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Crystal Meth Side Effects: Signs & Symptoms Of Methamphetamine Use

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Cravings, tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal are major signs of methamphetamine abuse. Under the influence, a person may also have excessive energy, not sleep, and not eat.

Crystal Meth Side Effects: Signs & Symptoms Of Methamphetamine Use

Individuals who abuse methamphetamine expose themselves to many risks, including severe addiction, mental health problems, and overdose.

When a person abuses this potent stimulant drug they may have bursts of energy and not sleep for days at a time. As meth abuse becomes compulsive a person may begin to ignore their health, relationships, and job.

Crystal meth is only one type of illicit methamphetamine. Methamphetamine comes in two forms, as an illicit or illegally made version and as a prescription medication for ADHD or obesity called Desoxyn. Of these, illicit meth is far more potent.

Illicit meth may be found as a liquid, powder, or rock. In addition to crystal meth, methamphetamine is also referred to as glass or ice. Methamphetamine is also in an illegal combination drug called yaba that contains meth and caffeine.

Knowing the signs, symptoms, and side effects of methamphetamine abuse can help a person spot a potential problem. By identifying these signs, a person can take steps to get themselves or their loved one the help they need.

Methamphetamine Abuse Signs And Symptoms

When a person first begins abusing meth they may be able to hide certain signs of drug abuse. As abuse becomes more frequent and transitions to addiction, however, it can be very difficult to hide major signs of methamphetamine abuse, including:

  • methamphetamine tolerance: The dose of meth a person is used to taking does not create the rush or euphoric feelings they seek.
  • methamphetamine cravings: Urges to find and use meth become frequent and intense, to the point they begin to overshadow other thoughts and important responsibilities in a person’s life.
  • methamphetamine dependence: A person’s body begins to rely on regular doses of meth and struggles to work in a normal way without it.
  • methamphetamine withdrawal: When a dependent person suddenly quits taking meth or reduces their dose by a large amount they develop withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

As a person develops tolerance, cravings, and dependence they will likely begin to take higher and/or more frequent doses of meth. Many people continue to take the drug as a way of avoiding uncomfortable meth withdrawal symptoms.

The combination of these behaviors can push a person to addiction and expose them to dangerous side effects caused by methamphetamine abuse.

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As meth abuse moves closer to and into addiction, a person’s behavior will commonly change as the drug becomes one of the most important things in their life.

At this time, a person may also exhibit the following signs and symptoms of methamphetamine abuse or addiction:

  • Meth is taken in higher and/or more frequent doses than a person intended on.
  • A person finds they cannot stop or reduce their meth use, even if they want to or have tried multiple times to do so.
  • Significant portions of a person’s life are lost to meth abuse or feeling poorly from taking it.
  • Problems at home, work, or school develop due to patterns of meth abuse.
  • Meth abuse continues even though it’s damaging important relationships.
  • As a person uses meth more frequently, hobbies or activities that were once important or pleasurable become less important or completely overlooked.
  • Taking meth leads to risk-taking behaviors, such as unsafe sex.
  • A person uses meth in spite of the damage it’s doing to their mental health.

Methamphetamine Paraphernalia: How Meth Is Abused

People who want to intensify their high may change the way they use meth. This is common in people who have become tolerant to the drug’s effects.

When meth is abused a person must have certain equipment or paraphernalia to use the drug.

Paraphernalia is any item that is used to make, hide, transport, prepare, or use meth. These items are commonly stored together in a case or bag and may be concealed in an individual’s personal space, such as their bedroom, bathroom, or vehicle.

Paraphernalia for injecting or shooting meth includes:

  • spoons that are burned from heating and liquifying the drug
  • needles or syringes
  • belts, rubber tubing, or shoelaces that are used as a tourniquet to prepare veins for injection
  • cotton balls or cigarette filters for filtering the drug
  • alcohol for dissolving the drug in
  • alcohol or surgical swabs for cleaning the injection site

Paraphernalia for smoking meth:

  • a glass pipe, bowl, or stem
  • a water pipe
  • burned or scorched aluminum paper
  • burned pop or beer cans
  • a lightbulb that has had the metal based removed
  • butane or torch lighters

Paraphernalia for snorting meth:

  • rolled up paper or dollar pills for snorting the drug
  • cut-up straws
  • hollowed out pens
  • razor blades
  • credit cards
  • a mirror or other flat surface with a powdery residue on it

People who cook their own meth may have an elaborate set up to make the drug. This could include hot plates, glass containers, metal pots and pans, and plastic tubing.

