Methamphetamine is a dangerous illicit drug that can affect the body in a number of ways. Being the spouse, parent, friend or loved one of someone using meth can be difficult when you become aware of these effects. But what might be even worse is suspecting drug use without confirmation. Perhaps you’re only familiar with the side effects based on what you see in movies or on television. Perhaps you’re not even sure what to look for in your friend or relative. Knowing the signs of meth use can help you talk to your loved one about getting treatment. It can even save their life.
Article at a Glance:
- Methamphetamine, or meth, is a Schedule II stimulant that is often trafficked illicitly.
- Signs a person is on meth can include behavioral changes like psychosis as well as physical signs like premature aging.
- Meth use is often accompanied by paraphernalia, including needles, spoons and homemade pipes from drinking straws.
Table of Contents
What Is Meth?
Methamphetamine, also called meth, is a stimulant drug that is also called street names like crystal meth, chalk, ice or speed. It is a Schedule II controlled substance that is often trafficked illegally in the United States. However, a doctor can also legally prescribe it to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
What Does Meth Look Like?
In most cases, methamphetamine looks like a white crystalline powder. Sometimes, drug dealers will sell it pressed into a pill form. The drug is odorless, with a bitter taste and can dissolve in water or alcohol.
In contrast, the form of the drug known as crystal meth comes as shiny, clear or bluish crystals that look like glass fragments or rocks.
How Is Meth Most Commonly Abused?
Meth comes in different forms and can be taken several different ways, including snorting, injecting, taking it orally or smoking it. Crystal meth is most commonly smoked. In a recent study of current and former meth users, 63% smoked meth, 44% snorted meth, 27% injected meth and 30% swallowed it. Nearly half of all meth users consume meth using multiple methods, and 7% use all four methods over their lifetime.
When meth is first taken, it creates an immediate rush. That rush lasts for up to 30 minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable. Following the initial rush, a meth high can last for up to 14 hours.
According to our 2021 survey of former and current meth users, meth use tends to be frequent. In fact, 44.4% of respondents use or used meth daily and 22.9% use or used it several times per week.
Common Signs Someone Is On or Using Crystal Meth
People on meth typically exhibit certain physical signs. If you’re wondering how to tell if someone is on crystal meth or is abusing crystal meth, symptoms of this drug can include being very awake or physically active and a reduced appetite.
Look For Meth Paraphernalia
Paraphernalia are accessories that people use when taking drugs. Each drug has its own type of paraphernalia that is associated with its use. Some of the common types of paraphernalia linked to meth abuse include:
- Spoons, often with burn marks on the bottom from being heated
- Cotton balls
- Butane lighters
- Small glass or metal pipes
- Plastic pen casings
- Drinking straws
- Small mirrors
- Razor blades
If you suspect someone may be cooking meth, there are telltale signs to identify a meth lab, including both signs from the outside, such as blacked-out windows or unusual odors, and signs from the inside, such as funnels and lab equipment. You can also lookout for some of the physical effects that can come with cooking meth, including asthma, insomnia, or tremors.
If you come across a meth lab, do not approach it. Protect yourself and others by leaving immediately and alerting law enforcement.
Behavioral Signs of Meth Use
If a loved one is struggling with meth, you may start to notice some of the drug’s side effects. Some behavioral signs that a person is taking meth include:
- Being very alert or physically active
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Outbursts or mood swings
- Paranoia or hallucinations
- High blood pressure
- Elevated body temperature and heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Grinding of teeth
In a survey by The Recovery Village, current and former meth users reported symptoms that lasted long-term, even after they stopped using meth: 23% reported high blood pressure, 27% reported sudden or severe weight loss and 16% reported hallucinations. People who used multiple ways doubled their chances of experiencing weight loss and hallucinations.
Physical Meth Symptoms
Methamphetamine is a disturbing, dangerous and highly addictive drug, and in many ways, it’s one of the easiest to tell someone is using. Some of the most common signs of meth use tend to show up in the person’s appearance. Crystal meth can dramatically impact the user’s looks and give them certain distinctive characteristics that can show even a passerby they are on meth. Roughly 37% or 1 in 3 meth users report a significant impact on their appearance.
Some of the more visible meth symptoms can include:
- Premature aging
- Picking at skin or hair causing meth sores
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Outbursts or mood swings
- Paranoia or hallucinations
- Meth mouth and tooth decay
Visible signs on the body are less common than you think, so not seeing them on your loved one does not mean they aren’t using meth. One in three meth users reported getting meth mouth or broken teeth, and 31% reported having sores, abscesses or infections on their skin from scratching.
However, these signs are more common among heavy meth users. Heavy meth users are four times more likely to get meth mouth and two times more likely to get sores or infections.
The method of use is also important when deciding what to look for. In our survey, people who smoked meth were three times more likely to get meth mouth, while those who snorted it were 2.5 times more likely to have nasal damage. Those who injected meth were three times more likely to have sores or infections on their skin.
A combination of a particular visible sign and the matching paraphernalia for using meth (sores and a needle or syringe, for example) is a telling indicator.
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Tweaking is another important element for determining whether or not someone is on crystal meth. Tweaking is the phase that occurs at the end of a drug binge when the person using can’t achieve a rush or high anymore, struggles to achieve the feelings of euphoria and is often left with intense cravings and a sense of desperation.
Some additional signs of tweaking can include:
- Feeling like bugs are crawling under the skin
- Being unable to sleep for days
- Being in a psychotic state or completely disconnected from reality
- Growing increasingly frustrated, paranoid and unstable
- Experiencing hallucinations
- Strong cravings for meth
Another sign someone is using crystal meth is the crash phase. During this period, the person’s body collapses after the constant stimulation from meth, usually ending in long periods of sleep. A crash can last anywhere from one to three days, and it can be an outward sign of meth use that’s apparent to people around the user.
Meth Withdrawal Signs
If someone addicted to meth suddenly stops using it, there are also signs related to withdrawal. Withdrawal from meth leads to severe mental symptoms, particularly for long-term users. Along with very intense cravings, signs someone is experiencing withdrawal can include anxiety, fatigue, headaches and depression.
Headaches are the most common symptom (63% of users), followed by fatigue (57%), sleep problems (52%), depression (41%) and anxiety (41%).
Remember that these withdrawal symptoms are also associated with a host of other medical problems and should not be considered a sign of meth use on their own. Rather, they reinforce other visible signs and behaviors of meth use.
Recognize the Signs So You Can Prevent the Damaging Effects
Meth can have damaging effects on the user both physically and psychologically, including:
- Changes in brain structure and function
- Deficits in thinking and motor skills
- Severe dental problems
- Aggressive or violent behavior
Some of the neurobiological effects could be partially reversible, however, it’s important to address a meth problem as early as possible to prevent any long-term effects and increase the chances of successful treatment.
Taking the Next Step
If you recognize someone is showing the signs of being on meth, it’s important to seek help from an addiction professional or a medical professional. When someone is on meth, they can be not only a harm to themselves but a danger to people around them.
If you or a loved one are struggling with a meth addiction, The Recovery Village can help. Calls are free and confidential, so pick up the telephone and start the road to recovery today.
Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Department of Justice. “Drugs of Abuse.” 2020. Accessed April 11, 2021.
McCance-Katz, Elinore F. “The National Survey on Drug Use and Health: 2019.” September 2020. Accessed April 11, 2021.
Partnership for a Drug-Free World. “The Truth About Crystal Meth and Methamphetamine.” Accessed April 11, 2021.
- Medical Disclaimer
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.