Causes & Effects of Meth Addiction

Understanding Meth Addiction

Learn about meth addiction and abuse

Methamphetamine is an extremely dangerous substance to abuse. Also commonly referred to as meth or crystal, this illicit drug can cause a person to become addicted to it after just a few uses. Additionally, because meth consists of highly toxic substances, an individual’s health and other aspects of life can be severely damaged if he or she becomes dependent upon this drug.

Whether a person snorts, smokes, or injects meth, the high experienced is intense. Sensations of euphoria and pleasure overcome the individual’s body and a surge of energy results after he or she consumes this drug. Once these effects fade, a person is likely to experience withdrawal symptoms and powerful cravings for more meth, and may resort to extraordinary measures to acquire and use more of this substance. With increased use, an individual may spend a great deal of time ingesting meth in larger amounts in order to achieve the high that is desired. After a short while of this pattern of increased usage, a person can find him or herself in the throes of a meth addiction, or methamphetamine use disorder, which often requires professional interventions in order to overcome.

Fortunately, there are effective options for care that can help men and women free themselves from the grips of meth addiction. In choosing to seek treatment, the devastating effects of prolonged meth abuse can be decreased and allow those battling meth abuse to live fuller, richer, and healthier lives.


Meth addiction statistics

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, as much as 5 percent of the population of the United States has used meth at least once. Researchers have determined that more than one million men and women have abused methamphetamine in the past year, with nearly half of a million of those individuals having abused meth in the past month. Also, more than 100,000 emergency room visits each year are attributed to the abuse of meth.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for meth addiction

For close friends and loved ones, it may be unclear as to why or how a person they care about has come to abuse this perilous substance. Research suggests the following causes of meth abuse:

Genetic: Experts have discovered certain clusters of genes that may make a person more vulnerable to meth abuse at some point in life. Additionally, addiction experts have concluded that when a person has a family history of meth abuse, other substance abuse, and/or mental illness, there is a high likelihood that that individual will also struggle with similar concerns.

Environmental: Researchers strongly believe that an individual’s environment can impact whether or not meth abuse will occur. Exposure to meth or other substance use, ongoing stress, living in an impoverished area, or residing in an unstable home environment can all contribute to the development of a meth addiction. Lastly, addiction experts widely believe that if a person associates with peers who use and distribute methamphetamine are probable to abuse meth as well.

Risk Factors:

  • Being Caucasian American
  • Personal history of trauma
  • Exposure to ongoing stress and chaos
  • Lack of coping skills
  • Poverty
  • Family history of meth abuse and addiction
  • Family history of mental health conditions
  • Personal history of other substance use
  • Personal history of mental health conditions
  • Being of younger age

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of meth addiction

An addiction to meth can drastically affect how a person looks and behaves. Depending on the severity of the addiction, the following signs and symptoms of meth abuse may or may not be obvious to others:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Continuing to abuse meth after experiencing negative effects from prior use
  • Spending a great deal of time acquiring, using, or recovering from meth use
  • Being unable to control one’s meth use
  • Attempts to borrow or steal money in order to acquire meth
  • Obsessive, repetitive behaviors
  • Acting with uncharacteristic energy
  • Prioritizing meth use over time spent with family and/or friends
  • Poor performance at work
  • Frequent absences from work
  • Being deceptive about one’s activities and whereabouts

Physical symptoms:

  • Scabs and sores on face, arms, and other body parts
  • Increased heartrate
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Gum and tooth damage and decay
  • Experiencing tolerance
  • Experiencing withdrawal
  • Weight loss
  • Poor hygiene
  • Hypertension
  • Increased pulse

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Disorientation
  • Memory problems

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic shifts in mood


Effects of meth addiction

Seeking treatment for a meth addiction is imperative. If care is not sought, the below listed effects are likely to occur and decrease an individual’s overall quality of life:

  • Deterioration of relationships
  • Family discord
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Loss of bone density
  • Weakened immune system
  • Hepatitis B or C
  • Legal problems leading to incarceration
  • Financial distress
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Lung problems
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Loss of muscle tissue
  • Suicide attempts
  • Brain damage
  • Drastic changes in appearance

