Meth Abuse Causes, Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

Often times the signs of meth addiction can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of meth addiction.

Understanding Meth Addiction

Learn about meth and substance abuse

Methamphetamines (more commonly known by their street name, “meth,” “crystal meth,” and “crank”) is a powerful and addictive stimulant that can be smoked, snorted, eaten, or injected. Due to the psychoactive properties, false confidence, and sense of happiness, people who try methamphetamine quickly develop a desire to continue using. Some users state that they were hooked on meth after they try it once. While initially pleasurable, methamphetamine can destroy a person’s life by burning up the body’s resources and leaving the user with a dependence that is only relieved by using more of the drug.

Methamphetamine is the child of a drug class called amphetamines, both stimulants that can provide users with increased energy, intense desire to chat, and an overall sense of happiness. However, methamphetamines are different than amphetamines because much higher amounts of methamphetamines are able to reach the brain which increases the potency. Meth also gives users a longer and more sustained high which leads to damage to the central nervous system.

Medically, methamphetamine is a Schedule II stimulant with a high potential for abuse. Medical methamphetamine is used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. Medical methamphetamine is prescribed at a far lower dose than the street version.

Illegal or street methamphetamine is often produced in makeshift laboratories by using over-the-counter, readily-available inexpensive materials. Over-the-counter cold remedies are usually used as a base and are then combined with chemicals like battery acid, drain cleaner, ammonia, and antifreeze. These chemicals are particularly dangerous and many who manufacture methamphetamines are burned or killed during production.

Like cocaine, methamphetamines are produced in two forms: a white powder or clear chunks of rocks. The rock form, crystal meth, is the most pure and potent form of methamphetamine. Crystal meth is commonly used as a “club drug” at raves and nightclubs and is often called “glass” or “ice.” Methamphetamines are often used in a binge and crash manner. This cycle can cause the user to be up for days smoking, snorting, or injecting the drug before crashing from the euphoric feelings. By the time the methamphetamine binge is over, the person has not eaten or slept in days.

The euphoric high experienced by methamphetamine users is caused by a surge of dopamine released into the brain. Over time methamphetamine use destroys dopamine receptors within the brain. This means that a chronic long-term methamphetamine user will not be able to feel pleasure without the use of methamphetamine. Research suggests that these pleasure centers can heal over time, however, the damage to the cognitive abilities of the user may be permanent.


Meth addiction statistics

Worldwide methamphetamine abuse is becoming an increasingly devastating epidemic. It’s estimated that there are 26 million methamphetamine addicts worldwide. Methamphetamines are now considered to be the world’s most abused drug. This is reflected in current number of methamphetamine addicts in United States, which are estimated to be approximately 1.4 million individuals.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for meth addiction

People try illegal drugs for a number of reasons, mostly involving being dissatisfied with their lives. Other reasons people abuse drugs include fitting in with peers and friends, escaping an unpleasant situation, relief from boredom, to rebel from authority, and to experiment. While methamphetamine use is often used to “solve” a problem, the drug abuse and consequences become the problem.

Genetic: research has shown that certain individuals have a genetic predisposition to develop a substance abuse problem or addiction. This is especially true for people who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who are addicted to a substance of abuse.

Biological: some researchers have proposed that methamphetamine abuse may be the result of lower levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that has a large effect on the pleasure feelings we receive from seeing our children or eating a great meal. This biological makeup could make people who abuse methamphetamines desire the euphoric feelings caused by increased levels of dopamine released by methamphetamine use.

Psychological: as many mental illnesses and other conditions can cause a decrease in feelings of happiness, many turn to substance abuse as a means to control their symptoms. In addition, methamphetamine, like other drugs of abuse, leads to the disruption of normal levels of dopamine in the brain, so that over time a methamphetamine user is unable to feel pleasure without using meth.

Environmental: individuals who grow up in in a chaotic home where parents do not show love and affection are more likely to develop a substance abuse problem. Also, children who are exposed to parents who have an addiction to substances such as meth, learn that abusing substances is the proper way to handle stress. In addition, a parent modeling substance abuse normalizes substance abuse, which makes it less scary and more of a normal experience for a child. This can cause problems with addiction later in life.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of meth addiction

Methamphetamine is an extremely powerful stimulant that causes both short and long-term effects. Short-term effects of meth use include:

  • Intense rush
  • Euphoria
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Extreme increase in physical activities
  • Increased body core temperatures
  • Increased wakefulness
  • Decreased appetite

While not all of the following will be present, the following is a list of the most common and severe long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse:

Mood symptoms:

  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Panic
  • Aggression
  • Inability to sit still
  • Racing thoughts
  • Severe depression following a methamphetamine binge
  • Euphoria
  • Violent mood swings
  • Delusions of power

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Wanting to quit or cut down on methamphetamine use without being able to
  • Increased sexual activity
  • Increase in fighting
  • Violence
  • Avoiding hobbies and activities that were once considered pleasurable
  • Legal problems
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • Preoccupation with “chasing the next high”
  • Pulling away from friends and family
  • Engaging in unsafe activities

Physical symptoms:

  • Marked weight loss
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Molecular and functional changes in the brain
  • Inability of body to repair damaged tissues
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Increased libido
  • Malnutrition
  • Insomnia, especially during a methamphetamine binge
  • Constriction of the blood vessels in the body
  • Respiratory problems
  • Liver disease and damage
  • Acne or picking scars
  • Loss of elasticity of the skin
  • “Meth Mouth”
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Brain damage
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Psychological symptoms:

  • Marked confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Disorganized lifestyle
  • Paranoia, which can be permanent
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Violence
  • Total break from reality


Effects of meth addiction

As a parent who is addicted to methamphetamines:

  • Child neglect
  • Child abuse – both physical and sexual abuse
  • Child endangerment, especially if cooking methamphetamines at home

Other effects:

  • Depression
  • Sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS
  • Liver damage
  • Lung damage
  • Brain damage
  • Kidney disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Psychosis
  • Legal consequences of risky behaviors
  • Poor interpersonal relationships
  • Unemployment
  • Domestic violence
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Meth addiction and co-occurring disorders

  • ADHD
  • Mood disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Other substance abuse disorders, especially with sedating substances
  • Behavioral addictions, like gambling disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Conduct disorder

Effects of Withdrawal

Effects of withdrawal from meth

Substance abuse is marked by a period of withdrawal symptoms which can be challenging to handle. Effects of methamphetamine withdrawal can include:

  • Crippling depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Intense cravings for methamphetamines, especially after being sober for several months.
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Increased need for eating
  • Restlessness and anxiety