Methamphetamine use can lead to severe addiction, and its abuse is a continuous and widespread issue in the United States. Abuse of the drug creates serious health problems and sometimes leads to fatal consequences. Knowing the signs and symptoms of meth abuse can help you identify whether someone you know may be using this dangerous drug.
As a person continues to use methamphetamine, they are likely to display many outward signs indicating their drug dependency. Meth addiction can manifest itself in a variety of physical and behavioral symptoms, from rotting teeth to hyperactivity to heart attacks.
Article at a Glance:
- People who use meth may exhibit hyperactivity, erratic sleep behaviors, twitching, clumsiness, loss of appetite and obsessive focus.
- Short-term symptoms of meth use include rotting teeth, bad breath, sores, dilated pupils and lip and finger burns.
- Long-term symptoms of meth use include aggression, feeling like insects are crawling under the skin, hallucinations and paranoia.
- Meth usage stresses the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and blood vessels.
- The recovery process of overcoming a meth addiction requires medical attention and counseling.
Table of Contents
Behavioral Signs of Meth Use
Methamphetamine profoundly affects a person’s brain and body. It alters how a person thinks and feels as they prioritize obtaining the next dose of the drug. These effects are often visible in many areas of a person’s life. You may notice a sudden loss of interest in other areas of life. Hobbies, relationships, and career goals can all take a back seat to addiction.
It is common for people who use the drug frequently to display these behavioral signs:
- A sudden change in social groups
- Clumsiness (decreased fine motor skills)
- Criminality, such as stealing money in order to buy drugs
- Displaying a tic or twitch (a small, repetitive behavior, such as pulling hair or picking at a particular spot on the skin)
- Distracted behavior in social situations
- Erratic sleep patterns, such as insomnia and hypersomnia
- Extreme loss of appetite (eating little or not at all for several days)
- Forgetting important dates, times or events
- Hyperactivity and high energy
- Increased aggression or violent behavior
- Isolating themselves from others
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Neglecting relationships
- Obsessive focus on a particular issue or task
- Risky financial behavior, such as cashing out savings in order to buy drugs
- Risky sexual behavior
Those struggling with an addiction may also have a variety of items needed to use the drug. They may try to hide these items or store them in different places throughout their home, car, or workspace. Some examples of paraphernalia include:
- A water pipe or other pipe
- An unusually large amount of aluminum foil, particularly with burn or scorch marks
- Burned spoons
- Needles or syringes that appear to be used or out of their packaging
- New shoelaces or rubber tubing (used as a tourniquet if injecting the drug intravenously)
- Pieces of glass, shards of a broken mirror or razor blades (used to snort meth)
- Rolled-up slips of paper, rolled-up dollar bills, empty pen cases or straws (used to snort meth)
Symptoms of Meth Use
Meth addiction can cause a variety of physical and psychological symptoms. As illustrated, meth can drastically change a person’s appearance. Meth use is associated with intense itchiness. As a person endlessly scratches to soothe the itch, they will produce sores, scabs, wounds and scarring, especially on the arms, legs and face.
- Bad breath
- Blackened, rotting teeth (also known as “meth mouth”)
- Broken teeth (the result of meth-induced tooth grinding)
- Burns, particularly on the lips or fingers
- Dilated pupils
- Extreme sweating
- Irregular breathing patterns
- Needle marks on the arms
- Nosebleeds and damage to nasal passages
- Premature aging of the skin
- Sores, abscesses, and infections
- Sudden or severe weight loss
- A feeling that there are insects crawling under the skin
- Agitation, or nervous excitement
- Anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure, resulting from the destruction of dopamine np! receptors in the brain)
- Anxiety, or a feeling of worry or unease
- Depression or depressed mood
- Impaired cognition, judgment, memory and motor skills
- Mood swings
- Paranoia, or unreasonable distrust of others
- Tolerance, leading to increased dosage
Beyond these common symptoms, some people who use methamphetamine experience severe and immediately life-threatening issues such as seizures, heart attacks and liver failure. These medical conditions require care in a hospital.
The Recovery Village surveyed 2,135 American adults who formerly or currently use methamphetamine. The majority of those who participated (93%), experienced many health issues, many of which were severe. Using meth just six times a month or more than 0.4 grams in a session can easily make these symptoms a reality. Heavy meth use increases a person’s risk for all methamphetamine-related health issues. In particular, heavy meth users are:
- 4.4 times more likely to have meth mouth
- 3 times more likely to have broken teeth
- 2.3 times more likely to have a sore or infection
- 3.2 times more likely to damage your liver
- 2 times more likely to damage your kidneys
- 2.9 times more likely to have a stroke
- 2.6 times more likely to have a heart attack
- 2.4 times more likely to have a seizure
- 2.5 times more likely to lose your ability to feel pleasure
An overdose on methamphetamine is common. When a person consumes a large amount of the drug at one time, their body may become overwhelmed by the drug, resulting in coma, seizure and sometimes death.
