Signs of Meth Use

Methamphetamine causes dramatic changes to behavior and appearance. People who use meth usually act anxious, depressed and unpredictable. They also develop noticeable side effects, such as sores, sunken eyes and rotten teeth.

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Methamphetamine causes a more intense high than most other recreational drugs. The high comes at a price, though. The effects of meth are accompanied by side effects that can ruin a person’s life.

Signs of meth use are difficult to hide. They may include:
  • Psychological side effects such as violent or reckless behavior.
  • Physical changes to appearance, such as skin sores or tooth decay.
  • Financial and legal problems associated with drug use.
  • The presence of paraphernalia, such as glass pipes, aluminum foil or used needles.

Repeated meth use often leads to addiction, a disease that makes abstaining from the drug difficult. If people don’t quit using meth, their health can quickly deteriorate.

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Effects of Meth

The initial effects of meth can be described as euphoric or exhilarating. Compared to cocaine and most other recreational drugs, meth remains in the brain longer and releases more dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that affects mood and energy.

In low doses, meth causes happiness, focus and wakefulness. But these effects are accompanied by negative ones. The side effects of meth can ruin a person’s high and cause a range of health problems.

In large doses, meth can cause serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke. A meth overdose can cause permanent organ damage and death.

Short-Term Side Effects

The side effects of meth can differ depending on the method of use. For example, smoking crystal meth may cause breathing problems, and snorting meth may cause nasal issues.

Short-term side effects of meth use include:
  • Increased body temperature
  • Fast heart rate
  • Quick breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Decreased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions
  • Aggression

The high caused by meth often makes the person unaware of or unconcerned about the side effects of the drug. People who go on meth benders — using meth repeatedly for several days — may go days without eating because of the drug’s effects on appetite.

Long-Term Side Effects

Meth damages the body each time it’s consumed. Some types of internal damage occur regardless of how the person uses meth. Over time, meth abuse leads to serious health problems.

Long-term side effects of meth include:
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Vision problems
  • Meth mouth
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Dependence
  • Addiction

Meth addiction is one of the most serious side effects of methamphetamine. Addiction causes changes to the brain that make it difficult for a person to quit using meth. It drives continued meth use, which leads to further health problems.

Long-term meth use can also cause psychosis. Meth-related psychosis can cause hallucinations, delusions and paranoia, according to a 2014 article published in the journal CNS Drugs. Some people who hallucinate after using meth believe they have bugs under their skin. These hallucinations are sometimes called meth bugs, crank bugs or meth mites.

Mixing meth with other drugs, such as smoking meth and weed, can make the psychological side effects and crash from drug use more intense.

According to a 2015 study published in BMJ Open, adolescents who combine meth and marijuana experience more widespread problems related to memory, planning and reasoning than youth who abuse meth alone.

It’s always a bad idea to use an illicit drug in an attempt to counteract the effects of another illicit drug.

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Warning Signs of Meth Use

People who use meth are often unpredictable. In some situations, they may be vulgar and violent. It’s important to know when friends, family members or others are using crystal meth so you can be cautious around them.

To determine if someone is on meth, look for these warning signs:
  • Appearing extremely agitated or irritable
  • Acting more aggressively or violently than usual
  • Going several hours or an entire day without eating
  • Picking at skin, pulling on hair or twitching

It’s unwise to try to communicate with someone who is on meth. If you’re trying to convince someone to quit using the drug, it’s best to wait until the person is sober.

Appearance Changes

People who use drugs are less likely to take care of their personal hygiene. Their appearance usually changes because they aren’t eating healthy, bathing consistently or sleeping regularly. Meth use also causes specific changes to appearance.

People who use crystal meth may experience the following appearance changes:
  • Burns on their lips or fingers
  • Injection marks, also called track marks, on their arms
  • Rotting teeth and inflamed gums
  • Swollen or inflamed eyes
  • Meth sores or scratches on the skin
  • Weight loss
  • Thinning hair

Individuals who use meth are often aware of the changes to their appearance. They may try to avoid smiling, wear long sleeves or avoid eye contact to conceal the changes.

Meth Paraphernalia

Finding items that are commonly associated with meth use can also indicate that someone is abusing the drug. Meth is usually smoked, snorted or injected. Using the drug leaves a dark residue that may be found on common household items.

Meth paraphernalia can include:
  • Glass pipes, empty pen casings or broken light bulbs
  • Aluminum foil, aluminum cans and spoons
  • Needles or syringes
  • Belts or makeshift tourniquets

Ingredients for making methamphetamine can be found in nail polish remover, paint thinner, cleaning products, fertilizers and cold medicines. Finding these items in a suspicious place may indicate that someone is trying to make meth.

Symptoms of Meth Addiction

It’s possible to use meth recreationally. However, regular or repeated use usually leads to meth addiction. The drug changes how the brain works, making it nearly impossible for people who are addicted to stop using meth without medical intervention.

Symptoms of meth addiction include:
  • Cravings for meth
  • Memory loss
  • Attention problems
  • Loss of self-control
  • Feelings of hopelessness

People who quit using the drug often experience meth withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, fatigue and cravings, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The presence of withdrawal symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean a person is addicted to meth. Most people who use the drug feel some form of withdrawal during the crash after meth use. But if someone is using to avoid withdrawal, the person is probably addicted to the drug.

Treating the Effects of Meth

Many side effects of meth use and addiction are treatable. Meth addiction treatment is the most important step toward overcoming health problems caused by the drug. Once a person learns to live without meth, several side effects will stop occurring.

A 2010 study published in the journal Addiction concluded that depressive and psychotic symptoms caused by meth went away within one week of sobriety. Most other withdrawal symptoms faded within two weeks. However, strong cravings persisted for the entire five-week study period.

Studies funded by NIDA have found that some types of brain damage caused by meth heal within two years of abstinence. However, some areas of the brain didn’t recover after 14 months of abstinence, which suggests some effects of the drug are long-lasting.

Organ damage caused by an overdose may be irreversible, and most people in recovery from meth addiction are always at risk for relapse.

Health professionals may be able to treat some other side effects of meth, such as meth sores, meth mouth and thinning hair. A proper diet, dental care and skin treatment can reverse some effects of meth use. However, some scars will likely remain on the skin. And many people with meth mouth end up requiring major dental repair procedures and dentures.

The high caused by meth may be unrivaled, but the side effects are equally unparalleled. The signs of meth use are difficult to hide. Over time, the warning signs become more apparent and the health problems become more severe. The sooner people seek medical help, the earlier they can stop the damage to their body.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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