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Originally used as a decongestant and a treatment for obesity, abuse of the powerful drug methamphetamine soon surged to epidemic proportions. Addicts will take the drug any way they can: injecting, swallowing, snorting or smoking. And if they don’t find the help they need, a meth addict’s life can be destroyed by the nonstop cravings for more.

  • Drug Name Methamphetamine
  • Addiction Liability High
  • Scientific Name Methamphetamine
  • Street Names Beannies, Brown, Tweak, Speed, Yaba, Crink, Crank, Brown
  • Side Effects Increased Focus, Increased Energy, Increased Activity, Decreased Appetite, Euphoria, Increased Respiration, Rapid or Irregular Heartbeat, Hyperthermia
  • Psychological Dependence Very High
  • Physical Dependence Very High

Methamphetamine Addiction

The intensely potent stimulant methamphetamine, derived from amphetamine, unleashes a blast of pleasure that lasts an extremely brief amount of time. A myriad of users get hooked after just one hit. And once this relationship begins, meth will drag an addict down in a fast and merciless fashion.

While the drug has been around for decades, the last several years have seen an explosion in the drug’s availability and popularity.

“We’re in the middle of a methamphetamine epidemic,” said Jane Maxwell, a research director at the University of Texas at Austin, in 2015. Maxwell’s research shows that the drug is coming in from more sources, and is more potent, than ever.

crystal methamphetamine

Meth comes in several forms, often as a powder or a rock form – also known as crystal meth. The drug’s cheap cost and high short-term reward make it a popular choice for an increasingly young base of users. Treatment centers have seen a large rise in children and teenagers coming in for methamphetamine abuse.

The new average age of methamphetamine users is 19 years old.

“If the kids are getting it, that means it’s available on the streets and it’s not very expensive,” said Jack Feinberg, vice president of the Phoenix House, a Texas treatment facility.

For a small period of time, using meth (or “ice”) can reportedly make you feel like a million bucks. For some, it gives an instant boost of confidence and energy due to the immense rush of dopamine it releases in the brain. But the feelings subside after a matter of minutes, creating a need to repeat the experience. And before long the drug starts to take its toll, physically and mentally. Someone addicted to meth can stay awake for days at a time, unable to fall asleep and on the constant hunt for their next fix. This reckless lifestyle leads meth abusers into jail, or the hospital, at rates higher than most other drugs.

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You may be offered meth at a party or among friends, under the pretense that it will take your night to the next level. Be conscious of the fact that once someone takes meth, that very rarely ends up being the last time. The crash you feel after a meth high is likely to make you crawl back for more.

A co-worker asked me one day if I wanted to try it. She said it would make me feel good. I thought it couldn’t hurt to ‘just try it once,’ but I’ll tell you right now, I’ll promise you, I was addicted after that very first time.

Terri, recovering from meth addiction.

“I was on the verge of losing everything — my family, my job, everything that was important to me— all because I made the decision to ‘just try’ smoking meth one time.”

Signs and Symptoms

Meth addiction causes a drastic change in appearance, often making users unrecognizable in just a few weeks’ time. Skin infections, cracked teeth and severe acne can indicate an abusive methamphetamine habit, in addition to paleness and a disregard for personal hygiene. Before and after photos of people who develop a meth habit show this wear and tear on the body, which can appear to age them years or even decades.

In the worst stages of a methamphetamine habit, addicts tend to pick at their skin due to hallucinations of bugs – a symptom called “crank bugs.” This will cause sores and scabs all over their body. Following days at a time of no sleep, meth addicts may also develop a violent and unpredictable symptom called “tweaking.” While tweaking, an addict becomes extremely irritable and paranoid, making them a danger to themselves and others.

Some other signs of meth abuse include:

Repeated meth use can eventually destroy the dopamine receptors beyond repair, sending you into a prolonged state of depression.

If you notice someone showing a steady decline in their health and appearance, with bouts of worrisome behavior, methamphetamine may be to blame. Whether it’s you or someone you know who is using meth, it’s important to be aware of the severe side effects and risks involved.

Side Effects & Risks of Methamphetamine Abuse

Thousands of emergency room visits each year involve methamphetamine use and complications caused by the drug. Damage to the liver, kidney, lungs and brain result from regular meth use. Meth causes a number of deaths as well, both in long-term users and, in some cases, from a single use.

