Warning: This article contains a number of graphic images, in the form of various meth users’ “before and after” photos – primarily, facial and dental damage caused by their drug use – that some readers may find distressing.
Methamphetamine (known as meth, for short) is a potent and highly addictive, man-made stimulant that can exact tremendous, long-term damage to both the mind and the body. Meth often leaves the addict, who tends to act more than a little deranged (especially, when in a need of a fix), with a freakish appearance – including scary-looking facial sores, decimated teeth, and blackened gums.
In short, the long-term meth addict wouldn’t look out of place on a zombie movie film-set. Yes, that kind of scary. Let’s take a quick “before and after” look at one female meth addict:
A powerful central nervous system (CNS) depressant, meth (also commonly known as crystal meth in one of its forms, because of a crystalline appearance) can produce an exceptionally intense “rush” of euphoria when taken, either by smoking, snorting, injecting, or simply swallowing.
Smoking or injecting meth, the most immediate way to push the drug into both the bloodstream and the brain, causes a near-instant, intense rush, greatly amplifying both its addiction potential and negative health consequences. This rush, or “flash,” described by users as extremely pleasurable, can last only a few minutes, but it can be longer.
However, meth’s instant, explosive rush, albeit brief compared to other powerful illicit drugs, is why the man-made drug has the potential to be instantly addictive. Meth can also induce a sense of confidence, hyperactiveness, and energy – these addictive effects can last from 6-8 hours, but may even last up to 24 hours.
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine is classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule II stimulant, which does actually makes it legally available, but only through a nonrefillable prescription*. Medically, it can be used for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and as a short-term part of weight-loss treatments. However, its uses are limited, and, fortunately, it is rarely prescribed (even though the prescribed doses are far lower than those misused by addicts).
*Available by prescription under the brand name Desoxyn (Ovation Pharma)
All other forms of methamphetamine use, possession, and manufacture are illegal and punishable by both fines and incarceration. In fact, many states have legal restrictions on the purchase and supply of precursor chemicals commonly used to manufacture methamphetamine, particularly pseudoephedrine, a common over-the-counter decongestant.
Methamphetamine is produced in several forms and, as previously mentioned, it can be smoked, snorted, injected, or orally ingested. In the U.S., preferred methods of using the drug, which has varied over time, also vary by geographical region.
Meth’s most commonly abused form is a white, odorless, and bitter-tasting crystalline powder, and is known generally as crystal meth. Abused by all ages (as this article’s accompanying photos clearly show), crystal meth is more commonly used as a “club drug,” taken while partying either in night clubs or at rave parties.
Methamphetamine: The Immediate Effects
The immediate effects of taking methamphetamine and, in particular, crystal meth include:
- An intense sensation of euphoria – this can last for 30 minutes or longer
- Feeling awake and alert
- Feeling extremely confident in oneself
- Feeling motivated to accomplish goals and tasks
- Experiencing a sense of an improved intellect and problem-solving abilities
The immediate effects of using meth make this a very attractive drug for recreational substance abusers. They’re often just curious about the “meth high” they’ve heard so much about, wondering what all the fuss is about, and how it will feel – just the once. However, once these recreational users know how it feels, they’re likely to continue to experiment.
“Our Meth program helps people who have become dependent to safely stop using safely. Take a look at our Inpatient Program.”
Meth & Crystal Meth Street Names
Meth has a huge number of alternative or street names, which include:
Pervitin (Czech Republic)
Yaba (Southeast Asia)
How is Meth Manufactured?
Methamphetamine is a purely synthetic (man-made) chemical, unlike many other powerful drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, that are derived from natural plants. It is commonly manufactured in secret illegal laboratories, either in the U.S. or abroad (predominantly, in Mexico).
Chemical ingredients from common cold remedy medications, eg. pseudoephedrine, are extracted by a “meth cook” to produce the drug. However, pure meth or crystal meth is rare, as additional chemicals, such as battery acid, drain cleaner, and antifreeze, are often added to strengthen the substance’s potency.
These chemicals, however, are potentially explosive, and, because many meth cooks are drug users themselves and likely disoriented, resulting accidents often leave the lab workers either severely burned and disfigured or killed. Additionally, running a meth lab creates a large amount of toxic waste (1lb of meth = 5lbs of toxic waste), and those exposed to this waste risk becoming poisoned and sick.
A Brief Social & Pharmaceutical History Of Methamphetamine
Like all powerful and dangerously addictive substances, methamphetamine was originally developed for medical purposes. Produced by chemically adjusting its parent drug, amphetamine, in Japan, during the early 20th century, methamphetamine was originally used in nasal decongestant medications and bronchial inhalers.
