Methamphetamine, often known as “meth,” is an illicit drug commonly used because of its stimulating properties and easy availability. Long-term use of meth has negative effects on a person’s physical and mental health, and it can also lead to dependence on the drug. Dependence on meth may be severe enough to cause addiction, which is characterized by a person’s inability to stop drug use despite negative impacts on their life.
Signs and Symptoms of Meth Use
The effects of meth depend on how much is taken, how it is taken, duration of drug intake and the person’s ability to metabolize the drug. In general, the signs of methamphetamine use are easily recognizable. These signs are primarily physical or behavioral and commonly include stained teeth, skin sores and mood swings.
Some of the physical symptoms of methamphetamine use include:
- Decreased appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Tooth decay or staining due to long-term use
- Obsessively picking hair or skin, which may lead to skin sores
- Excessive sweating
- Disregard for physical appearance or hygiene
Some of the psychological signs and symptoms of meth use include:
- Euphoria, elevated mood and a sense of wellbeing
- Increased energy and wakefulness
- Increased talkativeness
- Mood swings
- Violent or psychotic behavior
Another common sign of drug use is the presence of paraphernalia. Meth may be smoked, snorted, injected or orally ingested. Paraphernalia associated with meth use may include pipes made of various materials, such as glass. Pipes used for smoking methamphetamine are elongated with a bulbous end, usually accompanied by the presence of yellowish, waxy residue from the drug inside the pipe.
The presence of hypodermic needles and syringes may indicate that the drug is being injected. Cut-off straws and plastic pen casings may be used for snorting meth. Methamphetamine is sometimes placed on an aluminum foil and heated to inhale it after vaporization, and burnt aluminum foil may be an indicator of meth use.
Side Effects of Meth Abuse
Methamphetamine use can have negative effects on physical and mental health. High doses of amphetamines in the short-term can lead to cardiotoxic effects, psychosis and overdose. Long-term use also has severe physical and psychological consequences. It can also impair social functioning and lead to addiction.
Short-Term Side Effects
Some of the physical side effects associated with the use of methamphetamine at high doses include:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat
- Cardiotoxicity involving aortic dissection, stroke and myocardial infarction
- Nausea and vomiting
The psychological effects of methamphetamine use include:
- Mood disturbances
- Psychosis involving paranoia, hallucinations and agitation (at high doses)
Long-Term Side Effects
Long-term use of methamphetamine leads to the development of physical dependence on the drug. This dependence can become severe enough to interfere with social functioning and may result in addiction. Besides causing dependence and addiction, long-term methamphetamine use is also associated with harmful effects on physical and mental health.
Some of the long-term effects of methamphetamine include:
- Weight loss
- Increased risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events, including increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and irregular heartbeat
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Dental diseases
- “Meth mouth,” which is characterized by cavities and stained, crumbling of teeth
- Psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression
- Increased risk of suicide as well as suicidal ideation and thoughts
- Psychosis involving paranoid delusions, hallucinations, agitation and disorganized speech
- Cognitive impairments involving deficits in memory, attention, executive function and motor function
- Damage to dopamine and serotonin neurons in areas related to emotional and cognitive behaviors
Common Drug Combinations
Meth is often used in combination with other drugs that have the opposite effect, which are usually depressants. Depressants, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, may be used to counter the high produced by methamphetamine. However, these depressants may give a false sense that the effects of methamphetamine have subsided. This may result in a person using too much meth and overdosing.
These illicit substances may also be used simultaneously with meth. In these cases, the stimulating effects of meth may allow greater intake of alcohol or other drugs, resulting in alcohol poisoning or a drug overdose. Similarly, the depressant may allow an increased intake of meth.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant that increases heart rate and blood pressure, and depressants like opioids have the opposite effect on the cardiovascular and respiratory system. This can place a large amount of stress on the cardiovascular system and increase the chances of death due to cardiac arrest, stroke or respiratory failure. Other effects of mixing stimulants with depressants include confusion, blurred vision, paranoia and motor impairment.
The substances most commonly used with meth include:
Using alcohol in combination with meth causes increased heart rate and blood pressure. This increases the risk of cardiovascular or cerebrovascular events.
Combining meth with opioids like heroin results in increased oxygen demand by heart muscles. This happens when meth’s stimulant effects mix with an opioid’s depressant effects, which cause a decrease in breathing rate. The combination can cause cardiac failure, especially in susceptible individuals.
Xanax is a type of benzodiazepine depressant used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Xanax may be used to counteract and mask the effects of meth. This may allow an increased intake of meth and may also cause an overdose. The opposite actions of Xanax and meth can also cause cardiac arrest or respiratory failure when used together.
Suboxone is a depressant made of buprenorphine and naloxone. Although there are no case reports on the interactions between the two drugs in humans, the combination resulted in increased anxiety in rats.
Klonopin is another type of benzodiazepine. When used in combination with meth, the drug can lead to adverse effects similar to those produced by Xanax.
