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  • Writer's pictureDr. Harold Pierre

Methamphetamine Addiction

Methamphetamine Addiction: A Comprehensive Guide

Methamphetamine, commonly known as "meth," is a highly addictive stimulant drug (amphetamine) that affects the central nervous system. Powder meth is a less pure, powdered form of methamphetamine. Crystal meth refers specifically to the crystallized form of methamphetamine that resembles glass fragments or shiny blue-white "rocks" of various sizes. This crystallized form is typically purer and more potent than powdered methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine addiction rates have experienced a significant increase, with more than 1.2 million individuals acknowledging the use of meth in 2018. It's crucial to grasp the impact of meth addiction, as it devastates families and communities nationwide. Comprehending the addictive nature of methamphetamine and the available avenues for assistance is of paramount importance. Keep reading for a comprehensive understanding of the methamphetamine addiction crisis.

Why Is Meth So Addictive?

The fight against drugs and drug addiction topic. Hand of an addict lies on a dark table and around it are drugs, a top studio copy

Meth is an extremely potent central nervous system stimulant that strongly reinforces rewarding behaviors in the brain. It produces an intense rush of energy, confidence, and pleasure by flooding the brain with up to 1200% more dopamine than normal. In comparison, cocaine may boost the brain's dopamine by 350% and sex by 150%. This makes meth highly addictive psychologically and physically.

People continue taking meth to try to re-experience the pleasurable high, avoid the crash, and relieve withdrawal symptoms. But over time, the brain becomes tolerant, requiring more meth to get the same effect. Many users eventually become addicted, unable to quit despite negative consequences.

Short & Long-Term Effects of Meth

In the short term, meth causes:

  • Euphoria, confidence, and increased energy.

  • Decreased appetite and increased body temperature.

  • Faster breathing and heart rate.

  • Anxiety, confusion, insomnia.

Over time, chronic methamphetamine use can cause:

  • Extreme weight loss and dental problems.

  • Mood disturbances like depression, aggression, and psychosis.

  • Cognitive impairments affecting memory, attention, and motor skills.

  • High blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular complications.

  • Increased risk of Parkinson's disease.

  • Liver, kidney, and lung damage.

These long-term effects take a tremendous toll on physical and mental health. Yet the nature of addiction makes it very difficult for meth users to quit without help.

Who Uses Methamphetamine?

While meth has historically been associated with young white men in rural areas, usage has expanded across geographic regions and demographics. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

  • Approximately 1.2 million people aged 12 or older reported using meth in the past year.

  • Past-year meth use increased from 2016 to 2018 among Hispanic adults and adults aged 26 or older.

  • In 2018, the average age at first use was 21.2 years old. More people try meth for the first time aged 18 to 25 than any other age group.

So while meth addiction impacts people of all backgrounds today, young adults remain most vulnerable to trying and developing problematic methamphetamine use.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Meth Addiction?

It's important to recognize the effects of methamphetamine addiction early. Though symptoms may vary, look for:

  • Using meth in larger amounts, more often, for longer periods than intended.

  • Unsuccessful efforts to cut back or quit.

  • Spending excessive time seeking, using, and recovering from meth.

  • Cravings and urges to use meth.

  • Failure to fulfill major obligations due to repeated meth use.

  • Continuing to use meth despite physical, social, or interpersonal problems it causes or worsens.

  • Giving up social, work, or recreational activities due to meth.

  • Using meth in physically hazardous situations.

  • Severe tooth decay and gum disease known as "meth mouth."

  • Extreme weight loss and malnutrition from lack of eating.

  • Intense itching of the skin causing face and arm sores from scratching.

  • Strange, erratic, or violent behavior and aggression.

  • Psychosis - auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions.

  • Paranoia.

  • Mood disturbances like extreme depression, anxiety, or mania.

  • Obsessive repetitive behavior like skin picking or disassembling objects.

  • Cognitive problems like memory loss, confusion, and speech issues.

  • Changes in sleep patterns, like insomnia or sleeping for days straight.

If you observe these behavioral patterns in combination with meth's physical and psychological symptoms, it likely indicates addiction. The compulsion to use meth becomes overwhelming, hijacking normal self-control.

Risk Factors For Meth Addiction?

Certain factors make people more vulnerable to meth addiction:

  • Early exposure - Using meth before age 18 makes addiction more likely.

  • Genetics - A family history of addiction puts one at greater risk.

  • Mental health disorders - Conditions like depression or ADHD are linked with addiction.

  • Childhood trauma - Abuse or neglect makes it harder to cope without drugs.

  • Social or cultural factors - Peer pressure, poverty, and lack of family support can be triggers.

