Methamphetamine is an addictive drug that has energizing (stimulant) effects. It can be found in pill form or as a white-colored powder. As a powder, it can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected.
Crystal methamphetamine is generally pale blue in color. It looks like fragments of glass or rocks. It’s smoked using a pipe.
Meth produces an intense high that comes on and fades quickly. Coming down can cause difficult emotional and physical symptoms, such as depression and insomnia. As a result, meth addiction often follows a pattern of bingeing on the drug for several days at a time, followed by a crash.
Read on to find out more.
Meth is very potent, even in small quantities. Its effects are similar to those of other stimulant drugs, such cocaine and speed. Side effects include:
- feeling exhilarated
- feeling confident and empowered
- dulled or “blunted” emotions
- increased sexual arousal
- increased sociability
- increased aggression
- bizarre behavior
- lack of social awareness
- increased alertness and wakefulness
- increased blood pressure
- increased body temperature (hyperthermia)
- increased breathing
- lack of appetite
- racing or otherwise irregular heartbeat
- increased physical activity and fidgeting
- lack of inhibitions
Dependence and addiction aren’t the same.
Dependence refers to a physical state in which your body is dependent on the drug. With drug dependence, you need more and more of the substance to achieve the same effect (tolerance). You experience mental and physical effects (withdrawal) if you stop taking the drug.
When you have an addiction, you can’t stop using a drug, regardless of any negative consequences. Addiction can occur with or without physical dependence on the drug. However, physical dependence is a common feature of addiction.
What causes addiction?Addiction has many causes. Some are related to your environment and life experiences, such as having friends who use drugs. Others are genetic. When you take a drug, certain genetic factors can increase your risk of developing an addiction.
Regular drug use changes your brain chemistry, affecting how you experience pleasure. This can make it difficult to simply stop using the drug once you’ve started.
The signs of addiction can vary depending on which substance is used. There are general warning signs of addiction, though, regardless of the substance. Signs you have an addiction can include the following:
- You use or want to use the substance on a regular basis.
- There’s an urge to use that’s so overpowering it’s difficult to think about anything else.
- You need to use more of the substance to achieve the same effect (tolerance).
- You take more of the substance or take it for a longer period of time than intended.
- You always keep a supply of the substance.
- You spend money on the substance, even when money is an issue.
- A lot of time is spent obtaining the substance, using it, and recovering from its effects.
- You develop risky behaviors to obtain the substance, such as stealing or violence.
- You engage in risky behaviors while under the influence of the substance, such as driving or having unprotected sex.
- You use the substance in spite of the risk it poses or the problems it causes.
- You try and fail to stop using the substance.
- You experience symptoms of withdrawal once you stop using the substance.
Your loved one might try to hide their addiction from you. You might wonder if it’s drug use or something else, such as stressful job or time in their life.
The following can be signs of addiction:
- Changes in mood. Your loved one experiences drastic mood swings or depression.
- Changes in behavior. They may develop secrecy, paranoia, or aggressive behavior.
- Physical changes. Your loved one may have red eyes, lost or gained weight, or developed poor hygiene habits.
- Health issues. They may sleep too much or not enough, have a lack of energy, and chronic illnesses related to drug use.
- Social withdrawal. Your loved one may isolate themselves, have relationship problems, or develop new friendships with people who use drugs.
- Poor grades or work performance. They may have a lack of interest in school or work. They may experience job loss or receive poor performance reviews or report cards.
- Money or legal problems. Your loved one may ask for money without a logical explanation or steal money from friends or family. They may get in legal trouble.
The first step is to recognize any misconceptions you might have about substance use and addiction. It’s important to remember that ongoing drug use changes the brain’s structure and chemistry. This makes it more and more difficult to simply stop taking the drug.
Learn more about the risks and side effects of substance use disorders, including the signs of intoxication or overdose. Look into treatment options to suggest to your loved one.
You should think carefully about the best way to share your concerns. If you’re considering staging an intervention, remember that it won’t guarantee a positive outcome.
