Meth (methamphetamine) is a synthetic stimulant also known as crystal meth.
Taking meth in any form triggers short-lived effects that can be dangerous. Sustained meth use exacts an extreme physical and psychological toll, impacting brain and body.
Today’s guide outlines the signs of meth use and shows you how to help a loved one grappling with meth addiction (stimulant use disorder).
What Are the Signs of Meth Use?
There are many physical and psychological markers for meth use. These are often pronounced and easily visible.
One of the most obvious indicators that someone is abusing meth is abrupt loss of interest in hobbies and activities. Problems may start to develop in interpersonal relationships and at work as meth use becomes more central to their lives. Over time, meth abuse triggers changes to the way someone feels and thinks. Meth addiction is a chronic brain condition characterized by the compulsive use of methamphetamine regardless of negative outcomes.
Common Signs of Meth Use
Even though the acute health risks of abusing meth are widely known, the latest data from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) show that 15 million U.S. adults report lifetime meth use, with over 2.5 million reporting past-year use of methamphetamine. Among these, 1.5 million developed meth addiction in the form of stimulant use disorder.
Ingesting meth provokes a euphoric rush due to the way it triggers increased production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a chemical messenger – that is associated with positive mood and reward.
Meth is even more dangerous than other drugs in the stimulant class because a greater proportion of the substance remains unchanged and unmetabolized in the body, leading meth to linger in the brain for longer. Meth is highly toxic to nerve terminals and can also destroy the synapses of brain cells where the neurotransmitter dopamine is released. Resultantly, meth abuse can easily prompt dramatic mood swings and physical dependence.
Over time, meth abuse alters the brain chemistry of those using this stimulant. As the wiring in the reward center of the brain is destroyed, so it becomes difficult for those who chronically abuse meth to experience pleasure in everyday activities. This condition is known as anhedonia.
As well as inducing negative behavioral changes, the chronic abuse of meth can also bring about irreparable damage to blood vessels in the brain and to bodily systems. In the worst outcome, this can cause a stroke.
The physical signs of meth use can emerge even if someone has just starting using this potent stimulant.
These are the most common and visible physical signs of meth abuse:
- Meth mouth (rotting teeth)
- Facial sores
- Track marks (in the case of intravenous meth use)
- Noticeable weight loss
- Enhanced sex drive
- Droopiness to facial skin
- Liver damage
- Compromised immunity
The most prominent and publicized sign of meth use is known as meth mouth.
One of the potential risks associated with increased libido – one of the effects of using methamphetamine – is the potential increased exposure to STDs. Meth can stimulate both arousal and sexual stamina, leading some people who abuse this stimulant to engage is risky sexual relations without protection against STIs.
If someone you know is injecting meth, you may notice track marks on their arms. Alternatively, you may notice that they wear long sleeves, even in very high temperatures. Track marks are bruises or scars caused by repeated injections into the same vein.
If someone is abusing meth, you may notice the manifestation of various adverse psychological side effects.
Meth use triggers a euphoric high because of the way it causes increased dopamine production in the brain. By activating the reward circuitry of the brain, meth is highly addictive.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with roles other than pleasure and reward, though. This chemical messenger is also involved in learning and memory. The chronic abuse of meth will continuously bathe the brain in dopamine, causing an imbalance in natural levels and long-term problems in the following areas:
- Learning new motor skills
- Visual memory
- Memory problems
- Difficulty performing new tasks
Meth addiction can lead to presentation of psychosis. Known as meth-induced psychosis, this condition is characterized by these symptoms:
- Auditory hallucinations
- Visual hallucinations
The above psychological signs of psychosis triggered by methamphetamine are accompanied by physical side effects like scratching and the sensation of bugs crawling over the skin. These behaviors lead to the development of rashes and skin abrasions.
Meth abuse is informally known as tweaking. Binges often involve ongoing periods of insomnia over the course of two weeks. If someone is tweaking, the following psychological markers may manifest:
- Hyper alertness
- Outbursts of violence or aggression
The highly addictive nature of meth means that physical dependence and addiction can rapidly develop. What can you do, then, if you suspect a loved one is abusing methamphetamine?