Other serious risks related to methamphetamine abuse include:

As a meth habit grows out of control, you can find yourself entering into increasingly risky behavior. Unprotected sex, and sex with multiple partners, is not uncommon among methamphetamine users. If taking the drug by injecting, you also open yourself up to the risks of needle use, including the transfer of HIV and AIDS.

In 2011, there were 103,000 methamphetamine-related visits to the ER.

Methamphetamine plays a role in a large number of pregnancies, which can result in babies being born with a form of addiction called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). According to one study, a majority of pregnant women reporting drug addiction are using methamphetamine.

Dependency sets in quickly with exposure to meth, and there’s no telling how bad it can get. Spotting a meth problem in its early stages provides the best chance for getting someone to the help they need before the drug takes everything from them.

Help and Treatment

Dependency on methamphetamine presents one of the biggest challenges to the drug treatment community. Addicts show a strong resistance to giving up meth and have a high rate of relapse in cases where they are able to achieve recovery. If they stand any chance of kicking the habit, though, a dedicated stay in rehab and a proper therapy program offer the best odds of success.


The intensity of withdrawal symptoms associated with meth addiction rival that of any hard drug, including heroin. After the drug wears off, damaged dopamine receptors and a host of other side effects create a paralyzing depression that, in the mind of a meth addict, can only be fixed with more of the drug. Cravings can make them extremely irritable and even violent.

Rehab facilities typically offer detox services, which allow an addict to wean off of methamphetamine under the close supervision of a medical staff. In case of any complications, doctors are close by to help. The process can take weeks or months, depending on the severity of the addiction.

Following a successful detoxification, the patient can move on to the next stages of rehab.


Behavioral therapies prove to be the most effective treatments for methamphetamine patients. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, also used in treating many other addictions, engages patients with a therapist who explores their reasons for abusing drugs and attempts to reshape their habits away from substance abuse. Contingency management, another popular treatment method, presents patients with a reward system for successful time spent clean from the drugs. By replacing meth in the addict’s mind with other incentives, the brain can gradually flush out the desire for meth as a reward.

A comprehensive approach called the Matrix Model shows a high success rate in curbing meth abuse. This approach, planned out over 16 weeks, combines behavioral therapy, individual counseling, family education, drug testing, 12-step support, and encouragement for non-drug-related activities.

The Matrix Model of psychosocial treatment currently is thought to be the most effective therapy for methamphetamine addiction. And CM (contingency management) has shown itself to increase the therapeutic effectiveness of treatments for other drug abuse disorders. Combining these two treatments gives us an even more powerful weapon against methamphetamine abuse.

Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)


A number of medications have been tested to combat the addictive properties of methamphetamine, but none of them has been approved by the FDA for this purpose.

Scientists offer evidence that antibodies, designed to bind to meth as it enters the body and prevent it from reaching the brain, may be the next best thing. Research on rats has shown the potential effectiveness of these antibodies in deterring users from abusing the drug.

“The goals of this project are to integrate antibody engineering and gene therapy technology to generate a long-acting antibody-based medicine that will both protect patients from relapse to meth use and minimize treatment failures associated with long-term patient compliance,” said lead researcher Dr. Eric Peterson

As of now, rehab and willpower remain the only proven tools in the fight against meth addiction.

Maintaining Recovery

The struggles of methamphetamine abuse can extend across a lifetime. Even after months spent in rehab, meth addicts relapse back into the habit at a higher rate than any other substance addicts. Maintaining recovery may require a vigilant and proactive routine that incorporates a number of positive lifestyle changes.

“Accountability and consistency (are) key,” said Fred Widman, director of Reliant Services, a certified drug treatment center.

Attendance at community support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, and regular meetings with a substance abuse counselor may be necessary supplements in keeping sober from a meth habit; some recovered addicts stay in counseling for the rest of their lives. Pushing through the challenges, including possible relapses, is paramount in overcoming a meth addiction. You may not break free from the habit overnight, but with enough patience and persistence, and by surrounding yourself with positive influences, you can conquer this debilitating disease.

I just have to want it, and I want it so bad this time. I know I can do it.

Kelly Adams, recovering from meth addiction after relapsing after 9 years sober

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