Meth addiction is a pervasive drug problem that affects people in all demographics. If you or a loved one is abusing meth, it can be helpful to understand the signs and symptoms. These symptoms can let you know if addiction is an issue that needs to be treated.
What Is Meth?
Meth is the shortened name for crystal methamphetamine or crystal meth. It’s a chemical, synthetic substance that’s highly addictive and incredibly damaging to those who are addicted.
To understand meth and why its use is so widespread, you have to understand its storied history. Its origins go back to a natural stimulant, ephedrine, that’s extracted from the ephedra plant. This ancient Chinese medicine’s use goes back 5,000 years.
History of Methamphetamine
During the late 1800s, a Japanese scientist learned to make a synthetic version of ephedrine, and amphetamines, including methamphetamine, were born. By the early 1900s, another Japanese scientist used iodine and phosphorus to create ephedrine into a crystalized substance. This substance was the first crystal meth.
Amphetamines weren’t initially used as recreational drugs. They were first used in inhalers to treat asthma and as cold medicine. People didn’t need a prescription for amphetamines, and people started to use them for an energy boost. Pharmaceuticals saw their opportunity and began marketing it as a narcolepsy treatment.
During WWII, a German pharmaceutical company saw the potential of methamphetamines. Users got an energy and adrenaline boost, which could come in handy while fighting a war. The manufacturer started producing methamphetamines and marketed them to militaries. Soldiers on both sides used meth.
The 1950s saw the first recreational use of methamphetamines. The FDA noticed the harmful effects and made it prescription-only. By the 1980s and 90s, dealers were cooking meth in secret labs. Once ephedrine was no longer readily available, they began to use pseudoephedrine, a medicine used to treat sinus infections, which has since become unavailable as an over-the-counter medication.
Methamphetamine abuse is now widespread. According to a 2017 study, 1.6 million people reported using meth in the preceding year. It’s become an epidemic that shows no sign of slowing down.
How Does Meth Work?
There are several ways people can use meth. It can be snorted through the nose, smoked, swallowed as a pill, or dissolved into a liquid and injected intravenously.
What Makes Meth So Addictive?
There are a few reasons meth is so addictive. When someone takes meth, they get a surge of dopamine in their brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and hormone. It’s sometimes called the “feel-good” hormone because it gives people a sense of happiness, pleasure, and reward.
Dopamine on its own isn’t a bad thing. Many people get a dopamine rush from healthy activities, like exercising, winning a game, or spending time with loved ones. With healthy activities, the dopamine hit usually fades gradually.
With meth, the dopamine hit is initially powerful – much more powerful than a naturally occurring dopamine high. The high is short-lived, though, and the person usually crashes pretty quickly. There’s an instant desire to get that feeling back again, which encourages more drug use. It doesn’t take long for someone to become addicted because their body craves that dopamine hit.
When people use meth for prolonged periods, their brains get used to the drug, and it no longer has the same effect. They have to continually increase the amount they take to achieve a high. People will often go on meth binges or “runs” to keep a high going, which can be incredibly dangerous.
Signs and Symptoms of Meth Addiction
Unlike some other addictive substances, meth use leads to many obvious signs and symptoms. If someone is using meth, it’s usually very easy to tell. Meth causes both physical and psychological symptoms that you’ll need to look for.
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Meth Addiction
There are many physical signs that someone is addicted to meth. They’ll usually exhibit a least a few of these symptoms, but as time goes on, they’ll likely exhibit more and more physical symptoms since meth takes such a toll on their body.
During the early stages of meth addiction, a person may seem to be more hyperactive than normal. They may seem fidgety and prone to scratching. Their body temperature may be much higher, and they may have a higher libido. They’ll often go for long periods without sleep and then crash for 24 hours or more.
You’ll eventually see changes in their skin and teeth. They’ll get sores on their face, their skin will sag, and their teeth will begin to rot, a condition known as “meth mouth.” They may become very thin, and their immune system will suffer, making them more susceptible to getting sick.
When a person comes down from a binge, you might notice them tweaking. During this period, the person usually has trouble sleeping and may twitch uncontrollably. They may exhibit other tics and obsessive behavior. They’ll often forget to eat and drink.
