Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that can quickly lead to addiction. A synthetic drug that users take orally, inject, smoke or snort, it gives a sense of euphoria, increases energy and improves focus. It can also cause anxiety, insomnia, confusion, hallucination, paranoia, mood disorders, psychosis and aggressive behavior. Other names for the drug include speed, ice, crank, chalk and crystal.
Is Meth Available by Prescription?
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration classifies methamphetamine as a Schedule II stimulant and requires its distribution by prescription only. Doctors sometimes prescribe it for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or as part of a short-term program for weight loss. Prescription doses are much weaker than those used in illicitly, and because the risk of abuse is so high, doctors seldom prescribe methamphetamine.
What Are the Illicit Forms of Methamphetamine?
Most people who abuse methamphetamine use illegal forms of the drug, and crystal meth is one of the most common. It usually comes from illicit labs where “cooks” use amphetamines (decongestants) and other chemicals to create the dangerous mixture. Harmful ingredients may include compounds like antifreeze, drain cleaner, lantern fuel and battery acid. Because of explosive materials and impaired cooks, the danger of fire or environmental contamination is high in the labs.
How Does Meth Work in the Body?
In 2016, an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune described the brain chemistry that takes methamphetamine users from feelings of intense pleasure to the depths of paranoia. The drug works by releasing dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that affects the reward pathways in the brain. Although food, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs can produce a similar effect, they are not usually as potent or addictive as meth.
The euphoria of the first use soon evolves into needing the drug just to feel normal and eventually becoming addicted. As the effect wears off, users want to feel the same pleasure but need larger doses for the same results. This decreases dopamine levels and makes it harder for the brain to create more dopamine, leading to a cycle of substance use.
What Are the Short-Term Effects of Meth Use?
Meth users can become addicted in as little as one use, and small doses can have effects like these on the body:
- Increased energy and alertness
- Feelings of euphoria
- Reduced appetite
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Increased body temperature
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Meth Use?
Besides causing addiction, long-term use of methamphetamine can have lasting effects on emotional, mental and physical well-being:
- Changes in brain activity and structure
- Problems with motor or cognitive skills
- Memory loss and distractibility
- Mood disorders
- Weight loss
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Severe dental problems
How Does Methamphetamine Change the Brain?
Meth raises dopamine levels and plays a role in how the brain experiences rewards and motivation. It also affects how the brain interprets pleasure. The National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that brain images of abusers suggest meth leads to changes that can affect verbal and motor skills and impair memory and emotion. Some effects last for an extended time while others improve in a year or more.
Besides anxiety, insomnia and hyperactive behavior, meth users may also feel invincible or paranoid. Increased libido and social activity may occur, and repetitive or obsessive actions may increase. Psychosomatic illnesses, physical complaints caused by mental disorders, may also be more common. Excessive or extended use can lead to psychosis, or loss of touch with reality.
How Does Methamphetamine Affect the Physical Body?
Meth abuse may cause rapid or irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and elevated body temperature, but it can also affect the body in other ways. Common side-effects include:
- Dry, itchy skin or acne
- Blurred vision and dilated pupils
- Blushing or pale skin and heavy sweating
- Dizziness or headache
- Digestive problems like diarrhea or constipation
- Twitching, repetitive behaviors or tremors
Besides lowering inhibitions and increasing risk-taking, chronic meth use can cause stroke, heart attack, convulsions or death.
What Drugs Are Commonly Used With Meth?
Users often combine methamphetamine with tranquilizers, narcotics or alcohol to strengthen the high, but this results in an even greater risk of disorders like high blood pressure and psychosis. When mixed with alcohol, the combination also increases the risk of liver failure, cancer or sudden death.
Although tranquilizers reduce anxiety associated with meth use, they also make the addiction issue worse. The mixture also creates a deadly combination for the heart. Tranquilizers slow the heart down, and meth speeds it up, leading to irregular heartbeats and even heart failure.
Another lethal mixture, opioids and meth, are a greater danger than either drug by itself. Besides the usual risks, the combination increases the risk of accidents, self-harm, violence and overdose. It also makes it harder to treat the addiction.
What Is Meth Mouth?
The acidic chemicals in crystal meth and lack of self-care among users cause teeth to rot, break or fall out. In one study, researchers examined 571 meth users. Over 96% of participants had cavities, and 58% had untreated decay. Another 31% had at least six missing teeth.
