Methamphetamine Addiction: Effects, Detox & Treatment
What Is Crystal Meth?
Crystal meth is a powerful, addictive stimulant that is made and sold illegally. Commonly smoked, snorted, or injected, this drug is a type of amphetamine, and looks like pieces of glass or shiny bluish-white shards.1 Methamphetamine is also sold in powder form.
Why Is Meth So Addictive?
Meth is highly addictive, in part, because it causes excessive levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in feelings of reward and pleasure in the brain. When a person uses meth, the immediate rush of dopamine results in an intensely euphoric experience that reinforces drug-taking behavior.1
Meth’s effects generally come on quickly and the high is relatively short-lived, often fading before the drug has left a person’s system.2 This may prompt a “binge and crash” pattern of use. People who use meth may also engage in what’s known as a “run,” or a multiday drug binge with little to no food or sleep.2
How to Know if Someone Is Using Meth
If you think your loved one is using meth, you may be feeling all kinds of emotions, including fear and anxiety. You may be unsure and wonder whether they are casually using or engaged in regular or daily use.
When a person uses meth, it has some immediate short-term effects including:3
- Increased wakefulness and physical activity.
- Decreased appetite.
- Rapid/irregular heartbeat and faster breathing.
- Increased blood pressure and body temperature.
With increased methamphetamine use, certain types of behaviors may emerge such as:4
- Abrupt changes in mood and emotional response (mood swings).
- Psychosis (including altered perceptions, false beliefs or delusions, and hallucinations).
No matter how many of these behaviors they might display, it is not up to you to diagnose them. They must be assessed by a trained and qualified physician or substance abuse treatment provider to determine the severity of the situation and best course of action.
Signs of Meth Addiction
Most doctors refer to the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, which outlines the main criteria for a meth addiction, clinically referred to as a stimulant use disorder. These signs and symptoms include:5
- Meth cravings.
- Using meth in greater amounts or more frequently than intended.
- Giving up hobbies and activities once found pleasurable to use meth.
- Inability to fulfill home, school, or work obligations, due to meth use.
- Devoting a lot of time and resources to get and use meth.
- Increased social or familial conflict over meth use.
- Using meth despite its effect on existing physical or mental problems or the development of new ones.
- Recurrent use of meth in risky situations, such as driving while intoxicated.
- Repeated unsuccessful efforts to reduce or quit meth use.
- Developing a tolerance to meth, requiring increased amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effects.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when meth use is stopped or significantly reduced.
If a person meets two or more of these criteria in a 12-month period, then a physician or specialist may diagnose the person with a stimulant use disorder and recommend professional treatment.5
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Meth Addiction?
The long-term effects of crystal meth can be very harmful to a person’s health. These long-term effects may include:1, 6
- Cardiac issues, including cardiomyopathy, heart attacks, and hypertension.
- Cognitive impairment, including memory and attention problems.
- Psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions.
- Weight loss.
- Mood disturbances.
- Skin sores.
- Severe tooth decay, also called “meth mouth.”
The Dangers of Methamphetamine
Meth is a dangerous drug, and its use can have devastating consequences. In addition to the cardiac issues mentioned above, chronic users have an increased risk of stroke, which can cause irreversible brain damage or death.6 Heavy meth use has been linked to increasingly deteriorating social and occupational functioning. Long-term use can result in lasting damage to the brain’s dopamine and serotonin systems, which likely contributes to cognitive and emotional deficits seen in many people who use meth. And many heavy meth users experience psychosis while intoxicated and sometimes during withdrawal, and this psychosis can persist, with episodes recurring weeks and even months after someone last used. .4
Because there is a propensity for engagement in risky sexual behavior and intravenous drug use among meth users, another concern is the risk of contracting diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C.
Stimulant-related deaths have been steadily rising over the past 20 years.4 This is due in part to the growing presence of fentanyl (a powerful synthetic opioid) in the illicit methamphetamine supply. Between 2019 and 2020, overdose deaths from meth and similar types of psychostimulants increased 34%.4 And more than 50% of all recent methamphetamine overdoses in the U.S. involve opioids, especially synthetic opioids like fentanyl.7
An overdose is a medical emergency. If you suspect someone is experiencing a meth or other type of overdose, seek immediate medical attention and call 911.
