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How Addictive Is Meth?

Medically reviewed by

John Schaffer, LPCC

March 29, 2019

Meth is an incredibly powerful and addictive drug. It is an estimated three times more intense than other stimulants such as cocaine. Meth addiction will likely require formal treatment to successfully overcome.

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance. This illegal substance is a central nervous system stimulant that can create an intense high. It can be snorted, injected, smoked, or eaten. Meth is commonly referred to as crank, crystal, glass, and ice on the street.

This drug can be incredibly dangerous. It is often “cut” with other drugs to allow sellers to make more money. Cutting methamphetamine with other substances can lead to a number of adverse side effects and potentially death.

Methamphetamine is abused by a number of people for varying reasons. Many people who abuse this drug do so for the intense euphoria it creates. Others may use the drug in order to accomplish more at work or school.

No matter the reason for taking the drug, abusing methamphetamine comes with the serious risk for dependence and addiction.

Why Is Meth So Addictive?

Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant made from amphetamine-like substances. Meth acts as both a stimulant and appetite suppressant. It is considered three times more powerful than cocaine and comes with a high risk of dependence.

Meth works by causing the brain to release large amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine. This can cause a quick and intense high. People often feel euphoric and have more energy and alertness on meth.

This high is one of the primary reasons people initially use methamphetamine. Many people are drawn to using the drug for the feelings of euphoria and grandiosity created by meth. However, after using the drug for a consistent period of time, meth can alter the brain’s reward system.

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When people use meth, the brain becomes accustomed to high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. Eventually, the brain will stop making these chemicals on its own and rely on meth to produce them. This can lead to dependence on the drug in order to function.

Additionally, with enough use, the brain will eventually become dependent on meth as a survival mechanism. This means that the brain feels that it needs meth to stay alive and functioning. When this happens, many people will continue to use the drug just to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

How Is Meth Used?

People can use methamphetamine in a number of ways. They can take it in pill form, snort it, inject it, or smoke it. When smoked, meth is referred to as crystal meth.

Injecting and smoking meth provide the fastest and most intense high. Many people who smoke or inject meth will feel its effects for anywhere between eight and 12 hours. When snorted or taken in pill form, the effects may last up to 12 hours with a less intense high.

What Are The Short Term Effects Of Meth?

Its effects are part of the main draw to use meth. Meth is known for its ability to produce excess “feel good” chemicals in the brain. Because of the increase in these chemicals, many people feel euphoric and energetic on methamphetamine.

Other common short term effects of methamphetamine include:

  • increased feelings of well-being
  • increased energy and alertness
  • irritability
  • decreased need for sleep
  • anxiety
  • behavioral changes including unpredictable behavior
  • decreased appetite
  • headache
  • increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • twitching
  • dilated pupils
  • upset stomach
  • dry mouth

The more a person uses meth, the more of a tolerance he or she will develop to the drug. This means that more meth will be needed to feel the desired effects. Using more meth repeatedly can contribute to its addictiveness.

What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Meth?

Using methamphetamine for an extended period of time puts people at risk for a number of adverse long-term effects. The longer a person abuses meth, the more severe the effects will be.

Some long-term side effects of meth include:

  • meth mites (feelings of bugs crawling on the skin)
  • meth sores (scabs from itching skin)
  • high body temperature
  • heart problems include heart attack
  • seizures
  • stroke
  • paranoia
  • psychosis, including hallucinations
  • mood swings
  • violent behavior
  • trouble sleeping
  • extreme weight loss and malnutrition

What’s more, chronic meth abuse can lead to changes in the brain structure and how it functions. This can result in changes in how a person learns and experiences emotions as well as have a lasting effect on motor skills. In fact, research has shown that up to 50 percent of a person’s brain cells responsible for making dopamine can be damaged from long-term meth use.

Methamphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms

Methamphetamine has a high potential for dependence and addiction. When the body and brain become dependent on meth, a person can experience withdrawal symptoms when not on the drug.

Withdrawal symptoms of methamphetamine can include:

  • drug cravings
  • extreme depression
  • anxiety
  • severe fatigue
  • symptoms of psychosis

The withdrawal symptoms experienced will depend on a number of factors, including how long and how much or the drug was used. Many people will need intensive treatment to successful detox from methamphetamine.

Getting Treatment For Meth Addiction

People who are addicted to meth will most likely need a formal treatment program to successfully overcome addiction. Methamphetamine is a powerful drug that can be incredibly hard to quit on one’s own.

A medically monitored detox program will likely be recommended to get the drug out of a person’s system. Detox programs can also provide medical support, such as medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms.

After a detox program, most people will go on to an intensive treatment program such as inpatient treatment. Inpatient programs offer daily and customized treatment plans to suit a patient’s unique needs and condition.

To learn more about the addictive nature of meth and treatment options for methamphetamine addiction, contact our treatment specialists today.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Methamphetamine

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Methamphetamine

Center for Substance Abuse Research - Methamphetamine

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