Symptoms and Warning Signs of Meth Abuse
The extreme psychological and physical toll that meth takes on the body makes it one of the most dangerous drugs on the market. Meth deeply affects both a user’s brain and body, and these symptoms and warning signs are visible in a variety of ways.
One of the first symptoms of meth abuse is a sudden loss of interest in areas of life that were once important to the person. Hobbies, relationships, and career goals will all begin to take a back seat to getting and using meth. Initially, many people will attempt to hide their drug use, but the longer someone uses meth, the more prominent it becomes in their lives. Methamphetamine chemically alters how a user thinks and feels, which can make what was once a recreational drug activity a major life priority.
People abusing or addicted to meth will exhibit a variety of behavioral and physical symptoms. Some of the most common signs of meth use include:
- Twitching, facial tics, jerky movements
- Dilated pupils
- Noticeable and sudden weight loss
- Skin sores
- Rapid eye movement
- Reduced appetite
- Burns, particularly on the lips or fingers
- Erratic sleeping patterns
- Rotting teeth
- Outbursts or mood swings
- Extreme weight loss
Another telling symptom of meth use is “tweaking” – a period of anxiety and insomnia that can last for 3 to 15 days. Tweaking occurs at the end of a drug binge when a person using meth can’t achieve a rush or high any longer. Tweaking can cause psychological side effects, such as paranoia, irritability, and confusion due to the desperation to use again. Tweaking from meth can also cause people to experience hallucinations and become prone to violent behavior.
Another sign that someone is using meth is the crash phase. During this period, the body is deprived of the dopamine that meth was previously supplying and causes extreme exhaustion. A crash can last anywhere from 1 to 3 days and is characterized by long periods of sleep, intense drug cravings, and depression.
The Dangers of Meth
The serious health risks of using meth are widely known, yet many people still experiment with the drug. The euphoric rush that causes so many to use methamphetamine is caused by the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Meth is more dangerous than other stimulants because a larger percentage of the drug remains unchanged in the body and stays present in the brain longer. The drug is toxic to nerve terminals in the brain and meth can destroy the brain cell synapses where dopamine is released, causing mood disturbances and dependence on the drug. Prolonged meth use changes the brain chemistry of users, destroying the wiring in the brain’s pleasure center, and makes it increasingly difficult to experience any sort of pleasure without the drug. In addition to behavioral changes, chronic meth use can also cause irreversible damage to bodily systems and blood vessels in the brain, which can result in a stroke.
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Immediate Side Effects of Meth Use
The effects of meth can last anywhere from 8 to 24 hours, which is a relatively long time compared to other substances. Meth users will often stay awake for several days straight if they engage in binge use. During this time, users may experience any of the following negative side effects:
- Increased heart rate
- Chest pain
- Suppressed appetite
- Flushed or itchy skin
- Muscle twitching
- Raised body temperature
Another immediate risk of meth use is overdose. Heat stroke, heart attack, and seizures can occur if someone takes too much of the drug. If not treated immediately, an overdose can result in organ failure and possibly even death.
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Long-Term Health Effects of Meth Use
If meth abuse is continued over a long period of time, the brain begins to rely on its effects and creates a need for its use. This dependence can then turn into addiction — one of the most dangerous of all long-term effects of meth use. Other possible long-term health effects can be divided into physical and psychological categories.
The possible physical effects of chronic meth use include:
- Respiratory issues
- Heart disease
- Liver failure
- Blackened, rotting teeth
- Kidney failure
- Premature aging
- Birth defects
- Reproductive issues
- Skin infection
- High blood pressure
- Sudden cardiac death
The long-term psychological effects of meth use include:
- Impaired cognition
- Memory loss
- Anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure)
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The Dangers of Producing Meth
Meth is typically “cooked” or produced in makeshift home laboratories located in abandoned or rural areas. Makers of illicit meth synthesize the drug by isolating the elements of highly reactive products. The ingredients for meth are cheap and easily obtainable from any local drug store; the products range from lithium batteries to drain cleaner and the end product may contain as many as 32 different chemicals. Cooking meth produces toxic, flammable fumes and may result in chemical explosions. Houses used as meth labs are often inhospitable afterwards, due to the poisonous chemicals that are released when meth is made.
Meth labs are an environmental hazard; the byproducts of cooking meth contaminate their surroundings with harmful fumes that could combust at any time. Many people that cook meth suffer from severe health problems, including asthma, insomnia, tremor, and delusions. Even living in a residence that was once a former meth lab can be detrimental to an individual’s health, as residual chemicals can remain on surfaces in the home for months to years after.
Recognizing a Meth Addiction
Methamphetamine addiction can start to take over a person’s life in a very short period of time. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), an individual can be clinically diagnosed as having a meth use disorder if he or she meets more than two of any of the following criteria within a 12-month period:
- Using meth even in situations that are dangerous to the individual and/or others, such as overdosing or driving under the influence
- Neglecting professional, academic, or personal responsibilities
- Social or interpersonal problems caused by meth use
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit or not using meth
- Requiring more and more meth to get the same feeling (tolerance)
- Using larger amounts of meth for longer amounts of time
- Repeated failed attempts to control or quit use altogether
- Spending large amounts of time abusing meth
- Developing physical or psychological problems due to meth use
- Giving up activities in effort to use or get meth
- Experiencing drug cravings
If two or three of the criteria are met, the meth abuse disorder is considered mild. Four or five is considered moderate, and six or more is considered severe.
Find Treatment for Meth Addiction
Meth is a dangerous and highly addictive drug. If someone you know is exhibiting signs of meth abuse, it’s essential that you communicate the importance of getting professional help. Inpatient rehabs, therapy, and support groups can all help individuals struggling with a methamphetamine addiction achieve and maintain sobriety. If you’re ready to take that first step, contact a treatment provider today.