Meth Abuse & Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & Dangers
Methamphetamine (meth) is a stimulant with a high addiction potential that affects the central nervous system.1 Meth—also referred to as glass, crank, ice, speed, tweak, and crystal—comes as a pill or white powder, whereas crystal meth is in a solid form that looks like glass or shiny rocks that are bluish in color.2 Meth may be “cut” or mixed with dangerous chemicals or substances, such as fentanyl.3
Meth can lead to various short- and long-term effects, including overdose and addiction.1 In 2021, roughly 2.5 million people aged 12 and older in the United States reported using meth, with 1.6 million people having a methamphetamine use disorder in the United States.4
Continue reading to learn more about meth and meth addiction. This page will cover topics such as:
- Addictive properties of meth.
- Signs of meth use and addiction.
- Symptoms of methamphetamine use disorder (meth addiction).
- Risks of meth use.
- Treatment for methamphetamine addiction.
Meth Misuse and Addiction
Meth can be taken orally, intranasally (snorted), intravenously injected, or inhaled through smoking.1 When a person uses meth, the brain releases high amounts of dopamine. This rapid release of dopamine in the brain can make a person want to use meth again to achieve the same euphoric effects.1
Long-term meth use can lead to difficulty experiencing pleasure without the presence of meth, which can lead to further methamphetamine abuse.3 The brain changes can lead to impaired motor speed and verbal learning, as well as problems with emotion and memory.3
Although the course of addiction is different for everyone, it is possible for people exposed to meth to develop symptoms of a stimulant use disorder in as little as one week.5 However, the onset of meth addiction does not always occur this quickly.5
Signs of Meth Use & Addiction
While there are common signs of meth abuse, the signs and behaviors can vary. For some, the signs may be more severe and noticeable by others. There are different symptoms and signs of meth addiction, ranging from mental/psychological and behavioral to physical changes. For example, people high on meth may present with incoherent speech, and report ringing in their ears (tinnitus), paranoid thoughts, and auditory or tactile hallucinations.5 They may also experience emotional changes, including depression and irritability, during meth withdrawal.5
In addition to other diagnostic information and exams, medical professionals use the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) to diagnose substance use disorders (SUDs), including methamphetamine use disorder. This list is not exhaustive but provides a starting point for things to look out for if you believe a loved one might be using meth.
The DSM-5 criteria says that meth use must cause “clinically significant impairment or distress.” In addition, the person must display at least two of the following symptoms within a one-year period:5
- Meth is taken in larger quantities or for a longer duration than initially intended.
- There is a strong desire to reduce or stop using meth, or there have been unsuccessful efforts to cut back or stop using meth.
- A lot of time is spent using meth and in activities related to using (e.g., finding meth and recovering from its effects).
- Craving or an intense urge to use meth.
- Continued meth use results in a failure to complete responsibilities at work/school or home.
- Meth use continues despite experiencing frequent or repeated social problems.
- Because of meth use, important social, work, or leisure activities are stopped or reduced.
- Meth use occurs in situations that are physically dangerous, such as operating a vehicle or heavy machinery.
- Meth use continues despite the person knowing that meth is causing or worsening a physical or psychological problem.
- Needing higher quantities of meth to feel the desired effect or having a significantly lessened effect when using meth in the same amount (tolerance)
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when meth use is reduced or stopped or taking meth to avoid meth-related withdrawal symptoms.
Other potential signs of meth and crystal meth use and addiction include changes in appearance—specifically, dental changes, skin marks due to scratching, rapid speech—and/or finding meth-related paraphernalia (e.g., pipes, needles).6
Dangers of Methamphetamine Abuse
Meth’s effects can have serious and dangerous consequences on a person’s physical and mental health. In addition to increasing brain activity, meth also increases activity in other bodily systems.6 Some short-term effects of meth include:1,3
- Euphoria or intense pleasure.
- Heightened attention.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Increased blood pressure, breathing rate, and body temperature.
- Decreased fatigue and appetite.
Chronic meth use has several long-term physical and mental health effects, including:1,6
- Significant weight loss.
- Dental problems.
- Skin scores from scratching.
- Structural and functional brain changes.
- Heart damage and increased risk for cardiovascular problems.
- Paranoia or extreme distrust of others.
- Memory loss.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Violent behavior.
When crystal meth use is decreased or stopped, people can experience meth-related withdrawal symptoms. To avoid withdrawal symptoms, a person may return to meth use. Withdrawal symptoms from meth may include:1
- Decreased energy.
- Intense cravings for meth.
In addition to the short- and long-term effects of meth misuse, the danger of overdose is a serious risk. Sometimes, dangerous substances are mixed with meth without the person’s knowledge and can increase the risk of overdose.1 When a person mixes meth with other drugs like alcohol (a depressant), the effects do not cancel each other out. Instead, one substance may mask the effects of the other and can make it easier to overdose.7
Getting Care for a Meth Addiction
Although meth is highly addictive, treatments for crystal meth abuse are available. While detox may be part of the treatment plan, it is not treatment by itself; however, it may play a critical first step in a treatment plan.8 There are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat methamphetamine use disorder; behavioral therapies are the most effective treatments available for meth addiction.3
Some common substance use interventions include:3,8,9
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is commonly used in the treatment of SUDs. CBT helps patients identify situations that may increase substance use and learn to cope with those situations.
- Contingency management (CM), a behavioral intervention that provides immediate reinforcement (e.g., incentives) to increase target behaviors (e.g., a negative drug screen). The patient does not receive incentives if the target behavior does not occur. CM has the most empirical support for its efficacy in treating people with stimulant use disorders. Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery is an effective approach based on applying incentives to encourage abstaining from meth.
- Motivational interviewing (MI) is an evidence-based approach that is often used in treating patients with substance use disorders. Although the results on MI as an effective approach for meth addiction are mixed, it does appear to be related to abstinence and treatment retention.
- Mutual-help strategies can be an important component of treatment for crystal meth addiction by helping people build healthy support systems and participate in healthy activities. Attending 12-Step meetings, such as Crystal Meth Anonymous, is a frequently used mutual-help strategy.
Treatment can vary in duration, setting, and format. Treatment can occur in an inpatient or residential setting, as well as an outpatient setting where people regularly attend scheduled appointments with their treatment provider.8 Treatment is often delivered in either individual or group format but may involve family therapy as well.8 Regardless of the type of treatment, addiction treatment should be individualized to meet the needs of the patient, including those not related to substance misuse.10
If you are concerned that you or a loved one are addicted to meth, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is here to help you learn more about meth addiction treatment. Contact AAC at to find out what treatments are available, payment options, insurance coverage, and more.