Methamphetamine Withdrawal & Detox
Detoxification, or detox, is the process by which a drug leaves a person’s body.8 When a person stops using meth, he or she may experience symptoms of withdrawal. While these symptoms are unpleasant, they are rarely life-threatening. However, withdrawal symptoms may lead to relapse. Chronic, heavy meth users can undergo episodes of intense depression during the first few days of withdrawal that increase the risk of self-harm.9
Therefore, unlike substances such as alcohol where heavy users require close medical monitoring during withdrawal, the detoxification process for meth is generally less complicated even if supervision is needed to ensure a person doesn’t relapse or harm themselves.9
Nonetheless, people in withdrawal from meth can benefit from support and supervision at a professional treatment center.
How Long Does Meth Withdrawal Last?
The timeline for meth withdrawal varies from one person to another, depending on factors such as frequency and extent of use.4 For many people, meth withdrawal symptoms will develop within a few hours to a day or two after the last use. These symptoms usually resolve within several days after they appear, but certain symptoms, like depressed mood and fatigue, may linger for weeks.5, 9
In rare cases, certain symptoms may persist even longer.4 The period of depression associated with meth withdrawal is more prolonged and may be more varied in intensity than withdrawal from other stimulants like cocaine.9
Symptoms of Meth Withdrawal
As mentioned above, the risk of medical complications related to meth withdrawal is low, but the symptoms can be uncomfortable. These symptoms may include: 4, 9
- Increased appetite.
- Lack of concentration.
- Mood swings.
Withdrawal symptoms from other types of stimulants are similar to those experienced during a meth withdrawal. However, certain withdrawal symptoms from methamphetamine may be more severe and prolonged than withdrawal from cocaine or prescription stimulants.4
One of the biggest concerns associated with meth detox is the potential for depression that can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.4, 9 As such, patients should be closely monitored for this risk.
Coping With Meth Detox
Because the risk of medical complications during detox is generally lower than it is with other substances, clinicians tend to treat withdrawal from meth and other stimulants less aggressively and without the use of medication.9 However, a medical detox program can still offer people going through meth withdrawal important psychiatric help and a safe, supportive environment that is likely not associated with people, places, or things that may trigger relapse.9
People withdrawing from meth may be extremely sleep-deprived and will often sleep for long periods in the initial days of detox. As a result, they may not benefit from rehab activities during the first 24–36 hours.9
It is important to understand that detox is just the first step in the process of long-term sobriety and follow-up treatment is vital to sustained recovery from a substance use disorder.9, 10
Rehab and Treatment for Meth Addiction
There are many ways to treat addiction, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.10 Generally, medical detox, followed by an inpatient or outpatient program, mark the beginning of a person’s journey to long-term recovery and abstinence.9
The choice of inpatient vs. outpatient treatment should be determined by a doctor’s evaluation, considering various factors like:9
- Overall physical health.
- Presence of co-occurring mental health issues.
- Risk of relapse.
- Severity of meth use.
- Supportive home environment.
How to Get Into Rehab for Meth Addiction
Most people who are looking at addiction treatment have questions about what to expect in treatment and what rehab is like. Our admissions navigators are available around the clock (at ) to review available options and walk through the process of getting admitted.
Our trained staff can also talk to you about how to pay for rehab. Per stipulations set forth by the Affordable Care Act and other healthcare equity laws, most insurance companies cover addiction treatment to some extent.
To learn more about what your specific insurance plan may cover, please fill out the quick and confidential form below.
Sunrise House Treatment Center in New Jersey offers different levels of care in a beautiful and tranquil environment. Your specific course of treatment will be tailored to your unique needs, following a thorough assessment upon arrival.9, 10
While every program is different, most effective and evidence-based rehab programs, like Sunrise House, provide a combination of treatment and therapies, including behavioral therapy in a group and/or individual setting, and address any co-occurring mental health issues.10
Various facilities will also cater to specific patient populations. For example, Sunrise House offers specialized treatment for veterans and for LGBTQ patients.
Regardless of how severe you believe your or your loved one’s meth use is, know that addiction is treatable, and there is hope for recovery.10