What To Do If You See Signs of Meth Use
If you feel that the signs of meth addiction are apparent in a loved one, here are some actionable pointers to help them connect with the care they need:
- Open an ongoing dialogue with your loved one
- Discover as much as possible about addiction and recovery
- Listen closely to what your loved one is telling you about their addiction:
- Help your loved one to find a suitable local addiction treatment provider
- Offer consistent encouragement and support throughout their ongoing recovery
Open an ongoing dialogue with your loved one
Everyone will have a different experience of substance abuse, so it’s impossible to establish whether or not someone has an addiction without speaking openly with them.
Rather than attempting to voice all your concerns in one conversation, instead open an ongoing dialogue with your loved one. Express your overall concerns and your desire to help them get the professional treatment they need to move from addiction into recovery.
Discover as much as possible about addiction and recovery
The more you learn about addiction in general, meth addiction in particular, and the most effective treatment methods, the more effectively you can help you loved one initiate their recovery.
Meth addiction (stimulant disorder) is recognized by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) as a chronic and relapsing brain disorder. Central to meth addiction is compulsive use of methamphetamine in the face of obviously negative outcomes.
While there are no medications approved to treat meth withdrawal, behavioral interventions like psychotherapies, motivational therapies, and counseling can lead to sustained recovery from meth addiction.
Speak to your loved one about their meth abuse compassionately and without judgment
Try to speak with your loved one about their meth use when you are alone with them and when they appear to be in a reasonable mood. Never approach someone with suspicions about an addiction when they are intoxicated.
Leave judgement aside and consider the following steps:
- Tell them how much you love them and care for them.
- Mention that you have noticed some things that concern you.
- Outline specific examples illustrating your concerns.
- Reinforce your desire to help and support them.
Be prepared to meet with denial that a problem exists or for your loved one to say that they are not ready to quit using meth right away. Be patient and be prepared for an ongoing conversation. Addiction is complex and you are unlikely to resolve the issue with your loved one during a brief chat.
Listen closely to what your loved one is telling you about their addiction
Although it is important to voice your personal concerns to your loved one, you should also actively listen to what they are saying.
Give your loved one the opportunity to talk at length and practice the following active listening techniques:
- Make eye contact.
- Give your loved one your full attention.
- Avoid giving unsolicited advice.
- Validate their feelings.
- Ask questions to clarify any misunderstandings.
Help your loved one to find a suitable local addiction treatment provider
Work with your loved one to assemble a shortlist of suitable local addiction treatment centers.
You may find that their primary healthcare provider can offer a referral or recommendation.
SAMHSA has a free helpline with resources to help you find inpatient and outpatient treatment centers for meth addiction. Call 800-662-HELP (4357).
Offer consistent encouragement and support throughout their ongoing recovery
Recovery is not a single time-limited event like detoxification or rehab, but rather on ongoing chain of events.
Beyond this, research shows that between four and six out of ten people in addiction recovery will relapse at least once.
All of this means that you need to show your loved one that you’re there to support them throughout their ongoing recovery journey.
Meth Rehab at Renaissance Recovery
To initiate a successful and sustained recovery from meth addiction, it is typically advisable to engage with a supervised medical detox. We can connect your loved one with licensed clinical detox centers throughout Southern California, allowing them to physically prepare for ongoing treatment here at Renaissance Recovery Center.
Although there are no medications approved by the FDA for meth detox, a medical detox center provides a secure and substance-free setting with clinical and emotional care available on-demand. The treatment team may prescribe benzodiazepines for the short-term relief of anxiety, agitation, and panic during meth withdrawal.
At Renaissance, we specialize in the outpatient treatment of meth addiction. Help your loved one choose from the following treatment programs:
- OP: Outpatient program
- IOP: Intensive outpatient program
- PHP: Partial hospitalization program
- Virtual IOP: Remote rehab
If you feel that your loved one has a co-occurring mental health condition inflaming their addiction, we provide coordinate and integrated dual diagnosis treatment programs.
All meth addiction treatment programs at Renaissance Recovery in Orange County personalize treatment plans from the following interventions:
- Individual counselling
- Group therapy
- Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
- Family therapy
- MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
- Holistic therapies (adventure therapy)
We are here to help your loved one address the physical and psychological components of meth addiction. Make this happen by calling admissions at 866.330.9449.