Meth Overdose Symptoms
- Chest pain
- Extreme anxiety
- Heart attack
- High body temperature
- Irregular breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Kidney failure
If you believe that someone is experiencing a meth overdose, call 911 immediately. Professional medical assistance is the best chance the person has at survival. Follow the directions of the 911 operator and give as much correct and accurate information as possible.
The lasting effects of overdose are sometimes permanent.
How Does Meth Work?
Crystal meth, also called just meth, is an illegal drug that’s manufactured and created with a combination of cold medicine ingredients and toxic chemicals. While crystal meth is cheap and delivers a powerful high, it’s also very addictive, dangerous and ultimately deadly for many people.
This drug affects the central nervous system, and that’s part of why it’s so addictive. If use is continued over a long period of time, the brain begins to rely on its stimulant effects and creates a need for its use.
When consumed, the drug goes to your brain, creating a signal that unleashes a flood of dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for making you feel good from things you find pleasurable, but the dopamine released by taking meth is a much higher level than what could happen naturally. That’s what creates the euphoric high but also triggers addiction. Your brain wants to continue feeling that high, so it pushes you to do more of the drug, leading to cravings.
Along with feeling pleasure and intense happiness, meth also generally increases your energy levels and physical activity, as well as how alert and sociable you are. You aren’t likely to feel tired or hungry when using it, and it can also increase your attention span.
Unfortunately, these feel-good effects are misleading: people using meth may feel energetic, but they often do not have the food or rest necessary to fuel that energy. The short and long-term symptoms of meth use reflect this imbalance, including malnutrition, insomnia and depression.
What Does Crystal Meth Do to You & Your Body?
Meth can wreak havoc on every aspect of a person’s life and health. It can cause major damage to organs and the brain. Many of the effects, particularly of chronic use, may not be reversible. It also changes the mental well-being of the user, their physical appearance, and it destroys families, relationships and careers.
Unfortunately, what meth does to your body isn’t only creating a high. The following are just a few of the things meth does to your body.
It places stress on the heart:
Since meth is a stimulant, it can have a profound effect on the cardiovascular system. It puts stress on your heart with elevated blood pressure and a disruption of normal rhythms. Not only does meth damage your heart and cardiovascular system, but it can also contribute to heart attacks. Users are also at an increased risk of strokes.
It can lead to blood clots:
Meth constricts the user’s blood vessels and veins, which can cause blood clots to form. It’s toxic to your blood vessels, which can cause rupturing that can bleed into the heart.
It damages the liver:
Using meth can damage the liver and increase your risk of developing hepatitis or acute liver failure. This is because of the many toxins that can be contained in meth, including drain cleaner, battery acid, paint thinner, lithium and Freon.
It causes the kidneys to shut down:
Meth can cause the kidneys to shut down because of elevated body temperature. It can also break down muscle tissues that then become toxins dangerous to the kidneys.
It damages the lungs:
When you smoke meth, the toxins in the drug go directly to the lungs, damaging them. When your blood vessels are constricted from meth, but it can also reduce blood flow to your lungs and lead to the accumulation of fluid.
Three times the potency of cocaine, methamphetamine causes users to become dependent faster than most illegal drugs and is one of the hardest to quit. The stimulant drug triggers the brain to release more than triple the normal amount of dopamine in the body, creating a state of euphoria that can last up to 12 hours in one sitting. After the first few uses, the drug changes the functionality of the brain, causing it to become dependent on the drug. Even after discontinuing meth, it can take years for the brain to go back to normal.
Once the brain begins to crave meth, the body will soon follow. As a result, an individual’s recreational use becomes an addiction. If users try to abruptly quit using meth, they will be susceptible to painful withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms vary from one user to the next, but heavily depend on how frequently the drug has been used. Common withdrawal symptoms from methamphetamine include:
- Dry mouth
Meth addiction, or methamphetamine use disorder, is the psychological drive to continue using the drug despite harmful consequences to health, finances and relationships. Addiction develops over time and may have severe consequences daily and long term.
Developing an addiction is a process, not an event. It begins with the person developing a tolerance to the drug. Tolerance is when someone requires increasing amounts for the drug to be effective. Dependence often develops alongside tolerance and is when a drug cannot be stopped without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. The drive to prevent withdrawal symptoms is a significant contributor to addictive behaviors. Attending treatment or a drug detox program can help manage withdrawal symptoms in a safe environment.
The recovery process requires significant time, concentrated medical attention and psychological counseling. It also requires a significant amount of support and accountability so an individual does not return to drug use after becoming sober.
Treating Crystal Meth Addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with crystal meth addiction, The Recovery Village is willing and ready to help on your road to recovery. Together with our team of trained medical professionals, you can gain the tools needed to help overcome your addiction and live a healthier, safer life. Don’t wait another day to start your journey.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” 2019. Accessed May 27, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “DrugFacts: Methamphetamine.” May 2019. Accessed May 27, 2020.
DEA Diversion Control Division. “Methamphetamine.” March 2020. Accessed May 27, 2020.
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.