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Meth Symptoms and Warning Signs

The effects of meth addiction are some of the most dangerous of all addictions; symptoms of abuse are quick to manifest and easy to spot.

Signs of Meth Abuse

Smoking methMeth addicts are often unable to quit on their own because meth impairs decision-making and reprograms the brain reward system.

Knowing the signs of meth abuse might help you save someone’s life.

Certain behavioral and physical changes are common among meth users. Signs of meth abuse include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Dilated pupils
  • Talkativeness
  • Increased distractibility
  • Tooth decay and loss of teeth
  • Aggression
  • Grandiose behavior
  • Twitchiness
  • Loss of consciousness

The Dangers of Meth

The dangers of meth are widely known, yet many people still experiment with it and become hooked. The immediate danger of abusing meth is overdose, which can be fatal. The long-term consequences of abusing meth are also alarming and may include heart disease and brain damage.

Meth destroys the nerve terminals in the brain where dopamine is released, causing behavioral changes and dependence on the drug. Fortunately, this brain damage is naturally reversed when a person addicted to meth quits. However, it can take months for the damage to be repaired and users can experience strong psychological withdrawals. These psychological withdrawals can cause severe depression, which all too often leads to suicide.

Immediate Side Effects of Meth

The effects of abusing meth can last anywhere from four to 12 hours, which is a relatively long time compared to other substances. During this time, users may experience the following meth side effects:



Decreased appetite


Increased breathing rate


Irregular heartbeat




Chest pain



Flushed or itchy skin


Hallucinations and paranoia


Long-term Effects of Meth Abuse

People who abuse meth over a long period of time are likely to experience a laundry list of mental and health problems. Long-term side effects of methamphetamine use include:

Unhealthy weight loss


Depression and suicide


Rapidly aged physical appearance


Brain disease


Heart disease


Severe tooth decay and gum disease


Damage to blood vessels


Lung disease




Producing illicit meth is extremely dangerous, but many people attempt the process because meth is easier to make than other manufactured substances.

Making meth is usually referred to on the street as “cooking” meth. Producers of illicit meth synthesize the drug by isolating the elements of highly reactive products. These products are easily obtained and range from lithium batteries to drain cleaner. The end product may contain as many as 32 different chemicals. Cooking meth produces toxic, flammable fumes and may result in chemical explosions.

Unfortunately, many people with an addiction to meth offer the use of their homes as a meth lab when they no longer have the means to afford their habit. Houses used as meth labs are often inhospitable afterwards, due to the toxic chemicals that are released when meth is made. Sometimes these labs are detected when neighbors notice the smell of the toxic fumes.

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Recognizing a Meth Addiction

Meth is one of the most addictive substances and it is often easy to recognize when someone is abusing it. Although users tend to deny they have a reliance on a particular substance, meth can start taking over a person’s life in a short period of time.

A meth addiction can be clinically diagnosed based on the criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. There are 11 criteria total, including:

  • Using meth even in dangerous situations
  • Foregoing important social or professional events in order to use
  • Fighting with family members or friends over drug use
  • Going to extremes or spending a lot of time trying to acquire meth

If a person begins to question whether they are addicted to meth, they typically are. Recognizing an addiction in a friend or loved one can be more difficult, but possible through awareness of the physical and behavioral symptoms of meth addiction.

Intervention for a Meth Problem

The next step after learning that someone might be addicted to meth is to confront them about their problem. Staging an intervention is one of the best ways to convince someone to get help. However, some people may feel uncomfortable staging one, especially since meth users can become confrontational or even violent. In these circumstances it is beneficial to hire a professional intervention specialist.

Withdrawal from Meth and Treatment

The main reason people have a hard time quitting meth is that they fear the discomfort of withdrawal. The psychological withdrawal effects of meth are commonly compared to cocaine withdrawal, but are more serious and longer lasting.

Meth withdrawal symptoms can last for months at a time and typically include fatigue, suicidal thoughts, headaches and mood swings.

By the time someone develops a tolerance to meth, most of the other symptoms of addiction are present and using meth has become the most important priority. This makes finding professional treatment essential. Inpatient rehabs, therapy and support groups are the most common treatments used to help people overcome their addiction.

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Sources & Author Last Edited: January 21, 2016

  1. American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
  2. CBS News. (2002). Rolling Meth Labs in Vogue. Retrieved on February 19, 2014, from:
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). DrugFacts: Methamphetamine. Retrieved on February 19, 2014, from:
  4. PBS-Frontline. (2006). Meth and the Brain. Retrieved on April 10, 2015, from:
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