Dual Diagnosis

Meth addiction and dual diagnosis

Abusing methamphetamine can trigger the onset of certain mental health disorders or worsen existing symptoms. Clinical professionals refer to the presence of multiple disorders as dual diagnosis. People who develop methamphetamine use disorder may be at increased risk for the following disorders:

  • Gambling disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Having additional disorders can complicate your recovery from meth addiction. Unfortunately, many people who need dual diagnosis help don’t realize they’re struggling with multiple disorders. For these reasons, it’s important to get help at a center that can thoroughly assess your needs and provide dual diagnosis programming if necessary.

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of meth withdrawal and overdose

Effects of meth withdrawal: Because long-term abuse of meth can cause an individual’s body to become dependent upon this substance, a person must continue to abuse it in order to go about daily functioning. However, if an individual stops using this substance, the following symptoms and effects of withdrawal will emerge:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Fatigue
  • Intense cravings for meth
  • Anger
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Paranoia

Effects of meth overdose: One of the very real dangers associated with meth abuse is overdose. An overdose on methamphetamine occurs when an individual ingests more of this substance than his or her body is able to safely manage, which then causes the person’s body to respond with a series of symptoms and warning signs. If any of the following overdose effects appear following the use of this dangerous drug, emergency medical attention should be sought after as quickly as possible:

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Respiratory distress
  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Increased body temperature
  • Rapid heartbeat

Additional Facts

How is methamphetamine made?

The most predominant method to make methamphetamine are based on ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, chemicals found in over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines. There are two primary ways of converting ephedrine and pseudoephedrine: the red phosphorous (Red-P) method and the Nazi or Birch method. Since the only thing that differentiates ephedrine from methamphetamine is a single oxygen molecule, both these methods are relatively simple to perform.

  • The Red P method utilizes red phosphorous, which is found in the striking pad of matchbooks. Depending on the recipe, red phosphorous is combined with iodine or hydriodic acid.
  • The Birch method combine ephedrine or pseudoephedrine with anhydrous ammonia (a liquified fertilizer), lithium (a metal extracted from lithium batteries), sodium hydrozide (lye), and toluene (pain thinner or camping fuel). The Birch method has become particularly popular because of its simplicity, requiring less technical knowledge and because of the potency of the final product.

Start to finish, the cook process takes from four to 12 hours, depending on the availability of pure material. However, the process is extremely hazardous because heating the solution produces toxic fumes and the chance of explosion, posing significant environmental and health risks. Although cooking meth is a relatively simple and inexpensive process, a lack of chemical knowledge puts the cook and anyone else nearby at serious risk of injury.

How does methamphetamine work?

Meth affects three major brain chemicals: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Over time, meth can damage brain cells that contain dopamine and serotonin, which is why people experience severe negative effects after the high wears off.

Dopamine is a chemical messenger involved in the control of physical movement, thinking, motivation, and feelings of pleasure or reward. Meth interferes with dopamine removal so that dopamine continually stimulates your brain’s receptors.

Norepinephrine controls our body’s “fight or flight” response. By inhibiting the re-uptake of norepinephrine, meth increases heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.

Serotonin allows us to sleep, controls movements and balances emotions. A person using meth becomes irrational, easily excited and unable to rest or sleep for extended periods of time.

How do people get high on methamphetamine?

Meth abuse ranges from low-intensity use (swallowing and snorting meth to stay awake) to high-intensity meth abuse (which includes binging), when users focus their own life on preventing the crash after the high. Depending on the level of abuse, there are six common ways people obtain a high from meth.