Methamphetamine was used widely during World War II, as a way to keep troops awake and alert. However, thanks to the false sense of euphoria users experience, it was successfully used in high doses when given to Japanese Kamikaze pilots before their suicide missions. After the war, meth abuse by injection in Japan reached epidemic proportions when supplies stored for military use became available to the public.
In the mid-20th century, it was regularly used as a nonmedical stimulant by U.S. college students, truck drivers, and even athletes, and abuse of the drug spread rapidly. In 1970, the U.S. government made it illegal for most uses. In the 1990s, Mexican drug cartels set up huge illegal labs in California, prompting the arrival of smaller private labs in U.S. kitchens and apartments. That’s why one of meth’s names is “stovetop.”
The Dramatic & Damaging Effects of Meth Use in the U.S.
The illegal use of meth remains a serious and ongoing problem in the U.S. In some regions of the nation, it poses an even greater threat than opioid use, and it has resulted in more violent crime than any other illegal substance.
According to 2017 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), over 14.7 million people (around 5.4% of the U.S. population) have tried meth at least once, and it remains one of the most commonly misused stimulant drugs in the world.
The psychological, medical, and social consequences of meth misuse can be both devastating and irreversible for the addict, as its prolonged use can cause memory loss, aggression, psychotic behavior, and malnutrition. Because of this, meth misuse creates new crime waves, unemployment, and high case numbers of child neglect and abuse. Additionally, it has also been shown to contribute to the increased transmission of infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.
Meth: The “Binge & Crash” Drug
As with many stimulants of its type, methamphetamine is most often misused in a pattern of abuse known by addicts as “binge and crash.” Because meth’s euphoric effect is short-lived, even disappearing before any significant change in the drug’s concentration within the bloodstream, users will literally binge on the drug by increasing the quantity used, as they try to prolong the rush.
Some users may even engage in a method of bingeing known as a “run” – which involves deliberately not eating food or sleeping while continuing the meth use over several days. However, bingeing on meth is not needed to become addicted – many first time users are immediately “hooked” by the instant and intense euphoric rush that they experience.
The “Meth Experience”: The 7 Stages of a Meth Binge
There are 7 distinct phases that users experience when taking meth; these are:
- The Rush: The “rush” is the initial euphoric effect the meth user experiences when either smoking or injecting the drug. During the rush, the user’s heart rate rapidly increases, along with their metabolism and blood pressure. A meth rush can continue for up to 30 minutes, then disappear rapidly.
- The High: The rush of meth use is then followed by a high, known as “the shoulder.” During the high, the user can feel both aggressive and smarter than those they are with, and usually becomes highly argumentative. Additionally, the delusional effects can include becoming intensely focused on a common behavior, eg. repeatedly cleaning the same window for several hours. On average, the high lasts for 4-16 hours.
- The Binge: A binge is the uncontrolled use of any drug or alcohol. It results from the user’s desire to maintain the high. In meth use, it is by smoking or injecting more of the drug. The binge can last anywhere between 3-15 days. During the binge, the user becomes both mentally and physically hyperactive. Each time the user smokes or injects more of the drug, they experience another, smaller rush, until, finally, there is no rush or high whatsoever. This is known as “tweaking.”
- Tweaking: “Tweaking” is the term for a condition reached at the end of a meth binge, when the meth user can longer achieve a rush or a high. The condition causes the user to enter a psychotic state, unable to sleep and existing only in a world of their own making, seeing and hearing things that no-one else can. In this state, disconnected from reality, they can become extremely hostile, and a clear danger to themselves, ie. by self-mutilation, and to others. Another highly common symptom is intense itching, as the user becomes convinced that bugs are crawling under the skin.
- The Crash: For binge users, the crash occurs when the body is forced to shut down, unable to cope with the drug’s effects overwhelming it. This results in a long period of sleep, becoming almost lifeless during the crash – including even the most violent of users. The crash can last 1-3 days.
- Meth Hangover: After the crash, the user, now starved, dehydrated, and utterly exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally, is driven by their addiction to use meth again. This stage usually lasts from 2-14 days, during which time the “meth experience” begins once more.
- Withdrawal: It is not unusual during meth abuse for a user to experience withdrawal from the drug, and not actually know it is happening – often, for between 30-90 days. A meth user in withdrawal will initially experience feeling depressed, a loss of energy, and an inability to experience pleasure. This is followed by intense cravings for more meth, and the user often feels suicidal. Since meth withdrawal is extremely painful and difficult, most users return to drug use.