The use of Viagra with meth is associated with a higher likelihood of unprotected sex and unprotected sex with casual partners.
Meth Abuse Facts and Statistics
According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 0.3% (774,000 individuals) of the population over the age of 12 were using meth during the time of the survey. In addition, 0.6% of this population had used meth at least once in their lifetime. Approximately 0.2% of individuals over the age of 12 had a methamphetamine use disorder.
Meth was responsible for 10.6% (6,762) of all drug overdose deaths in 2016 compared to 9.7% in 2015. About half of these deaths caused also involved the use of another drug. In terms of treatment statistics, 10.3% of all treatment admissions for drug use in 2017 were for meth.
Meth Abuse and Treatment Trends in South Florida
According to the Medical Examiners Commission’s 2016 report for the state of Florida, meth was found to be present in 621 deceased people in 2016 compared to 305 in 2015. Out of those 621 deaths, meth was responsible for 327 deaths.
In terms of treatment statistics, 1.3% of all 2016 treatment admissions for drug use in Broward County were for meth. Meth use was responsible for 0.8% and 0.4% of all treatment admissions in Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County, respectively.
The toxic effects of meth are generally observed at high doses, but even low doses may be sufficient in certain cases, such as in first-time users. The dose of meth required to produce toxic effects may depend on a person’s ability to metabolize the drug and their drug use history. In addition, the symptoms of meth overdose vary and may not necessarily involve loss of consciousness.
Symptoms of methamphetamine overdose include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Psychosis, including paranoia, hallucinations
- Excited delirium, characterized by confusion and emotional disturbances combined with agitation involving violence, fear, panic and hyperactivity.
Methamphetamine overdose can be fatal, and underlying causes often involve cardiovascular toxicities, stroke, seizures, respiratory failure and kidney failure. In the case of a meth overdose, call 911 immediately.
How to Help Someone Abusing Meth
Individuals using meth over a long period generally develop a dependence on the drug. Attempts to discontinue drug use may often fail due to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Family and friends can help the person with a substance use disorder to seek and continue treatment.
People with substance use disorders are often reluctant to admit that their use of the drug is a problem. Because of this, it is essential to confront the person regarding their drug use. Staging a well-organized intervention can help address the impact of drug use and guide the individual toward treatment.
The purpose of an intervention is to make the person aware of the negative consequences of their drug use and convince them to initiate treatment. An intervention generally involves close friends and family, and it may be organized with the help of a professional, such as a psychologist or a drug counselor.
The focus of an intervention should be to remind the person of how their drug use has hurt people around them in addition to themselves. Special care must be taken to avoid blaming the person for these problems, and the process should not be confrontational.
Each participant in the intervention should prepare their statement beforehand to avoid a confrontation. Participants must also research the substance use disorder and the treatment options available for addiction. A specific treatment plan should be offered to the person, along with the actions each member would take if the person refused treatment. It is necessary to remain calm through the process and remain supportive.
Meth Addiction Treatment Options
There are currently no medications approved for the treatment of methamphetamine addiction. Treatment options for meth addiction generally involve nonpharmacological approaches, such as behavioral therapies. Some of the commonly used behavioral approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy and contingency management.
Cognitive behavioral therapy involves identifying thoughts and behaviors that lead to drug use and teaching individuals coping strategies. Contingency management involves the use of positive reinforcement in the form of rewards for staying sober and getting treatment.
Some treatment protocols use a combination of behavioral approaches. For example, the Matrix model that has been shown to be effective in the treatment of meth addiction. The Matrix model takes an integrative approach and involves individual and group therapy, family therapy, drug screenings and support groups.
Key Points: Understanding Meth Addiction and Abuse
Methamphetamine addiction negatively impacts all aspects of a person’s life. Some of the key points to remember include:
- Use of meth can have negative effects on an individual’s mental and physical health.
- Meth use can cause arrhythmias, hyperthermia and mood disturbances. At higher doses, it can cause cardiotoxicities, psychosis, respiratory failure, renal failure, seizures and death.
- Using meth with other substances can increase its toxic effects and the likelihood of an overdose.
- Long-term use of meth is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular events, mood disorders, cognitive deficits and neurotoxic effects.
- Long-term use of meth can also lead to the development of dependence and addiction.
- Treatment for meth addiction involves behavioral therapy, and enrollment at a rehabilitation facility may be necessary to ensure recovery.
If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance use disorder, The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health can help. Contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive treatment programs and begin the path to recovery.
Winslow, Bradford T.; et al. “Methamphetamine abuse.” American family physician. October 2007. Accessed July 23, 2019.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” 2017. Accessed July 23, 2019.
Center for Disease Control. “National Vital Statistics Report:Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Drug Overdose Deaths: United States, 2011–2016.” December 2018. Accessed July 23, 2019.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “Medical examiner’s commissioner report.” November 2017. Accessed July 23, 2019.
National Drug Early Warning System. “Drug use patterns and trends 2017: Southeastern Florida.” November 2017. Accessed July 23, 2019.
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