Table of Contents
What is Meth?
Methamphetamine belongs to a class of drugs called stimulants. Drugs classified as “stimulants” speed up the messaging systems between brain and body, resulting in feelings of confidence, energy, and alertness.
As a stimulant, meth is classified as a Schedule II drug by the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). Schedule II drugs are distinguished by their high potential for abuse and addiction. As such, tight regulations restrict use in clinical settings. Clinically safe doses of methamphetamine can be found in prescriptions for ADHD and weight loss.
The Effects of Meth
Crystal meth can be consumed through injections, snorting, smoking, and swallowing (pill form). Those who consume meth without a prescription are often attracted to the confidence and energy-inducing effects of meth.
Other “positive” meth side effects include:
- Feelings of increased sociability
- Loss of inhibition and confidence
- Arousal and energy
- Reduced fatigue and appetite
However, both short-term and long-term meth use can lead to incredibly damaging side effects. Some of these meth side effects reverse over time once a person has stopped their intake, but unfortunately – some never go away.
- Increased or irregular heartbeat
- Faster Respiration
- Decreased appetite
- Increased wakefulness and alertness
- Heightened physical activity
- Increased temperature and blood pressure
- Memory loss
- Sleep issues
- Severe weight loss
- Violent behavior
- Extreme dental issues (also known as “Meth Mouth”)
- Premature osteoporosis
- Problems with the lungs, liver, and kidneys
- Intense itchiness resulting in skin sores from scratching
- Psychotic symptoms (that can persist months to years after last meth use)
- Increased potential of contracting HIV, Hep C, or Hep B (from impulsive decision-making that can lead to the use of unclean needles and unprotected sex)
- Changes in brain function and structure that impact emotion, memory, verbal learning, coordination1
- May be at heightened risk for developing Parkinson’s disease2
Is Meth Addictive?
Meth is incredibly addictive and once addiction sets in, can be especially difficult to quit.
How Does Meth Affect Your Brain
Methamphetamine has a high potential for abuse due to how it interacts with our brains.
Our brains contain a structure called the limbic system – also known as the reward system – which regulates motivation, movement, and our experience of pleasure. As we complete actions that result in pleasure, our brains release dopamine, making us feel good and reinforcing the behaviors.3
This cycle of motivation and reward produces normal levels of dopamine. However, when we consume meth, our brains release huge dopamine amounts. While this rush of dopamine may feel good at first, it ultimately creates a dopamine hangover that leaves an individual feeling exhausted, depressed, and sometimes struggling with anhedonia (loss of the ability to feel pleasure.) With long-term use, people who chronically use meth may experience severe depression and suicidal ideation due to damage to the brain’s natural production of dopamine.
Paired with intense cravings, the meth hangover can prompt someone to take more meth to counteract the crash. Even once the “high” is gone, it still takes hours for our livers to remove the meth from our systems, so re-upping to avoid the crash can lead to life-threatening overdoses.
Because it releases enormous amounts of dopamine and results in incredibly euphoric and pleasurable feelings, methamphetamine hooks individuals through chemical and emotional pathways. For this reason, meth is one of the most addictive drugs available today
Statistics on Meth Abuse
Based on data collected by the US Department of Health and Human Services, between 2012 and 2018, the rate of overdose deaths from psychostimulants like methamphetamines increased 5-fold.4
Based on additional data collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, roughly 2 million people ages 12 and up use meth in any given year. SAMHSA also found that approximately 500 people try meth for the first time every day.5
It is vital to note the disparities in meth use across age and ethnicity. Alongside colleagues at the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), researcher Beth Han MD, Ph.D., MPH, found the highest rates of meth use in people between the ages of 25-54.6 Han and colleagues also found a dramatic increase in the rates of meth use for populations of American Indian and Alaskan Native descent.
Signs and Symptoms of Meth Addiction
Regardless of the drug, behavioral patterns and signs exist that can help identify someone stuck in the cycle of addiction.
These signs include:
- Prioritizing obtaining more of the drug, regardless of consequences
- Sacrificing responsibilities at work, school, or between friends and family
- Distancing from close relationships with friends and family members
- Experiencing less enjoyment from activities that once brought pleasure
- Consuming higher amounts to achieve the same high as before
- Setting goals to lessen or stop drug use but being unable to
- Experiencing withdrawal as you attempt to decrease the use
Additionally, signs of meth addiction include the long-term effects of chronic meth use. Some of the most evident signs of meth addiction include:
- Meth Mouth (rotten teeth and dental issues)
- Acne and scarred skin (often from intense itching and scratching)
- Very thin or having experienced extreme weight loss
- Visual or auditory hallucinations and extreme paranoia
- Extended insomnia (can sometimes last between 3-15 days)
- Jerky motions and an inability to stop moving
Signs and Symptoms of Meth Overdose
Methamphetamine is one of the easiest drugs to overdose on and accounted for roughly 15% of all overdose-related deaths in 2017.7 It’s partly so easy to accidentally overdose with meth due to the imbalance between the length of the high versus how long it takes to excrete all meth from the body.