Signs That Someone is Using Crystal Meth
It’s fairly easy to tell when someone has been using crystal meth. Usually, you only need to look for a few signs. You may notice:
- A breathing rate that’s much faster than normal
- An irregular heart rate
- Feeling physically overheated
- A decrease in appetite
- An increase in physical activity
This is not a drug that’s easy to hide from others. If you’re around people you know, they’re likely to realize there’s something different about you. You may behave erratically, and sometimes people can even become violent.
Are You a Meth Addict?
If you’re currently using this drug, you may be wondering how you can tell if you’re an addict. There are several signs you can look for in yourself, and they are both physical and psychological.
Keep in mind that addicts tend to prefer to stay in denial of addictions. That means that you may need to ask someone else to give you their opinion.
Have you noticed any of the following signs of meth addiction:
- Problems getting to sleep
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Dry, itchy skin
- Changes in your blood pressure
- Increased anxiety
- Blurry vision
- Feeling dizzy
- Frequent headaches
If you have noticed any of these, you may already be a methamphetamines addict. However, it’s possible that even after looking over this list, you’re still not sure. You may want to consider taking a meth addiction quiz like this one. It will dig a little deeper into your drug use patterns and history. Once you’re finished, you’ll know if you’re an addict or not.
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Other Names for Meth
Meth is short for methamphetamine. Wikipedia refers to it as a strong central nervous system depressant. It is mainly used as a recreational drug. However, it has been used to treat ADHD and obesity in the past.
This drug has a lot of names that it goes by. Abusers may refer to its use as “smoking crystal.” However, there are several other street names people call it as well. Some of these include:
- Crystal Meth
No matter what you call it, this is one dangerous drug. People who abuse it are very prone to becoming addicted to it.
The Short-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Use
Even in small doses, methamphetamine can increase both wakefulness and physical activity, while decreasing the user’s appetite, and, when used recreationally, provides an intense euphoric rush that many recreational users crave. However, the drug’s high potency also makes it a highly dangerous one to use and abuse.
In terms of the possibly dangerous physical effects on the body, using meth can cause a number of cardiovascular problems, which include a rapid heart rate, an irregular heartbeat, and increased blood pressure. Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) and convulsions are possible should the user overdose, and, if these symptoms are not treated immediately, can result in death.
The precise reasons for the euphoria that meth produces are still not fully comprehended, scientifically-speaking. However, we do know that this euphoria is accompanied by the release of exceptionally high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain’s “reward circuit,” so “training” the brain to repeat the drug activity.
Dopamine is the brain’s natural chemical involved in our motivation and motor function, and its rapid release in the reward circuit is a prime characteristic of addictive drugs. Because the level of release is so elevated, even compared to other drugs, it is believed the dopamine produced by meth use literally swamps the brain, leading to the damage of nerve terminals in the brain.
Because the continued use of meth, especially during binges, decreases natural feelings of hunger, users often experience extreme weight loss. Furthermore, other negative effects of short-term use can include disturbed sleep patterns, hyperactivity, nausea, delusions of power, and increased aggressiveness and irritability. Serious effects can include insomnia, confusion, hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia, and convulsions that, if left untreated, can prove fatal.
In summary, the more comprehensive short-term effects of methamphetamine can include:
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of appetite
- Increased / irregular heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Poor sleep quality, even insomnia
- Weight loss
- Aggression and irritability
- Bizarre, sometimes violent behavior
- Anxiety / Panic attacks
- Convulsions or seizures, and
- The risk of death from overdose
The Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Use
Long-term methamphetamine abuse has a potential myriad of damaging and destructive health consequences, both physically and mentally. Apart from an obvious addiction, which is medically described as substance use disorder (SUD), and other mental health issues, the long-term abuse of meth can lead to:
- Permanent heart damage
- Increased risk of stroke
- Organ failure, eg. kidneys, liver, and lungs
- Severe respiratory problems
- Loss of nasal tissues
- Malnourishment, through continued appetite suppression, and
- Persistent state of confused exhaustion
Methamphetamine Addiction: The Damage & The Destruction
You’ve seen the photos shown previously, so you have a fair idea of the level of damage and destruction that meth addiction can do to a user. However, sadly, a dramatic change of facial appearance is literally just the tip of the iceberg. Its life-changing effects are below the waterline, buried internally, both physically and mentally.
Addiction, medically described as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder, is characterized by both compulsive drug-seeking and use, and accompanied by functional and molecular changes in the brain. As the user’s level of tolerance rises from repeated use, they need to take higher doses of the meth, take it more frequently, and change the manner of how they take it, just to attempt to feel the same as when they experienced their first rush.