Psychological Signs and Symptoms of Meth Addiction
One of the earliest signs of meth addiction is a change in interest. People will no longer take pleasure in their work, friends, hobbies, and other interests. Their attention will shift to getting their next hit, and as their addiction grows, they’ll lose sight of everything that was once important to them.
They may begin to fall behind at their school or job. They may opt not to spend time with friends and family, and they may no longer do any of the activities they used to do.
As addiction progresses, the person may become increasingly withdrawn. They may be paranoid, especially when questioned about the changes others have noticed in them. Meth users often exhibit symptoms of depression when they’re coming off a binge.
Signs and Symptoms of Meth Withdrawal
Since meth is such a powerful and addictive drug, it has some of the most intense withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal takes its toll on both physical and mental health. One of the biggest aspects of meth addiction treatment involves managing withdrawal symptoms.
One of the first signs of withdrawal is fatigue. Cognitive functioning is usually low, and the person may experience fever and sweating, stomach pain, and nausea.
Withdrawal can vary and is often affected by how long the person was addicted and their method of drug intake. Those who are injected will have a longer meth addiction recovery period.
Between days three and ten, meth addiction recovery is often at its worst. The cravings get intense, and the person may experience tremors and muscle pain. The fatigue gets worse. The person will likely experience depression and anxiety without the dopamine surges they’ve become accustomed to.
Around two weeks into meth addiction recovery, some of the most intense withdrawal symptoms will start to subside. While the person may feel better physically, they’ll likely be depressed and still craving the drug.
Long-Term Effects of Meth Use
Meth use can lead to many long-term health effects, even if the person has gone through meth addiction treatment.
Long-Term Physical Effects of Meth Use
Long-term physical effects of meth use may include meth mouth and scarring from the sores. They may also lose their appetite and experience frequent fatigue.
In some cases, the person can develop serious issues in their organs, such as heart failure.
Long-Term Psychological Effects of Meth Use
Meth causes an unnatural surge of dopamine in the brain. These high levels can have serious effects on a person’s memory, ability to learn new skills, and cognitive function.
Even years after taking meth, a person may still experience depression and anxiety. They may also still have intense cravings, but over time, and with the right meth addiction treatment, they’ll usually find it easier to resist the cravings.
Meth and Psychosis
Psychosis is often one of the scariest effects of meth use. Users can experience psychosis while using meth, and in some extreme cases, even long after they’ve stopped using. Over 1/3 of meth users experienced psychosis.
When a person develops psychosis as a result of meth use, they’ll usually experience paranoia and hallucinations. They’ll see things that aren’t there, usually things that are threatening them in some way.
For those suffering from meth-induced psychosis, they won’t notice that they’re experiencing it. The hallucinations will seem real. They’ll only feel frustrated that no one else sees what they’re seeing or that people won’t believe them. They’ll often be anxious and upset.
How Long Does It Take to Detox From Meth?
It can take several weeks for the symptoms of meth withdrawal to taper off. Because the symptoms are so intense and mentally and physically painful, those who are overcoming meth addiction will often relapse. Even after the physical symptoms have resolved, the person will often still experience depression and anxiety. A meth rehab program can help them to stay clean.
Overcoming meth addiction is a challenge that can take months or even years. It’s easy for former users to fall off the wagon, even if they’re committed to staying sober. A great meth addiction treatment program can help the person to resist their meth craving.
A meth rehab program can help people manage the symptoms of psychosis and hopefully eventually overcome them.
Meth Addiction Treatment
Meth addiction treatment focuses on treating the whole patient, including the physical and psychological symptoms of meth use and withdrawal. It also treats the conditions and mindset that led to the person to begin their drug use and helps them with overcoming addiction issues.
Cognitive behavioral therapy and 12-step programs are often the most effective at treating meth addiction. These programs help the patient understand the underlying causes of their addiction and how they can move past these causes to overcome their addiction.
Need Help With Meth Addiction?
If you or someone you love is struggling with meth addiction, we can help. We offer individualized programs designed to address a person’s unique situation. Patients meet for individual and group therapy. They also work with a medical team to help manage health issues associated with withdrawal.
If you’re ready to take back your life, contact us today so we can discuss meth addiction treatment.