The same study found the decay was proportionate to the abuse. Teeth, stained, blackened and crumbling, often could not be saved. Researchers attributed the condition to addiction issues resulting in poor oral hygiene and a dry mouth. Women, users over 30 and smokers were prone to a greater risk of having dental problems and gum disease. Tooth grinding and a craving for carbohydrates may have also contributed to dental conditions.
How Does Meth Use Change Physical Appearance?
The Sheriff’s Office of Multnomah County, Oregon, created a public relations campaign with a series of sequential mug shots. Called the Faces of Meth, the project was used to promote awareness in the state’s schools.
An ABC news story in 2017 described how meth destroys physical appearance. Users experience itchy, dry skin and acne. They may also suffer from hallucinations that create the feeling of bugs crawling underneath the skin, and that leads to repetitive picking and scratching that creates little sores and scars on the face. Stress and a weak immune system contribute to pale skin, and smoking causes wrinkles and a leathery texture.
A reduced appetite and drug use can lead to an inadequate intake of nutrition for extended periods, causing the loss of fat and muscle tissue and creating a stark appearance. The deterioration of the immune system may also lead to premature aging, and a loss of touch with reality makes it difficult for users to take care of their health and personal appearance.
What Are the Statistics for Methamphetamine Use?
According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), around 1.6 million people said they had used meth in the past year. Approximately 774,000 people said they had used it in the past month. In 2016, new meth users averaged 23.3 years old.
In 2017, around 964,000 people aged 12 or older reported symptoms that identified them as having a meth disorder. Symptoms included significant impairment, a label that covered failure to achieve goals at school, work or home. They also attributed other health problems and disabilities to their meth use. In 2016, only 684,000 people had a self-reported meth disorder.
The New York Times reported in 2018 that the number of domestic labs had declined in the U.S. and fewer children were being injured, but Mexican drug cartels stepped in to fill the gap. As a result, more people were using meth, and more people were dying from meth.
In 2019, a study published online in JAMA Network Open quoted a doctor on the front lines of the meth epidemic. Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said meth users face “serious and deadly risks” from strokes, heart attacks and brain bleeds. He also adds that meth ruins lives even when it doesn’t kill.
In 2020, NIDA reported that meth abuse was most common in the midwestern and western portions of the country. Almost 70% of law enforcement agencies from those regions said the drug that posed the most risk to people was meth.
The use of meth and other illicit drugs costs the United States $193 billion a year. The illegal use of prescription drugs costs another $78.5 billion. Drug use spreads diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS and causes thousands of overdose deaths annually. It also increases the rate of homelessness, unemployment, crime, divorce and domestic abuse.
According to the National Drug Threat Survey, methamphetamine and crack cocaine are responsible for the greatest number of substance use-related crimes in the United States. The NDIC estimates a cost of over $61 billion for drug-related crimes, and $56 billion of that goes to the criminal justice system.
In 10 U.S. cities monitored by the Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM), between 63% and 83% of all arrested individuals test positive for illegal drugs at the time of their arrests. Another 12% to 50% of those have more than one drug in their system when tested.
What Makes Green Mountain Treatment Center Unique?
Located in New Hampshire’s scenic White Mountains, Green Mountain Treatment Center offers a 12-step curriculum that helps patients understand and heal from substance use disorders. Aside from individualized plans and peer support, our center offers medical detox, proven psychotherapy modalities and holistic therapies to ensure the growth of mind, body and spirit. These offerings include:
- Serene, private location
- Treatment for co-existing mental disorders
- Healthy meals prepared by chefs
- 12-Step meetings, workshops and training
- Meditation and yoga
- Gender-specific programs
- On-site gym
- In-network coverage with major insurance companies
During your stay at Green Mountain Treatment Center, you’ll work with a staff comprising of licensed clinicians, caring case managers and supportive administrators who work together to provide comprehensive treatment for addiction to meth. Each client who enters the Center’s program also has the opportunity to work one-on-one with other clients as they progress through treatment. This type of peer support aids in the recovery process and helps clients build new, healthy relationships with others who share similar backgrounds.
Get Help Now
At Green Mountain Treatment Center, we know addiction is a symptom of unaddressed mental and emotional issues. Because substance use disorder usually occurs with other conditions, such as depression or trauma, our staff creates individual programs that address the conditions and type of substance use for every individual.
Meth is a potent and lethal drug, but help is available. Call us to discuss your options for detox, residential treatment, extended care or intensive outpatient treatment. You can also email us for more information about the services we offer.