Brain Damage: How Meth Disrupts & Destroys Brain Function
Meth withdrawal occurs when a chronic user stops taking the drug. Symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Intense cravings for meth
- Erratic mood, and
- Violent behavior
Long-term users experiencing withdrawal may also have psychotic symptoms, such as:
- Visual and auditory hallucinations, and
- Delusions – for example, the bugs crawling under their skin
Psychotic symptoms can sometimes last for months, and even years, after a person has stopped using meth, and high levels of stress have been shown to precipitate a recurrence of their meth-related psychosis.
- Photo left: Healthy person
- Middle photo: Meth user after 1 month of abstinence
- Photo right: Meth user after 14 months of abstinence
Source: U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Effects on the Brain
Continued use of methamphetamine can cause permanent, irreversible brain damage. When people use it, it results in a surge of dopamine. This creates a rush of pleasure or euphoria. It is this rush that attracts people to the drug in the first place. The euphoria can last for quite some time.
As times goes on, and the drug is continually used, dopamine receptors are destroyed. This can make it impossible for people to feel pleasure. It gets to the point where they feel they need the drug to feel anything at all. There may be some healing that can take place if meth use is stopped. However, some cognitive damage may be lifelong.
Chronically abusing methamphetamine can and usually does lead to psychotic behaviors. People may become paranoid. They may be extremely aggressive at times, have hallucinations or delusions.
Emotional & Cognitive Brain Damage
Medical research studies on chronic meth users have revealed severe structural and functional changes in areas of the brain associated with emotion, memory, and decision-making which may account for many of the emotional and cognitive function problems observed even after they have stopped using. These brain changes can also explain why meth addiction is difficult to treat, and why many recovering meth addicts return to their previous levels of meth use.
Fortunately, with the correct treatment and after-care, part of this brain damage, including the damage done to the brain’s dopamine receptors, does appear to be partially reversible, ie. the areas involved with motor and verbal memory.
However, even after 14 months of abstinence, the function in other brain areas may not recover. Additionally, meth use can also increase stroke risk, which can cause irreversible damage to the brain. In fact, in a recent study, recovering meth users showed a higher incidence of Parkinson’s disease.
Long-Term Methamphetamine Use: Additional Physical Damage
As we have seen from the dramatic “before and after” meth user photos shown above, long-term methamphetamine addicts can also suffer other physical effects, eg. damage to the skin and mouth. These are:
Meth Use During Pregnancy
Unfortunately, expert knowledge on this vital negative aspect for pregnant women of regular meth use is limited. However, of the current available research, there are firm indications that meth use can:
- Increase the chance of premature delivery
- Cause placental abruption (separation of the placental lining from the uterus), and
- Other varied effects on new-borns from prenatal exposure to methamphetamine, such as:
- Small birth weight and size
- Lethargy, and
- Heart and brain abnormalities
In one NIDA-funded study, which examined developmental outcomes in infants and children born to mothers who misused meth, it was found that:
- In infancy, these children were more likely to show:
- Decreased arousal
- Increased stress, and
- Poor quality of movement
- By ages 1 and 2, children showed delayed motor development
- Preschool and school-age children had subtle attention issues, and were more likely than other children to have cognitive and behavioral issues related to their difficulties with both self-control and executive function
Severe Skin Damage
As shown by the photos that graphically define “before and after” meth use in this article, changes to appearance are obvious and dramatic, to say the least. One of the primary reasons for this is the vast destruction of blood vessels and muscle tissues in the body that results from using meth. Subsequently, the body is unable to heal itself as it did prior to the drug’s use.
Effects on the Teeth
Crystal abusers often suffer from a condition known as meth mouth. Meth mouth is described as having broken, rotting and discolored teeth. It happens because the ongoing use of this drug causes the salivary glands to dry out. As a result, the acid in the mouth eats away at tooth enamel. This is why people often get a lot of cavities, or they may have other problems with their teeth.
The anxiety the drug can cause may lead people to grind their teeth. Teeth that are already weakened will be damaged further by repeated grinding. It’s also common for methamphetamine users to eat or drink a lot of sugary foods and beverages. They typically don’t brush or floss their teeth regularly. This only makes a bad problem much worse.
Meth users can get acne on their faces, or other parts of their bodies. They may develop extensive sores that will take a long time to heal. The skin will usually lose its elasticity, which makes users appear far older than they actually are.
Additionally, methamphetamine can cause people to have itchy, dry skin, and they may often feel that something is crawling around under the skin, known as “mth bugs.” This results in meth users picking at the face, and other affected parts of the body. The subsequent wounds can leave permanent scars.
