Methamphetamine was once a highly taboo substance, partly due to the success of the “Faces of Meth” campaign. However, it is now becoming more regularly used by teens and young adults who see meth as a fun “party drug.” It is important to understand what methamphetamine is and how dangerous this substance can be.
Forms of meth
Meth typically takes the form of a white crystalline powder and is ingested through snorting, smoking or shooting it. The drug is known by several slang names, including:
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive, illicit drug developed from its parent drug, amphetamine, both of which are classified as stimulants.
Stimulants affect the central nervous system and compared to its parent drug, amphetamine, meth is a much more potent stimulant. Like other stimulants, meth causes feelings of increased energy, alertness and a sense of euphoria, but is also incredibly addictive and dangerous.
What are the effects of meth use?
There are a host of both short and long term side effects of meth, ranging from intense euphoria to paranoia and agitation.
Short-Term Meth Effects
Immediately following meth use, the individual will feel a rush of confidence and happiness. They are also likely to experience less pleasant side effects, such as:
- Hallucinations and delusions;
- Surplus of energy and hyperactivity;
- Increased heart rate;
- Elevated blood pressure;
- Lack of appetite;
Meth can also cause a person to have potentially fatal convulsions. Users of crystal meth will experience a severe physical and mental crash after the stimulating effects of the drug wear off. Because the high from crystal meth is so addictive and the crash afterwards is so painful, people often become addicted to meth after the first use.
Long-Term Meth Effects
It’s important to note that because meth is highly addictive and wreaks havoc on the brain and body, the long-term effects of crystal meth can occur relatively quickly.
Mentally, long-term meth use can result in:
- Permanent brain damage.
Physically, people who use crystal meth experience:
- Extreme weight loss;
- Permanent damage to blood vessels of the heart and brain;
- High blood pressure;
- Increased risk of a heart attack and stroke;
- Damage to the liver and kidneys, and nasal passageways if snorted;
- Damage to the lungs, teeth and gums, if smoked.
In addition, someone who uses meth over a period of time will experience an increased tolerance to the drug. This means that they will require a larger dose in order to feel the same high. Because of this, users who attempt to quit, but then relapse, are at a higher risk of overdose.
Meth overdose symptoms
Like with any illicit substance, methamphetamine use can result in an overdose. Due to its potent stimulant effects, the most common cause of overdose death from meth is multiple organ failure. In these cases of overdose, the symptoms closely resemble those of heatstroke because the stimulant rapidly increases body temperature.
A meth users’ body temperature will increase due to a combination of muscular hyperactivity, increased metabolic demands and malfunctioning of the hypothalamus – the part of the brain responsible for regulating body temperature. To make matters worse, meth use causes a sharp increase in blood pressure, which can lead to further damage to the heart and blood vessels.
There are a number of overdose symptoms associated with meth use, including:
- Chest pain;
- Hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperature);
- Heart arrhythmias;
- Increased blood pressure;
- Difficulty breathing;
- Rapid heartbeat;
In cases where contaminants are present within the meth, users may suffer from liver or kidney damage. If this occurs, additional signs of an overdose can include:
- Severe abdominal pain;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Kidney failure;
- Unresponsiveness or coma.
If you suspect meth overdose, it’s important to contact emergency medical care immediately.
Withdrawal effects of meth use
The effects of meth withdrawal vary depending on how much and for how long meth was used. Generally, the longer a person has been using meth, the more severe the withdrawal process. There are two general phases of meth withdrawal, with the first phase beginning about 24 hours after the last use.
Initial withdrawal symptoms are typically the most severe and can include:
- Hallucinations and paranoia;
- Extreme fatigue.
Symptoms during the later phase of withdrawal (after the first week) may persist for several more weeks and can include:
- Less severe cravings;
- Sharp increase in appetite;
- Dramatic mood changes, or mood crashes resulting in depression or anxiety.
These feelings can last for several weeks, and anxiety can persist for months for some long-term users.
Coping with the effects of meth withdrawal
Meth withdrawal is often an extremely difficult process as it comes on quickly and is most intense during initial stages. Because of this, many people will quickly resort to meth use to alleviate their symptoms.
For this reason, it is often best to enter a medically-assisted detox program for professional and medical support.
How is a meth addiction treated?
The first step is usually medically-supervised detox as it is dangerous to attempt detox on one’s own.
After detox, most people need to seek ongoing support in the form of outpatient counseling. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends behavioral therapies, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management (CM) interventions, for meth addiction treatment.
Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches participants how to challenge negative thoughts and modify their responses to these thoughts. Contingency management relies on a reward system where participants receive incentives for abstaining from meth and participating in treatment.