Although an intervention may motivate your loved one to seek treatment for an addiction, it could also have the opposite effect. Confrontation-style interventions can sometimes lead to shame, anger, or social withdrawal. In some cases, a nonthreatening conversation is a better option.
Make sure you’re prepared for all possible outcomes. Your loved one might deny having a problem at all or refuse to seek help. If that happens, consider seeking out additional resources or find a support group for family members or friends of people living with addiction.
Asking for help can be an important first step. If you — or your loved one — are ready to get treatment, you may find it helpful to bring a supportive friend or family member into the fold. They can help you start the path to recovery.
Many people start by making a doctor’s appointment. Your doctor can assess your overall health by performing a physical exam. They can also refer you to a treatment center and answer any questions you may have.
Talk to a doctor or other medical professional for a recommendation. You can also search for a treatment center close to where you live. Try the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. It’s a free online tool provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Ongoing meth use can lead to mild to severe withdrawal symptoms once you stop taking the drug.
Meth withdrawal symptoms can include:
- red, itchy eyes
- decreased sexual pleasure
- depressed mood
- difficulty sleeping
- increased appetite
- lack of energy and fatigue
- lack of motivation
Research has shown that methamphetamine withdrawal follows a predictable pattern. Symptoms first appear within 24 hours after the last dose. These symptoms peak after 7 to 10 days of abstinence. They then disappear within 14 to 20 days of abstinence.
Detoxification (detox) is a process aimed at helping you stop taking methamphetamine as safely and as quickly as possible. Detox can also help ease withdrawal symptoms.
Before you begin detox, you’ll undergo an initial assessment and screening tests for other medical conditions. Your doctor will use this information to help minimize your risk for drug interactions or other complications during detox.
When the drug is completely out of your system, your doctor will help you prepare for treatment.
Treatment begins once detox ends. The goal of treatment is to help you lead a healthy life without using meth. Treatment may also address other underlying conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety.
There are several treatment options available for meth addiction. Sometimes, more than one is used at the same time. Your treatment plan may include one or more of the following:
CBT addresses the learning processes underlying drug addiction and other harmful behaviors. It involves working with a therapist to develop a set of healthy coping strategies. Studies have found that CBT is effective at reducing meth use, even after only a few sessions.
CM interventions for meth addiction typically offer incentives for continued abstinence. You may receive a voucher or other reward in exchange for drug-free urine samples. The voucher’s monetary value increases the longer you go without using meth.
Although research shows that CM interventions reduce meth use, it isn’t clear whether this continues once treatment has ended.
Other common behavioral therapies include:
- individual counseling
- family counseling
- family education
- 12-step programs
- support groups
- drug testing
There are some promising medical treatments for meth addiction currently in development.
According to evidence from early clinical trials, anti-methamphetamine monoclonal antibodies may reduce and slow the effects of meth in the brain.
Another medication for meth addiction, ibudilast, may reduce some of the pleasurable effects of meth.
Naltrexone may also be helpful in treating meth addiction. This drug is used to treat alcohol use disorder. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in Neuropsychopharmacology found that naltrexone reduces meth cravings and changes former meth users’ responses to the drug.
Meth addiction is a treatable condition. Although treatment outcomes are comparable to that of other chronic conditions, recovery is an ongoing process that can take time.
Treat yourself with kindness and patience. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it. Your doctor can help you find support resources in your area.
Relapse is a common part of the recovery process. Practicing relapse prevention and management techniques can help improve your chances of recovery in the long term.
The following can help you reduce your risk of relapse over time:
- Avoid people and places that make you crave meth.
- Build a support network. This can include friends, family, and healthcare providers.
- Participate in meaningful activities or work.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, a balanced diet, and regular sleep.
- Care for yourself first, especially when it comes to your mental health.
- Alter your thinking.
- Develop a positive self-image.
- Plan for the future.
Depending on your unique situation, reducing your risk of relapse might also include: