Methamphetamine Addiction: Health Effects, Withdrawal, & Treatment
What Is Meth?
Methamphetamine (“meth”) is a man-made central nervous stimulant with a very high potential for abuse that is sold and purchased illegally on the street. It is cheap and easy to make and therefore is quite common in certain areas in the United States.
Methamphetamine shares similar chemical properties with amphetamine, a prescription medication that is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.2
Meth is usually sold in shiny clear or white rocks with a bluish hue (crystal meth) or as a crushed powder.3
Crystal meth is used in a variety of ways. It is often smoked in a small pipe, but it can also be snorted or injected.2
People that smoke or inject meth report feeling a powerful “rush”—an overwhelming pleasurable feeling that appears very quickly but only lasts for a few minutes, though a less-intense euphoric high may last for many hours. Users who snort the drug may not experience the intense rush but will experience a euphoric high that lasts for up to half a day.4,5
How Addictive Is Meth?
Methamphetamine is considered highly addictive. In 2019, approximately 1,048,000 Americans 12 years old or older had a meth addiction within the previous year.6
Meth use increases the activity of several chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) including dopamine, a chemical that is associated with the brain’s motivation and reward center.2 Excess dopamine activity, such as that caused by meth use, can encourage the individual to repeat an action time and time again. 2 This is known as compulsive behavior. Also, the high from meth wears off relatively quickly, depleting the body of dopamine, which leads many people to use the drug in a “binge and crash” pattern, using meth repeatedly every few hours, often for days at a time.4 Chronic use can lead to a methamphetamine use disorder, commonly known as addiction.5
Street Names for Crystal Meth
Methamphetamine may also be referred to by one of its many street names. These include:5,7
Short-Term Risks of Methamphetamine Use
Methamphetamine acts quickly on the body and produces a powerful euphoric high marked by increased wakefulness and activity. The high may be accompanied by a number of physical and psychological effects such as:2
- Suppressed appetite.
- High blood pressure.
- Rapid breathing.
- Dilated pupils.
- Fast and/or irregular heart rate.
Taking too much meth may result in overdose. A methamphetamine overdose can cause heart attack, stroke, or short-term and long-term damage to vital organs.2 Signs of a meth overdose include:8,9
- Significant rise or drop in blood pressure.
- Chest pain.
- Heart rate that is too slow or too fast.
- Hallucinations, delusions or other symptoms of psychosis.
Meth may also be cut (mixed) with other dangerous substances like fentanyl, which are lethal in small amounts.10 A fentanyl-involved overdose will involve classic opioid overdose symptoms such as pinpoint pupils, slowed or stopped breathing, and loss of consciousness.11
Long-Term Health Effects of Meth Addiction
Prolonged meth use can do major damage to a person’s health and well-being. Long-term effects of meth use may include:2, 9,12
- Impaired memory and verbal learning.
- Problems with coordination.
- Sleep problems.
- Heart problems (e.g., cardiomyopathy, pulmonary hypertension).
- Abscesses or damaged blood vessels (from injection use).
- Problems with teeth and gums (“meth mouth”).
- Skin sores from scratching/picking.
Injecting meth also carries the risk of bloodborne infections like HIV. Studies suggest that HIV/AIDS progresses faster and damages cells at a higher rate in patients that use meth compared to patients that do not.2
What Are the Signs of Methamphetamine Addiction?
While meth is a highly addictive drug, not everyone that uses meth is addicted. Signs of meth use, such as nervous scratching, irritability, and decreased fatigue may indicate someone is using meth but do not necessarily indicate an addiction, formally known as a substance use disorder.9
Meth addiction (methamphetamine use disorder) is a serious medical disorder that occurs when an individual compulsively uses meth regardless of the negative consequences it has on multiple aspects of daily living. Meth addiction should be diagnosed by a professional.
What Is Meth Withdrawal?
When someone uses meth for a prolonged period of time, their body may begin adapting to meth. Once the body gets used to meth’s presence, it will need it to feel normal, a term known as physical dependence. When an individual is dependent on meth and attempts to quit or cut back, the brain and body will need to readjust through a process called withdrawal.14 It is rare for meth withdrawal to be physically dangerous; however, it can be extremely unpleasant and psychologically taxing.9,15
How Long Does Meth Withdrawal Last?
Acute withdrawal from meth typically begins about 24 hours from the last dose and lasts up to 5 days.15,16
Certain symptoms like fatigue and cravings may last longer. Some people that quit meth—typically those that used high amounts for a long period of time—may experience depression and lack of energy for months after they quit.9
What Are the Symptoms of Meth Withdrawal?
Some common symptoms of meth withdrawal are:9,15
- Meth cravings.
- Strong appetite.
- Sleeping too little or too much.
- Rapidly shifting mood.
Because it is common for people who use meth to also use other substances (e.g., alcohol, benzodiazepines, opioids) to offset meth’s stimulant effects, enhance sexual pleasure (“chemsex”), or ease the subsequent “crash” after a meth high, withdrawal symptoms and severity may be heightened by dependence on multiple substances.9
Medical supervision during withdrawal can alleviate these symptoms by reducing discomfort as well as and making the withdrawal process safer.15
How to Detox from Meth Safely
Meth withdrawal is seldom physically dangerous; however, severe depression may lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. Physical risks may increase if meth is used in combination with other drugs that have their own withdrawal syndromes, such as opioids, alcohol, or benzodiazepines. Professional detox, whether inpatient or outpatient, can help patients withdraw under the supervision of treatment professionals. When needed, inpatient medical detox allows professionals to monitor, supervise and respond to emergencies, thereby significantly reducing the risks involved in withdrawal from meth and other drugs of dependence.15
While there are no FDA approved medications for treating stimulant withdrawal, medications may be prescribed to treat certain withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, anxiety, or depression, or to treat withdrawal from any other substances of dependence.9,15
The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends that individuals struggling with substance use disorders follow up detox with another form of addiction treatment to build the skills needed to stay in recovery.17
How to Treat Methamphetamine Addiction
The appropriate treatment setting, duration, and type of addiction treatment for meth addiction will vary depending on an individual’s needs.17 A doctor or addiction treatment professional can help determine which level(s) of care are likely to work best. A treatment plan often involves more than one type of treatment. At Desert Hope, we offer a full spectrum of care that includes:
- Medical detox.
- Inpatient and residential rehab programs.
- Partial hospitalization (“day treatment”).
- Intensive outpatient programming.
- Standard outpatient rehab.
Desert Hope patients also have access to a nearby sober living facility, Resolutions Las Vegas, to continue the recovery journey with like-minded individuals in recovery.
In both inpatient and outpatient programs, evidence-based methods of addiction treatment therapy are used to build a patient’s self-esteem and motivation to stay sober, give them skills to identify situations that lead them to use meth, and replace negative thought patterns and coping mechanisms.17,18
Paying for Meth Addiction Treatment
Many people who need rehab don’t get the help they need—cost being one of the most significant barriers.6 However, due to federal mandates, addiction treatment is covered by most insurance plans.19 There are also others ways to pay for rehab for those who don’t have insurance or for whom the out-of-pocket costs are still too high.
Use the confidential form below to see if your insurance covers treatment at Desert Hope or call an admissions navigator at for more detailed information on coverage and how to start treatment.
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