A meth house may have blacked out windows. There may be nail polish remover, cold medicine, and other chemicals used to make meth inside of it.

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While a meth lab doesn’t necessarily mean a person is abusing the drug, it can be a sign of abuse. Meth labs are very toxic and hazardous environments. Meth can be extremely flammable and explosive.

If a person believes they have found a meth lab, it’s critical that they don’t touch anything and notify the police. Surfaces and items in the building, such as curtains, walls, and furniture may be contaminated with toxic chemicals.

Methamphetamine Abuse Short-Term Effects

When a person smokes or injects meth the drug creates an intense but brief rush or flash that lasts anywhere from five to 30 minutes.

When the drug is snorted or taken orally, a person will likely have longer-lasting euphoric feelings instead of a rush. These sensations could last up to half a day.

Meth’s stimulant properties cause the central nervous system and brain to speed up. As this happens, a person’s body and mind will work faster.

Methamphetamine causes visible side effects that can point to abuse, such as:

  • dilated pupils
  • dry mouth
  • energy surges
  • excessive sweating
  • excitability
  • headache
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • paranoia
  • sleeplessness
  • talkativeness
  • unpredictable behaviors

Taking meth can cause uncontrollable movements, such as jaw clenching. A person may also have the urge to carry out repetitive and meaningless tasks.

As the central nervous system is stimulated, an individual’s blood pressure, heart, respiratory, and temperature rates can rise. One of the greatest dangers of meth abuse is when these rates climb to dangerous and even life-threatening levels.

While an overdose from meth can happen to people who have used the drug for years, it can also occur after just one use. If this happens, a person may have convulsions, seizures, or a dangerously high body temperature, circumstances that can be deadly.

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Methamphetamine Abuse Long-Term Effects

Taking meth for an extended period of time may lead to weight loss and insomnia. In addition to these things, a person may also experience the following side effects and dangers of methamphetamine abuse:

  • aging from meth: Using meth for long periods of time may make a person look much older than they really are.
  • binging on meth: Meth is commonly abused in binges, that is, a person takes another dose as soon as the previous one begins to wear off. This can continue for several days. A person may go days without eating or sleeping during this time.
  • mental and psychological side effects of meth abuse: Long-term abuse of meth may lead to anxiety, confusion, delusions, hallucinations, mood disturbances, paranoia, psychosis, and violent behaviors.
  • meth mites: A person may have tactile hallucinations referred to as meth mites or crank bugs that create the sensation of bugs crawling on or under the skin.
  • meth mouth: Chronic meth mouth can cause major dental problems, including broken, missing, rotting, or black teeth.
  • skin problems from meth: People who have used meth chronically often have a poor complexion, chronic acne, and meth sores from picking at their skin.
  • signs and side effects of IV meth abuse: A person may have scars or track marks from intravenous (IV) injection of meth.
  • tweaking from meth: People binging on meth may not sleep for three to 15 days. At this time, a person may begin to tweak out and become unstable, violent, and move in an erratic way.

Getting Help For A Methamphetamine Addiction

Without treatment, a person may continue abusing meth to the point it causes long-term damage to their health.

Choosing an individualized addiction treatment program for meth addiction can equip a person with the skills they need to recover from this potent and dangerous drug.

Meth addiction may be treated in an outpatient or inpatient program, however, an inpatient drug rehab program for methamphetamine provides the most intensive level of care.

Residential treatment programs are also good options for people who are addicted to more than one substance or who need dual diagnosis care for a mental health problem.

Comprehensive treatment for methamphetamine addiction can help a person build a healthier, drug-free life.

Reach out to Addiction Campuses today for more information on meth addiction and treatment.

Center for Substance Abuse Research - http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/meth.asp

Center for Substance Abuse Research - http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/yaba.asp

MDedge Family Medicine - https://www.mdedge.com/familymedicine/article/66068/sores-arms

Mouth Healthy - https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/m/meth-mouth

National Institute on Drug Abuse - https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-methamphetamine

National Institute on Drug Abuse - https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine

PBS - https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/meth/body/

U.S. Forest Service - https://www.fs.fed.us/lei/dangers-meth-labs.php

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC
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