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5 Signs Of Methamphetamine Use

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

January 23, 2019

Long-term methamphetamine use can leave several lasting effects a person’s mind and body. Recognizing the signs of methamphetamine use may help save a loved one’s life.

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant drug. It is similar in chemical structure to amphetamine, which is often prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In fact, methamphetamine is legally marketed as Desoxyn, a medication for ADHD, narcolepsy, and obesity. However, this drug is much more potent than its amphetamine counterpart.

Typically, people who abuse methamphetamine obtain it illicitly. It may come from drug traffickers or amateur cooks that make the substance in home labs. On the street, methamphetamine has many names, like meth, crystal, glass, ice, crank, and chalk.

When someone begins using methamphetamine recreationally, signs of abuse may soon begin to show. Prolonged misuse can lead to serious negative health consequences, taking a tremendous toll on a person’s mind and body.

Common signs of methamphetamine use and abuse are:

  • lifestyle changes
  • changes in behavior
  • changes in mood
  • physical signs
  • paraphernalia

1. Lifestyle Changes

People who are abusing methamphetamine may be secretive in an attempt to hide their drug use. Still, given how addictive methamphetamine can be, it may be obvious that they are seeking it out. They may spend an increasing amount of time and money obtaining and consuming the drug.

This change in priorities can lead to poor performance at work or school. It may also cause financial problems. The more frequently a person takes methamphetamine and the higher the doses, the more expensive it can be.

Excessive substance abuse can put a strain on relationships as well. A person suffering from a methamphetamine addiction may spend less time with family and friends, especially if these people do not support their drug use.

2. Changes In Mood

Methamphetamine causes the brain to release more dopamine than usual. Dopamine is a naturally occurring brain chemical that feeds the brain’s reward system. An excess amount of dopamine produces a sense of euphoria. Over time, the brain stops producing normal amounts of dopamine and relies on the methamphetamine to do the work.

This can make a person depressed and unable to naturally remedy their negative feelings. The longer a person abuses methamphetamine, the more severe their depression may be when they stop taking the drug.

Paranoia may also result from long-term methamphetamine abuse, causing someone to obsess, be mistrustful of others, and have irrational fears. In some cases, this develops into psychosis. Unfortunately, some people suffer the symptoms of methamphetamine-induced psychosis for months or years after stopping drug use, notes the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

If someone uses methamphetamine often, they may experience mood-related withdrawal symptoms—such as anxiety and depression—if they go too long without it. Prolonged methamphetamine abuse can also damage parts of the brain responsible for memory and emotion.

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3. Changes In Behavior

Methamphetamine is a strong stimulant drug. It activates the central nervous system, making a person feel more energized and awake. This may be revealed in excessive talkativeness and hyperactive behavior. It may also cause a person to become aggressive and violent.

People who experience the common sensory hallucination of bugs crawling beneath their skin tend to scratch themselves compulsively. This behavior is likely an indication of some sort of substance abuse or mental issue and has also been found among those addicted to cocaine.

Regular stimulant use can suppress the appetite and may cause insomnia. People abusing stimulant drugs are even more likely to eat and sleep less, which can lead to poor health.

4. Physical Signs Of Methamphetamine Use

A person’s heart rate and body temperature rise when they take methamphetamine. Repeated, overlapping use (binging) can cause these rates to skyrocket. Rapid heartbeat and hyperthermia may lead to convulsions, which can be fatal.

Over time, methamphetamine can break down tooth enamel. Normal dental hygiene, like tooth brushing, may not be a high priority for a person struggling with substance abuse. Methamphetamine use can lead to dehydration, which decreases saliva, a necessary part of healthy dental hygiene. This can lead to decay in the teeth and gums, called “meth mouth.”

The itchy skin that plagues many methamphetamine users may be attributed to dehydration as well. Repeated scratching can cause skin sores, and can prevent existing sores from healing.

A weakened immune system does not aid in healing, either. The immune system needs proper nutrition and sleeps to heal and recharge. Binging on methamphetamine can mean days without sleep. Loss of appetite coupled with poor eating habits can lead to severe weight loss.

People who abuse methamphetamine have a higher risk of illness and disease, such as a stroke, Parkinson’s, or HIV. They may contract HIV from sharing needles or unsafe sexual behavior. Once they have the disease, they are likely to have a more severe and progressive version of it than a person who does not use methamphetamine, according to NIDA.

How someone uses methamphetamine can affect them physically as well. They may develop lesions on their arms from an injection. Their lungs could be damaged from smoking, possibly causing a cough or a sore throat. Their nasal tissue can be destroyed by snorting methamphetamine, which can cause nosebleeds and erosion of the nasal cavity.

5. Methamphetamine Paraphernalia

Illicit methamphetamine is usually a crystalline substance, but may also be found as a powder or tablet. People may abuse the drug by smoking, snorting, or injecting it. Each method comes with its own equipment. Paraphernalia that may indicate methamphetamine use includes:

  • razor, mirror, rolled paper, hollow tube (snorting, or insufflation)
  • glass or metal pipe, bong, foil, light bulb with a hollow tube attached (smoking)
  • spoon, lighter, syringe, surgical tubing (injection)

The prescribed form of methamphetamine is less potent and comes as a round, white tablet. Some people abuse methamphetamine by taking it orally as well.

Methamphetamine Abuse And Overdose

The high from methamphetamine can be more intense and longer lasting than with other stimulants, like cocaine or Adderall. This high can last for several hours but wears off before the drug has completely left a person’s system.

When someone binges on methamphetamine, they may not realize how much strain they are putting on their mind and body. After the high, they will likely experience what is referred to as a “crash,” when exhaustion sets in. Their body may require them to sleep for an extended period of time to recuperate.

People may binge to maintain the high and avoid the crash as long as they can. This is very dangerous, as binging can increase the risk of an overdose. Taking too much methamphetamine at once can also cause death by stroke, heart attack, coma, seizure, or kidney failure. This is called an acute overdose.

A chronic overdose of methamphetamine refers to the negative physical and mental effects that can occur when the substance is abused for a long period of time. Some of these effects may not be reversible, even if a person stops taking methamphetamine. This is why it is important for someone to seek help as soon as possible when they recognize the signs of methamphetamine use in a loved one.

Regular methamphetamine use can turn into an addiction, a mental disease that compels a person to use a dangerous substance despite obvious negative consequences. The sooner positive action is taken toward overcoming addiction, the more hope someone has for a complete recovery.

Treatment For Methamphetamine Abuse And Addiction

Many drug rehab centers work with individuals to ensure affordable care and to create a treatment plan that suits their unique needs. Addiction treatment programs may use a variety of therapies like individual and group counseling, support groups, and behavioral therapy to explore and transform negative thoughts and behaviors.

Some outpatient addiction treatment programs are intensive, requiring a significant portion of time spent in treatment. However, it allows people struggling with methamphetamine abuse to live at home, which can make it hard for them to stay substance-free. An inpatient drug rehab program takes a person out of their normal environment and immerses them in a supportive community. This new perspective is often necessary for a person to truly break free from addiction.

To learn more about methamphetamine abuse and treatment, contact us today.

National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Methamphetamine Overdose

NIDA - What is methamphetamine?

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