Signs and Symptoms of Meth Addiction

Methamphetamine (also known as meth, crystal, or ice) is an extremely addictive drug that can be swallowed, smoked, injected, or snorted. It can come in the form of white or yellowish powder, crystals, or a pill, and has been labeled a Schedule II drug by the United States DEA. Often called the most dangerous drug in the world, the effects of meth can last for varying amounts of time, depending on the amount that a person uses; often users “binge” on meth, or use a great deal in a short period of time, which can lead to hours upon hours in which a person goes without eating, sleeping, or resting. Meth causes its effects by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can induce the pleasurable rush associated with this drug. The ability of meth to quickly release dopamine in the pleasure and reward center of the brain can quickly lead a casual user to become addicted to these pleasurable sensations.

However, with proper support, rehab, detox, and treatment programs, those who are addicted to meth can learn the skills needed to kick the habit and lead a normal, happy, and sober life.

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In 2008, the United States government reported that approximately 13 million people over the age of 12 have used methamphetamine; nearly 600,000 of those people are regular “tweakers,” (or meth users).

Causes and Risk Factors of Meth Abuse

Addiction to methamphetamines and other drugs is not thought to be the result of a single risk factor; rather it is the complex interplay of genetic, physical, and environmental risk factors working together. These include:

Genetic: The development of an addiction to methamphetamine may be attributed to genetic factors. Variations in the different types of genes can increase or decrease one’s level of risk or resistance to developing an addiction to any kind of substance, and meth is no exception.

Physical: When people use meth, their brain experiences a surge of dopamine which leads to an intense sense of pleasure and a prolonged sense of euphoria. The longer that a person abuses meth, the more the level of destruction that occurs in one’s dopamine receptors increases. As a result, the brain has difficulty feeling the sensations of pleasure, which explains why chronic meth abusers develop the need to increase the amount of the drug that they intake.

Environmental: The environment in which a person lives can have an impact on whether or not he or she begins to use methamphetamine. People who live in an area in which there is high population of meth abuse are at greater risk for experimentation with meth. Similarly, if people have a tumultuous home life or experience a lot of family and relationship discord, they may be more likely to develop an addiction to methamphetamine as a means of escaping from the reality of their daily lives. People may also use meth as a way to self-medicate if they are suffering from symptoms of other illnesses, including both medical and/or mental illnesses.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of drug use
  • Family history of crime
  • Abusing other substances
  • Pre-existing mental illness
  • Peer pressure
  • Location in which a person lives (meth abuse is more prominent in some areas of the country than it is in others)

Signs and Symptoms of Meth Abuse

It’s important to note that not every person who uses methamphetamine will exhibit the same signs and symptoms. The signs and symptoms of meth abuse will vary based upon individual genetic makeup, presence of other drugs in the system, co-occurring mental health disorders, and length of addiction. Typical signs and symptoms that a person using meth may possibly exhibit include, but are not limited to:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Chaotic behavior
  • Physical aggression
  • Sudden bouts of hyperactivity
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Social withdrawal
  • Criminal activity
  • Engaging in repetitive activities (such as disassembling and reassembling things for no apparent reason)
  • Incessant talking
  • Excessive sweating

Physical symptoms:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeplessness
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Increase in body temperature
  • Involuntary muscle contractions
  • Uncontrollable twitching
  • Facial tics
  • Unusual or foul body odor

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory
  • Difficulty learning
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Poor judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Psychosis
  • Severe depression
  • Paranoia
  • Fearfulness
  • Mania
  • Loss of interest in things one used to be interested in

Effects of Meth Abuse

The effects of meth abuse will vary from person to person depending on the extent and length of abuse. The following are examples of effects that can occur from abusing meth:

  • Social isolation
  • Broken relationships
  • Job loss
  • Long-lasting cognitive impairment
  • Significant changes in appearance, including:
    • Rotting teeth
    • Poor hygiene
    • Graying skin
    • Acne
    • Open sores on the skin
    • Dramatic weight loss
    • Hair loss

People who inject the drug also put themselves at risk for contracting diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. And tragically, extensive meth abuse can result in death.

If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

When people addicted to methamphetamine stop using the drug, the levels of dopamine in their brain decrease, leaving them at risk for suffering from various physiological withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms can include:

  • Substantial weight gain
  • Hypersomnia (increased need for sleep)
  • Increased depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of ability to experience pleasure
  • Complete physical exhaustion
  • Intensified cravings

It is reported that, due to the fact that the withdrawal from meth can be difficult and painful, approximately 93% of people who participate in treatment will end up abusing the drug again.

When people use the drug in large amounts, the side effects may become so severe that it leads to an overdose. Some signs that a person may be experiencing an overdose of meth can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Kidney failure
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • The stopping of one’s heart
  • Falling into a coma

If a person experiences these symptoms, they should immediately be treated by a medical professional. The results of a methamphetamine overdose can be fatal.

Co-Occurring Disorders

It is not uncommon for a meth addict to be suffering from other forms of mental illnesses as well. Some examples of co-occurring, comorbid mental disorders that have been linked to the use of meth include:

  • Abuse of other drugs or alcohol
  • PTSD
  • ADHD
  • Dementia
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
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