Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.
Methamphetamine, or meth, is an illicit synthetic amphetamine/stimulant. It is highly addictive and can cause several serious side effects — both physical and mental — if abused long-term. Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally, and is often used with other substances.
Amphetamines stimulate the central nervous system (CNS). They increase levels of focus and awareness and boost heart rate, respiration, energy level, and other bodily activity. Amphetamines have many medical uses and are often used to treat ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, and narcolepsy. Some of the well-known prescription amphetamines include Adderall, Ritalin, and Dexedrine. Methamphetamine, Molly, MDMA, and ecstasy are some of the illicit ones.
Meth Use is Growing
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of fatal overdoses involving meth and other stimulants has increased nearly fivefold. According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 2 million people 12 years or older use meth in any given year, while about 500 people each day try meth for the first time.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) also says in 2021, an estimated 1.6 million people had a methamphetamine use disorder, and “32,537 people died from an overdose involving psychostimulants with abuse potential other than cocaine (primarily methamphetamine).”
How Does Methamphetamine Work?
Meth stimulates the release of endorphins (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) — the “feel good” neurotransmitters — to cause feelings of euphoria, alertness, energy, and pleasure. The high levels of dopamine make people want to continue to use meth. Repeated use causes tolerance, meaning a person needs to take higher doses more often to feel the same effects. Changes occur in brain structure and chemistry, and the dependence becomes full addiction. These changes may also cause or worsen mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, so beating a meth addiction involves more than just detox.
Symptoms of Methamphetamine Abuse
Meth abuse symptoms are more far-reaching than many people may realize, and the signs are both physical and psychological.
Physical symptoms of meth abuse include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heartbeat and respiration rate
- Elevated body temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle tension
The powerful effects of meth can easily cause a life-threatening overdose.
Psychological symptoms can include:
- Racing thoughts
- Altered sex drive/libido
- Erratic or aggressive behavior
Long-Term Effects Of Chronic Methamphetamine Use
Chronic meth use can cause damaging, long-term health effects like permanent damage to the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, or lungs, premature osteoporosis, severe dental problems, or high blood pressure (that can lead to heart attack or stroke). Certain mental health issues (paranoia, hallucinations, mood disturbances, delusions, or violent behavior) can sometimes last for months or years after using meth.
Methamphetamine & Co-Occurring Disorders
These psychological effects are often called co-occurring disorders (mental health issues that may result from substance abuse). The most common co-occurring disorders in meth users include:
The NIH has published studies that state co-occurring methamphetamine use and depression can interfere with treatment outcomes. The CDC says that of people who used meth last year, an estimated 57.7% reported some mental illness, and 25.0% reported serious mental illness during the past year.
Common risk factors can contribute to both addiction and mental disorders. Genetics and environmental factors, like stress or trauma, can influence both. Mental disorders can lead to substance abuse, as people use drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. Substance use can also contribute to the development of mental disorders. Substance use may trigger changes in brain structure or chemistry, making someone more likely to develop a mental disorder.
In either case, meth use worsens mental disorders in the long run and complicates treatment.
Treatment For Methamphetamine Addiction
Treating meth addiction is challenging — the sometimes severe physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms are major obstacles that make relapse common. Currently, there are no approved medications to treat meth addiction, but behavioral therapies can be effective.
The best way to treat addiction and any co-occurring disorder is to care for both at the same time. An addiction specialist can tailor treatment to the patient’s combination of disorders and symptoms. A combination of medically assisted detox and behavioral therapy programs is normally used. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, family counseling, addiction education, and peer support/12-step group programs are all effective.
The sooner someone receives help for meth abuse, the better their chances of achieving recovery. Meth is highly addictive, and the emotional and psychological factors make relapse likely. Individuals must remain in an addiction treatment program long enough to address the issues that caused the addiction, form new healthy habits, and master relapse prevention techniques.
We Can Help
Methamphetamine use and co-occurring disorders are complex issues that require a comprehensive approach to treatment. The good news is, with the right support, recovery is possible, and individuals can go on to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. By addressing the underlying mental health issues, it is possible to reduce the risk of relapse and improve the chances of long-term recovery.
Here at Into Action Recovery, we take pride in providing a high level of treatment and a holistic approach to recovery for those who suffer from addiction. Our counseling staff provides individualized treatment and care for our clients with an emphasis on tailoring treatment to the specific needs of each individual. Additionally, our staff provides family counseling, relapse prevention, life skills, and grief and trauma counseling.