  • Snorting. Snorting is the most common method of taking meth, although this can injure nasal tissue and lead to nose bleeds and permanent damage to the nasal structure. Users feel the effects 3-5 minutes after snorting.
  • Swallowing. Meth can be placed in a drink, gel caps, or parachuted (placing meth in a piece of toilet paper and swallowing it). Drugs are absorbed more slowly through the gastrointestinal tract, so it takes 20 to 30 minutes to feel the effects. Although this method carries the lowest risk, contaminants in the drug may cause vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems.
  • Smoking. When smoked, Meth reaches the brain in about 6 seconds–twice as fast as when injected. Meth geos directly into the lungs before entering the left side of the heart, where it is then pumped to all areas of the body and brain. Although smoking produces an intense euphoric rush or “flash”, it also irritates the lungs, causing breathing difficulties and coughing.
  • Injecting. Like heroin, meth can be injected directly into the veins, although this practice comes with the risk of developing infection, abscesses, HIV and Hepatitis. Users typically feel the effects after 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Hot rail. A meth hot rail is the method of using a glass tube to snort meth. The glass stem is heated until the tip is red hot, placed over a small pile (“bump”) or line of meth, and the vapor is inhaled through the nose. The effects come on after 7-10 seconds. As with snorting, the vapor can irritate the nasal passages and the vapor can also cause lung damage.
  • Booty Bump. Meth is dissolved in water, and a syringe without the needle is used to “bump” the solution into the rectum where it is absorbed by the blood vessels in the delicate lining of the rectum. Users can feel the effects in 10-15 seconds. Booty bumping has a high risk for damaging the mucous membranes, burning or tearing of the tissue in the rectum, which increases risk of HIV transmission.

What should I not mix with methamphetamine?

Alcohol and other depressants. Since alcohol and methamphetamine have opposite effects, it takes longer to feel the effects of either alcohol or meth, even though the drugs are working in the body. This skews your ability to gauge when to stop using, which can result in overdose. Alcohol and meth also increase blood pressure and heart rate more than meth alone, placing a greater burden on the heart.

Stimulants. Because cocaine, ecstasy and prescription stimulants (Ritalin, Adderall) have such similar effects to meth, mixing these will have increased strain on the heart and place you at the danger of heart attacks, stroke, psychosis and other symptoms of overdose. Mixing stimulants further reduces inhibitions and increase sex drive, leading to unprotected sex and risk of HIV.

Heroin and other opioids. Mixing opiates with meth is an extremely dangerous because meth delays the rush from heroin and users end up taking too much and overdosing. Since opioids slow down the heart and meth speeds up the heart, the mixed messages to your heart can cause dangerous heat rhythms and possible heart attacks.

Marijuana. Although some people use marijuana to lessen the symptoms when coming down from meth, the combination can make some people feel more paranoid. For those who already have a mental illness like schizophrenia, marijuana can make symptoms worse.

Prescription Medications. Prescription medications such as SSRIs, tricyclic antidepressnats, MAOIs and other antidepressants can cause dangerously high blood pressure, overheating, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure when taken within the same two weeks as meth. You should always discuss the risks with your doctor.

What are the short term effects of methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine’s effects are similar to cocaine but its onset is slower and the duration is longer. Although a high from meth can last from 4 to 12 hours, the residual effects may last as long as 12 to 24 hours. The symptoms of meth use occur in a cycle, starting with the rush and ending with re-use or withdrawal.

The “rush” is the initial response to meth, which includes

  • Euphoria and feelings of exhilaration
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure, breathing, and body temperature

This is followed immediately by the “high”, which builds upon previous symptoms.

  • Feelings of confidence and invincibility
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Talkativeness
  • Increased attention
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased sex drive
  • Sweating and body tremors
  • Performing repetitive, meaningless tasks
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

In order to prolong the pleasurable sensations of meth, users take as much as a gram of meth every 2 to 3 hours over a period of 3 to 15 days, a process called “binging”. By taking a second hit before the first dosage has been metabolized, users flood their bodies with meth, placing them at high risk for liver and kidney damage.

The fourth stage is called “tweaking”, a condition reached at the end of a drug binge when methamphetamine no longer provides a rush or a high. This is the most dangerous period of the cycle, as the user has not slept in 3 to 15 days and is irritable, paranoid, and often violent. Symptoms during the tweaking stage include

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Convulsions
  • Cravings
  • Aggressive and violent behavior
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Intense itching
  • Insomnia or the inability to sleep

Teaking is followed by one to three days of severe depression and cravings called a “crash”. Symptoms of a crash occur because your body’s dopamine stores are depleted.