Signs of a Meth Overdose
- Symptoms of a heart attack
- Symptoms of a stroke
- Symptoms of kidney failure (peeing less or excreting very dark urine)
- Trouble breathing
- Irregular blood pressure (high or low)
- High body temperature
- Extreme stomach pain
- Loss of consciousness
- Changes in personality and alertness
- Increased paranoia or delusions
- Extremely aggressive or hyper behavior
With a suspected meth overdose, emergency responders prioritize three areas:
- Increase and restore circulation of oxygen-rich blood to the brain (to prevent a stroke)
- Restore the flow of blood to the cardiovascular system (to prevent a heart attack)
- Analyzing and restoring functioning to vital organs (often involving the liver, kidneys, or lungs)
While no medications are currently approved to help people overcome meth addiction, a few medications prove helpful in case of an overdose.
If you’re admitted to the hospital with a meth overdose, you’ll likely be given naloxone, one of the most effective medications used to reverse overdoses. You may also be prescribed: anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines), alpha or beta-blockers (regulate heart rate and blood pressure), or antipsychotic drugs (for hallucinations or psychosis).
How Long Does Meth Stay In Your System?
Going through meth withdrawal can be mentally and emotionally challenging, and going “cold turkey” can lead to intense cravings that prompt life-threatening overdoses.
How Long Does the Meth High Last?
Part of the reason it is so easy to overdose on meth is because of how long it stays in our bodies versus the amount of time the individual feels high. Although the initial rush might only last between 5-30 minutes, and the peak high for up to another 16 hours – it often takes at least a day or two to fully cleanse all the meth from your system.8
What is the Half-Life of Meth?
While most stimulants can only be detected in a person’s blood for 4-6 hours, meth stays in circulation much longer. Although research varies regarding meth’s half-life, the accepted half-life is between 10-12 hours. This half-life means it takes roughly 10-12 hours for half the meth to be broken down by the liver and excreted through urine, taking about a day to clear meth from your system.
Factors that Affect Detection Time
A few variables influence how long it takes to digest and excrete meth from the body. These factors include:
- Healthy liver and kidney functioning
- Dose taken
- Time of day
- How the dose was administered (intravenous, smoking, swallowing, snorting)
- Individual physiology
There’s nothing you can do to clear meth from your system any faster. It takes the time it takes and only varies slightly depending on use.
Detecting Meth with Drug Tests
- Urine: typically detects meth between 1-4 days after last use. However, urine tests may detect meth up to a week after use for those who use meth chronically.
- Blood: can detect meth 1-3 days after last use.
- Saliva: can detect meth 1-4 days after last use.
- Hair: can detect meth up to 90 days after last use.
- False Positive Testing: Methamphetamine is used in clinical settings and is closely related to other medically approved drugs. For this reason, it’s critical to let test administrators know if you’re currently on any medications that could trigger a false positive. Medications that can trigger false positives for meth include Metformin, Trandate, Ritalin, Ephedra, OTC medications, and antidepressants.
Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms overlap with the adverse effects of meth abuse, which occur during the meth crash and hangover. Signs of meth withdrawal include:
- Suicidal ideation
- Psychosis (which can persist for months and years beyond last use)
- Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure)
- Paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations
- Anger, irritability, increased aggression
- Inability to concentrate
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
- Increased appetite
- Headaches and dizziness
- Intense cravings (can lead to relapse and overdoses)
It’s important to remember that while the symptoms of meth withdrawal are not life-threatening in the same way as withdrawal from opioids, benzodiazepines, or alcohol – support systems are critical. Those going through meth withdrawal may experience violent outbursts that hurt others or themselves and may overdose due to relapsing from overwhelming cravings.
Meth Addiction Treatment
Since there are currently no drugs federally approved for medication-assisted treatment, treating meth addiction primarily focuses on therapeutic practices.
Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care
Inpatient care can be helpful if you’re lacking a home environment free from triggers and are looking for a structured and supportive environment to learn coping mechanisms. On the other hand, if you have a strong support system and can’t leave your responsibilities, outpatient care provides an opportunity to go through recovery at a pace that fits your lifestyle.
Because there are no medication-assisted treatments for meth addiction, therapy is the most effective path to recovery. Most wellness clinics and physicians focus on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches patients to recognize triggers and learn healthier coping mechanisms for moving through challenging events and emotions.