Meth A Stimulant?

Yes, meth is a stimulant drug. As a stimulant, it increases energy by speeding up processes in the central nervous system.

What’s In Meth?

Meth is made from common medications, especially decongestants. It may also be cut with additives to increase the volume of the product.

Is Meth An Opioid?

No, meth is not an opioid. Stimulants and opioids are two separate drug classes. However, opioids such as fentanyl are occasionally added to meth.

Is Speed Meth?

“Speed” is a common street name for meth. However, the same term is often used to refer to other forms of amphetamine.

When Was Meth Invented?

Meth was invented in 1893 by a Japanese chemist. In its early days, it was used as a treatment for narcolepsy and asthma, as well as a weight loss supplement. It gained popularity in the United States shortly after World War II.

What Is A Homemade Meth Pipe?

A homemade meth pipe is a pipe made out of household objects such as light bulbs, drinking glasses, straws, and similar items. Scorch marks and chemical smells may indicate that an object has been used as a meth pipe.

What Schedule Is Meth?

Meth is a Schedule II drug, which means that it has a high level of potential for abuse. Unlike Schedule I drugs, which have no medical uses, Schedule II drugs may have some medical purposes. Nevertheless, these drugs have serious risks.

Was Meth Ever Legal?

Meth was legal throughout much of its history. Before researchers understood the dangers of meth, this drug has been sold as an over-the-counter medication and as a wakefulness aid for pilots.

Does Meth Cause Hallucinations?

Yes, meth can cause hallucinations and other signs of psychosis.

What Does Meth Smell Like When Smoked?

Meth often produces a strong chemical smell when smoked. The smell has been compared to burning plastic, nail salons, and other distinct odors.

Is There A Drug Test For Meth?

Meth can be detected with a drug test. Urine tests are the most common form of drug testing for meth, but meth can also be detected in the blood and hair.

What Is The Difference Between Crank And Meth?

“Crank” and “meth” refer to the same drug. Crank is a street name for methamphetamine.

How Common Are Deaths From Meth?

More than 23,800 died due to non-cocaine stimulant use in 2020. Most of those deaths involved meth.

Recover From Methamphetamine Addiction Today

Meth addiction causes many physical and mental health complications, but it is a treatable condition.

Spring Hill Recovery Center uses evidence-based practices to help people overcome meth addiction, including MAT and addiction therapy.

When you come to our treatment center for help, we’re with you every step of the recovery journey from inpatient to outpatient rehab and aftercare services.

If you or a loved one may need addiction help, contact Spring Hill today to learn more about your treatment options.

  1. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention — Patterns And Characteristics Of Methamphetamine Use Among Young Adults: United States, 2015 – 2018
  2. National Institute On Drug Abuse — What Is The Scope Of Methamphetamine Use In The United States?
  3. Oregon Health Authority — Chemicals In Meth Manufacture
  4. United States Department Of Justice — Drug Scheduling
  5. United States Drug Enforcement Administration — Methamphetamine

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

Prefer Texting?
We've got you covered.

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.

Sign up for text support

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.
Let us walk you through the treatment process. We're here to help.
For 24/7 Treatment Help:
100% Free & Confidential. Call (978) 321-2696
(978) 321-2696