  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • Long period of sleep

After the crash comes the “hangover”, a deteriorated state of normalcy which lasts 2 to 14 days.  If the person does not use again, he or she may experience symptoms of withdrawal, the last phase, which can last another week.

What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine?

Meth has many long-lasting effects, both physically and psychologically. Physical long-term symptoms affects almost every body system. They include:

  • Skin lesions or abscesses from injection
  • Tooth decay and “meth mouth”
  • Stroke and seizures
  • Lung disease, kidney damage and  liver damage
  • Heart diseases and damage to blood vessels
  • Repeated infections, sexually transmitted diseases (HIV) and Hepatitis B or C
  • Severe weight loss
  • Loss of motor skills
  • Tolerance

Meth can permanently alter how the brain processes memories and emotions. Psychological symptoms include

  • Damaged nerve terminals in the brain
  • Prolonged anxiety, paranoia, and Insomnia
  • Psychotic behavior, violence, auditory hallucinations and delusions
  • Mood swings
  • Delusional behavior
  • Parkinson’s disease from the depletion of dopamine
  • Psychosis
  • Severe depression and suicide
  • Addiction

What are the overdose effects of methamphetamine?

Overdose may progress from mild to fatal. The most emergent symptoms include heart attacks, stroke, and overheating. Signs of possible overdose include

  • Profuse sweating and hot flushed skin, indicative of high fever
  • Chest pain, indicative of heart attack
  • Rigid muscles and tremors, which may lead to seizures
  • Extremely high blood pressure and heart rate
  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Mental confusion
  • Acute kidney failure
  • Severe dehydration, which may lead to shock and coma

How long does methamphetamine stay in my system?

Compared to other drugs, meth stays in the system for a long period of time. Half of meth is removed from the body between 10 to 12 hours, so it takes substantially longer for all of it to leave.

The following are estimations of how long meth can stay in your body:

  • Sweat: 2 hours to a week
  • Blood: 24-48 hours
  • Saliva: 1-2 days
  • Urine: 1-4 days
  • Hair: months to years after meth use

How long do the effects of methamphetamine last?

Generally, the effects of meth can last between 4 to 12 hours, although the residual effects after the high may last up to 24 hours.  The length of effects depends on dosage and tolerance level. Long-term users have to take larger doses of meth to feel the effects.

The method of ingestion does not have a significant impact on the duration of effects, but it influences the type of high a user gets. For example, injecting or smoking meth produces an instant rush of euphoria. The intensity is not as great as when snorting or eating, although the effects of snorting or eating typically last longer.

How much methamphetamine can I take before risking overdose?

The amount of methamphetamine it takes of overdose depends on the weight of the user, their general health, personal metabolism, tolerance, and the purity of the meth itself. Because of this, it is really difficult to know the exact amount of meth it takes to overdose.

Unlike other drugs, methamphetamine overdose is begins subtly such as a high blood pressure or high temperature and rapidly progresses to lethal conditions such as a stroke or heart attack. Because of the rapid onset, death can occur suddenly and unexpectedly.

How do I know if I’m addicted to methamphetamine?

Below are common signs of addiction:

  • Needing more of the meth to achieve the same effect (tolerance)
  • Hiding or lying about using meth
  • Unable to cut down or stop meth use
  • Spending more money than you have on meth
  • Continuing to get high despite the problems using meth causes
  • Depending on meth to relax or enjoy yourself
  • Neglecting daily responsibilities
  • Others have expressed concern about your meth use
  • Feelings of guilt when using meth

Can methamphetamine kill you?

Sudden death from methamphetamine alone is uncommon, since users combine meth with other lethal drugs. Common abuse doses are between 100-1000 mg a day and chronic binge use can be as high as 5000 mg a day.  Experienced users can withstand up to a thousand times the initial amount, and death is most likely to befall inexperienced users.

The indirect and long-term complications of methamphetamine result in irreversible effects that destroy the vitality, strength, and health of both mind and body.  Although a single use may not cause death, the indirect consequences of meth use leads down a slow and declining slope towards hopelessness and destruction.

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