Lastly, there is actually a behavioral disorder known as “dermatillomania” – the constant need to pick at skin. Classified as a “body-focused repetitive behavior” (BFRB), the individual who suffers from a BFRB is powerless to stop the behavior, even though it causes physical injury.
According to the American Journal of Drug Abuse, pathologic skin picking has several traits in common with SUDs, ie. meth addiction:
- The activity with pleasure and psychological relief
- The behavior has a disabling effect on normal life, interfering with social, recreational or professional activities
- In spite of its destructive consequences, eg. pain, bleeding, scarring, infection, etc., the individual cannot stop the behavior, and
- The behavior causes guilt, remorse and self-loathing
Severe Tooth Decay: “Meth Mouth”
“Meth mouth” can be described as having broken, rotting and discolored teeth – however, it can mean, and lead to, much more physical damage than that. The physical damage caused by the meth mouth condition is the result of the ongoing drying out of salivary glands, known as xerostomia, from continued meth use. As a result, the acid in the mouth erodes the tooth enamel, resulting in extensive carious lesions (cavities), other problems with the teeth, and can even result in trismus, more commonly known as lockjaw.
Additionally, severe anxiety, often experienced by meth users, can cause bruxism – constant teeth-grinding and jaw-clenching. This causes even more damage and decay to already weakened teeth. Furthermore, poor nutrition, ie. eating or drinking sugary foods and sodas, and a pronounced lack of oral hygiene only make a bad problem much, much worse.
According to one particular NIDA study, researchers, using a sample group of over 500 meth users, found that:
- 96% had carious lesions or cavities
- 58% had untreated tooth decay, compared with 27% of the general U.S. population
- Only 23% were able to keep all of their natural teeth, compared to 48% of the population
- 40% said they were self-conscious or embarrassed because of the condition of their teeth or dentures
Methamphetamine Use: How Quickly Can Addiction Occur?
The initial use of methamphetamine often referred to as the “flash,” an intense rush of euphoric pleasure, is so strong that it can lead to immediately continued use, as many first-time users will even binge on the drug straight away. As a result, many experts believe that methamphetamine addiction can happen very quickly, especially for the users who like intense and rapid stimulant highs.
Clear Signs of Methamphetamine Use
It’s relatively easy to tell if someone has been using methamphetamine. These tell-tale signs can include:
- Rapid breathing rate that’s much faster than normal
- Irregular heart rate
- Physically overheating
- Loss of appetite
- Burns on the lips, or near them
- Nosebleeds (from snorting) or track marks on the arms (from injecting)
- Increase in physical activity
- Nervous behavior, such as picking at the skin
- Erratic behavior – sometimes, even violent
- Presence of meth-related paraphernalia
- Lowered personal hygiene
- Secretive or deceitful behaviors
- Socially withdrawn
Are You Addicted to Methamphetamine?
If you’re currently using meth or crystal meth, you may be wondering how you can tell if you’re an addict. There are several signs you can look for yourself – both physical and psychological. Keep in mind that addicts tend to prefer to stay in denial of their addiction, meaning that you may need to ask someone else to give you their opinion.
Have you noticed any of the following signs of meth addiction?:
- Problems getting to sleep
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Dry, itchy skin
- Changes in your blood pressure
- Increased anxiety
- Blurry vision
- Feeling dizzy
- Frequent headaches
If you have noticed any of these, you may already be a meth addict. However, it’s possible that even after looking over this list, you’re still not sure. You may want to consider taking our meth addiction quiz – it will dig deeper into your drug use patterns and history. Once you’re finished, it will be much clearer to you if you’re an addict or not.
How Northpoint Washington Can Help with Meth Addiction
First of all, you need to know that meth is not a drug you should quit using on your own. It is very powerful, and trying to detox yourself – go “cold turkey” – is not only potentially dangerous, it probably won’t work, as you are extremely likely to relapse, which could lead to a deadly meth overdose.
You need to get professional help to recover from an addiction to meth, and Northpoint Washington offers the help you need. Getting treatment for your meth addiction offers you many important benefits. You’ll find that it:
- Helps immensely to have the support of professionals who understand your addiction
- Helps to be around others who are also in recovery, and know that you’re not alone
- Offers you hope to learn how to cope without this drug as a part of your life
- Provides you with the encouragement you need to accomplish your goals in the future drug-free
Northpoint Washington offers a completely individualized recovery plan that is catered to your specific addiction, background, and mental health needs. Our inpatient facility is located in Edmonds, Washington, only 17 miles away from Seattle.