In 2019, 16,167 overdose deaths were caused by psychostimulants, most of which involved methamphetamine. Meth is a powerful central nervous system stimulant primarily used as a recreational drug. In some cases, it’s used as a medication to treat obesity, but as a recreational drug, it offers a euphoric high, a sense of empowerment, and increased energy levels. It also increases sexual drive and stamina. However, meth use can quickly lead to chemical dependence and addiction.
Meth addiction is a chronic disease that affects the reward center of the brain. It’s also progressive, which means it can get worse over time if it isn’t addressed. Addressing a substance use disorder early can help avoid some of the worst consequences of addiction, like long-term medical, psychological, and social issues. But what are the signs and symptoms of meth use, and how can you recognize it in a friend or family member?
Physical Signs of Meth Use
Meth use can affect your body in physical ways, especially when it’s used over a long period. Signs can be both outward physical changes and physical symptoms that change a person’s demeanor. Meth is often associated with physical damage to the face and skin, though those are often indirect consequences of certain symptoms. But several physical symptoms can affect a person’s ongoing health.
Drug misuse can sometimes be difficult to detect in the early stages, but it will start to take over your life when you develop a substance use disorder, and it will be harder to hide. Physical signs and symptoms can also be related to behavioral symptoms. Here are some physical signs of meth that you might notice in a friend or loved one.
Negative changes in personal hygiene aren’t unique to meth use. It can happen with a variety of substance use disorders and some mental health issues. Addiction can take more and more of your day to maintain, so you may start to neglect some responsibilities. Meth can also hijack your brain into treating drug use as an important life-sustaining activity. You may start to prioritize it over other daily needs, causing you to neglect cleanliness and self-care.
The longer a meth addiction continues, the more noticeable a person’s hygiene changes will be. Hygiene problems can combine with other symptoms of meth use to cause some significant changes in your physical appearance.
Changes in Appearance
Meth is infamous for the physical changes affecting your outward appearance, but many of the known signs result from years of use. Meth is often associated with scars and sores all over the face and skin, but that’s not a direct result of meth in your body. Instead, these scars are caused by another common symptom of meth use: meth mites.
Heavy meth users may experience something commonly referred to as meth mites. It’s the feeling of bugs crawling on your skin and causing you to tingle or itch. While these itch-causing bugs aren’t actually real parasites, the sensation can be maddening, causing people to compulsively scratch in affected areas.
Meth mites could be caused by fasciculations, which are small muscle twitches that can feel like something is touching your skin or crawling on you. Meth is a powerful stimulant, and it can cause many symptoms related to muscle twitching and muscle tension. Hallucinations can also cause meth mites. Heavy meth use can cause you to see, hear, or feel things that aren’t there, especially during and after a meth binge. When this is combined with muscle twitching, the thought that there are insects crawling over you can cause you to scratch incessantly.
Scratching can also combine with poor hygiene, causing small cuts to become infected, which cause sores to last longer and leave more visible scars. In most cases, extensive scarring only occurs after long-term heavy meth use.
Meth is associated with another infamous physical symptom: meth mouth. Meth mouth refers to the missing and rotting teeth that are sometimes seen in people with a severe meth use disorder. But again, this is an indirect consequence of meth use. Meth doesn’t cause your teeth to fall out because of anything in the chemical. Instead, it’s caused by other symptoms of meth combined with poor hygiene. Of course, poor dental hygiene can lead to cavities and gum disease.
But tooth decay may be worsened by teeth grinding, which is common in meth use. Powerful stimulants may cause you to clench your jaw and grind teeth. If you binge meth many times a week over a long period, you can wear down your enamel and even crack teeth, making you more vulnerable to infections. Again, this is another physical sign that’s often seen after long-term heavy meth use.
Stimulant drugs can suppress your hunger and appetite. In fact, meth is sometimes used as a weight-loss drug because of its effects on your appetite. Long-term meth use can cause your weight to drop over time. On top of its appetite suppressant qualities, addiction can cause you to prioritize drug use over getting proper nutrition, which can worsen your weight loss. People who come to addiction treatment are often malnourished, especially if they used a powerful stimulant like meth.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
One of the most common side effects of meth use is insomnia. A meth binge can also cause you to stay up for days at a time before going to sleep. Changes in your sleep pattern can become apparent to your friends and family. A lack of sleep while on meth can increase your risk of severe symptoms like stimulant psychosis. Sleep problems can also lead to other mental and physical health issues, including mental fog, inability to focus, irritability, heart disease, slowed reaction time, depression, and Type 2 diabetes.
Psychological Signs of Meth Use
As a powerful central nervous system stimulant, meth can cause some significant psychological symptoms. Like physical symptoms, it can be difficult to detect these signs in the early stages of meth use, but they’ll become more apparent as the addiction progresses. Here are some psychological signs and symptoms of meth use:
Mental Health Issues
Mental health issues and substance use disorders frequently occur alongside one another. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), around half of people with a mental health disorder will experience a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. Issues like anxiety and depression can lead to a substance use disorder because of things like self-medication. But mental health problems can also be triggered or worsened by a substance use disorder. Chronic meth use can cause anxiety symptoms and paranoia. Meth comedowns and withdrawal symptoms can include depression and a feeling of hopelessness.
Paranoia is a common side effect of meth use. Stimulants can increase your alertness and energy levels. Heavy meth use can also lead to hallucinations, which can combine with hypervigilance to create paranoid delusions. In some cases, paranoia and hallucinations can make people on meth act erratically or aggressively. In rare circumstances, they may become violent. More likely, they could get up and move while they’re high, putting themselves at risk for accidents and injury.
Since meth causes powerful euphoria and a lifted mood, you can feel lethargic, apathetic, and depressed when it wears off. If you try to quit, you may also experience withdrawal symptoms like low mood, depression, and a sense of hopelessness. Meth can flood your brain with dopamine to the point that it damages your dopamine receptors. This can make it more difficult to experience pleasure and reward. This can cause a symptom called anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure.
In some cases, a person may feel like meth is the only source of pleasure they can experience. This can worsen one’s depression and deepen their dependence on meth. In some cases, meth-related depression can lead to thoughts of suicide. If you feel hopelessness and worthlessness that causes you to think about suicide, talk to someone immediately. It’s important to recognize that these feelings are likely treatable and temporary.
Tweaking refers to the erratic and disorganized thought and actions that are often seen in meth users. Tweaking is generally associated with heavy meth use or a meth binge. A meth high can be short-lived, only causing euphoria for a few minutes. The high may be followed by an uncomfortable comedown, which is when the effects of the drug begin to wear off, and you experience side effects like anxiety and restlessness.
Because of this, meth encourages binge use, which is taking several doses in a row. Binging can mean your body is feeling the effects of high doses of meth combined with long periods of sleeplessness. A binge may result in psychosis, confusion, paranoia, strong drug cravings, agitation, aggression, and disorganized thinking. Tweaking symptoms usually go away as the drug wears off, especially after your body is able to get rest and sleep.