While anyone taking meth recreationally may become addicted, those with risk factors need to be especially careful. Trying meth even once raises their odds of developing compulsive use and full-blown addiction down the line.

Health Complications: Methamphetamine Overdose & Death Risk

In addition to its highly addictive potential, meth comes with serious health risks - including the risk of overdose death.

Meth overdose death rates in the US tripled from 2011 to 2016. In 2017, approximately 7,500 deaths involving meth overdose occurred. Combining meth with opioids or other substances further increases overdose risk.

That said, overdose isn't the only way meth kills. The drug puts chronic stress on multiple organ systems. Long-term cardiovascular complications and organ failure are also common causes of death among meth users.

Is Meth Addiction Treatment Available?

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Thankfully, various behavioral therapies effectively help people overcome meth addiction.

While there are no Food and Drug Administration-approved medications to treat meth addiction specifically, options like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teach coping strategies to prevent relapse. Contingency management provides rewards to reinforce sobriety. The Matrix Model integrates CBT, drug testing, family education, and 12-Step support. I have also found success with certain medications.:

Buspirone (Buspar)

  • Buspirone is an anti-anxiety medication that acts as a partial agonist on serotonin receptors.

  • A few small studies have tested using buspirone to treat meth addiction, with mixed results. Some found it reduced cravings and use; others found no difference from placebo.

  • While buspirone shows some early promise, larger controlled trials are still needed to determine if it is effective for treating meth addiction specifically.


  • Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist often used to treat opioid and alcohol addiction. It blocks opioid receptors to reduce rewarding effects.

  • Some research indicates blocking opioid receptors may also indirectly reduce meth's rewarding properties in the brain's reward pathway.

  • A recent promising Phase 3 trial found a combination of oral naltrexone and bupropion injections successfully reduced meth use and cravings compared to placebo.

  • More research is underway on naltrexone alone and in combination with bupropion as a potential medicine for meth addiction treatment.

GLP-1 agonists

  • GLP-1 agonists, such as exenatide, engage glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide receptors located in the brain's appetite and reward pathways.

  • Research on animals indicates that these agonists can decrease methamphetamine self-administration, along with meth-seeking behaviors and relapse into meth use after a period of abstinence in rodent models.

  • It is believed that this effect stems from GLP-1 receptors influencing dopamine signaling within the mesolimbic reward pathway, thereby diminishing methamphetamine's rewarding and reinforcing characteristics.


  • An initial human lab study found that acamprosate significantly reduced methamphetamine cravings and had positive subjective effects compared to placebo.

Buproprion and Naltrexone

  • A combination of the antidepressant bupropion and the opioid antagonist naltrexone. Studies have shown this can reduce methamphetamine use and cravings.

There are other experimental medication-assisted treatments. However, the data is limited to very small studies and more research is needed to verify the early findings.

How to Support Someone Struggling with Meth Addiction

If someone you love is battling meth addiction, know that recovery is possible with proper treatment and support. You can help them by:

  • Educating yourself on meth addiction to better understand their struggle.

  • Approaching them with caring concern, not judgment.

  • Helping them get assessed by a doctor specializing in addiction.

  • Assisting with transportation needs for counseling appointments.

  • Offering encouragement through the ups and downs of recovery.

  • Helping avoid people, places, or things that trigger drug use.

  • Celebrating sober milestones and achievements.

Key Takeaways on Meth Addiction

  • Meth is an extremely addictive stimulant that floods the brain with dopamine, creating an intense high along with harmful side effects.

  • Addiction causes compulsive meth seeking and use despite negative consequences to one's health, work, and relationships.

  • Over 1 million Americans currently struggle with meth addiction. Young adults are most at risk.

  • Recognizing the behavioral, physical, and psychological signs of addiction early is key.

  • Certain genetic, mental health, and childhood trauma factors raise one's vulnerability.

  • Meth addiction can be overcome through proper treatment and recovery support systems.

Meth may be having its moment right now - but with greater awareness and access to help, we can curb this epidemic. Understanding meth addiction is the first step.

Moszczynska, A. (2021). Current and Emerging Treatments for Methamphetamine Use Disorder. Current Neuropharmacology, 19(12), 2077–2091.

Paulus, M. P., & Stewart, J. L. (2020). Methamphetamine Use Disorder: The Next Addiction Crisis. JAMA Psychiatry, 77(9), 959–966.

About the author:

Dr. Harold Pierre is a board-certified anesthesiologist and addiction medicine specialist with over 20 years of experience. He is certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology and the American Board of Preventive Medicine.

This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician or another qualified medical professional. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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