Meth 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 forms, from rotting teeth to hyperactivity and more. If you believe a loved one may be addicted to methamphetamine, understanding the signs and symptoms can enable you to find the resources necessary to help them heal from addiction.

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 of meth addiction:

  • Behavioral Signs of Meth Addiction:

    • A sudden change in social groups
    • Clumsiness (decreased fine motor skills)
    • Criminality, such as stealing money in order to buy meth
    • 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 meth
    • Risky sexual behavior

People who use meth 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 work.

  • Some examples of drug paraphernalia:

    • 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 or 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)

Anyone can become addicted to methamphetamine regardless of gender, race or age. If you notice one or more of these signs in a loved one, they may have a methamphetamine addiction. Knowing how someone acts on meth is a good first step in getting them the help they need. Substance use disorder is a disease that often requires the expertise of a medical professional. With proper treatment and support, it’s possible to heal from meth addiction.

Symptoms of Meth Use

Meth addiction can cause a variety of physical and psychological reactions.

  • Common Short-Term Side Effects:

    • 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
    • Premature aging of the skin
    • Sores that are slow to heal
    • Sudden or severe weight loss

  • Common Long-Term Side Effects:

    • A feeling that there are insects crawling under the skin
    • Agitation, or nervous excitement
    • Anxiety, or a feeling of worry or unease
    • Depression or depressed mood
    • Mood swings
    • Nervousness
    • Paranoia, or unreasonable distrust of others
    • Seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations)

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 are medical conditions that require care in a hospital.

Image showing the physical changes of long-term meth use

Effects of Long-Term Meth Use

Methamphetamine is a dangerous and highly addictive stimulant. If meth abuse is continued over a long period of time, the brain begins to rely on its stimulant effects and creates a need for its use. This turns into addiction — the most dangerous of all long-term effects of methamphetamine use.

These long-term health effects can be divided into physical and psychological categories.

  • Physical Side Effects of Meth Use:

    • Blackened, rotting teeth (also known as “meth mouth”)
    • Death
    • Infection (due to skin-picking and poor hygiene, both of which often accompany methamphetamine use)
    • Kidney failure
    • Liver failure
    • Malnutrition (due to an extreme loss of appetite)
    • Overdose and death
    • Reproductive issues, such as miscarriages and infertility

  • Psychological Effect of Long-Term Meth Use:

    • Aggression
    • Anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure, resulting from the destruction of dopamine receptors in the brain)
    • Delusions
    • Hallucinations
    • Impaired cognition, judgment, memory and motor skills
    • Paranoia
    • Tolerance, leading to increased dosage

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 in the long term.

Developing an addiction is a process, not an event, and 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.

Can You Overdose on Meth?

Yes. Overdose on methamphetamine is common. When a person consumes a large amount of the drug at one time, their body may be unable to remove the drug, resulting in coma, seizure and sometimes death.

  • Common Signs of an Overdose:

    • Agitation
    • Chest pain
    • Extreme anxiety
    • Heart attack
    • High body temperature
    • Irregular breathing
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • Kidney failure
    • Seizure
    • Stroke

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.