Meth Addiction Causes, Signs, & Symptoms

Understanding the signs, symptoms, causes and effects of meth addiction is an important first step toward healing and recovery.

Understanding Meth

Learn about meth and substance abuse

Methamphetamines, or meth, are potent and highly addictive stimulants that work by affecting the central nervous system of the body, creating a powerful sense of energy and well-being. Medically, methamphetamines are prescribed by doctors to help manage symptoms of ADHD and narcolepsy. Meth found on the street is created in makeshift laboratories, with the most common ingredient being over-the-counter cold medicine, pseudoephedrine. Other substances found in methamphetamines are highly toxic and may include lighter fluid, battery acid, lye, ammonia, ether, drain cleaner, paint thinner, rubbing alcohol, red phosphorous, iodine, and brake and engine cleaner.

Meth is found in an odorless white powder or crystal rock form and is extremely addictive. The powder can be snorted or smoked, while the rock can be liquefied and injected into the veins. As soon as this substance is consumed, the individual is met with a rush, which is caused by a surge of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These effects can last up to twelve hours at a time. When the high eventually wears off, the individual experiences a crash. Someone who is addicted to meth will continue to abuse this drug in this binge/crash pattern.

After repeated use, an individual will develop a tolerance to meth, which means that they will continuously need more and more of the substance in order to get the desired effect. Chronic methamphetamine users will eventually have trouble feeling pleasure without the use of the drug, which leads to further drug abuse.


Meth addiction statistics

Methamphetamine has been referred to as the most dangerous drug in the world, and the abuse of meth still continues to climb at an alarming rate. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 1.2 million people (0.4% of the adult population) reported using methamphetamine in the past year; 440,000 (0.2%) reported using it in the past month.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for meth addiction

While the precise cause for addiction remains unknown, most researchers agree that addiction is likely caused by a number of factors working together. The most common causes for methamphetamine addiction may include:

Genetic: Countless research studies have shown that addiction tends to run in families. Individuals who have a first-degree relative with an addiction to substances are more likely to develop an addiction themselves. This does not mean that genetics will cause an individual to start using meth, just that if they begin they are more likely to become addicted.

Brain Chemistry: It has been suggested that certain individuals may be born lacking in the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for the pleasurable feelings associated with methamphetamine use. When meth is used, they get that rush of pleasure, and continue using to get that same rush of feelings. After time drugs change the functions and structure of the brain, which means the individual may no longer be able to experience pleasurable feelings without using the drug, causing addiction.

Environmental: Individuals who are born into a home environment where drug use and abuse is prevalent may come to learn through modeling that drug use is an acceptable behavior. The earlier an individual begins to abuse drugs, the more likely they will become addicted to a substance in later life. Additionally, if an individual has peers who use and encourage drug use, then they are more likely to engage in this behavior as well.

Psychological: Some individuals struggle for many years to manage the symptoms of an undiagnosed or undertreated mental illness. These individuals may begin to abuse substances in order to reduce the severity of symptoms and, in turn, may develop an addiction. This is a form of self-medication.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of meth addiction

The symptoms of methamphetamine addiction will vary greatly from person to person. Some of the psychotic symptoms experienced can last for months or years even after the individual has quit using. Some of the most common symptoms of methamphetamine abuse usually include the following symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Intense anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Lying or hiding drug abuse
  • Drug paraphernalia in individual’s belongings
  • Use of the drug despite negative consequences
  • Drug-seeking behaviors
  • Risky behaviors
  • Increased libido
  • Increased risky sexual activity
  • Withdrawing from once-pleasurable activities
  • Social withdrawal from interpersonal relationships
  • Declining work or academic performance
  • Increasingly disheveled personal appearance
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Increased talkativeness
  • Increases in physical activities
  • Borrowing or stealing money from loved ones
  • Increased alertness
  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia following a meth binge
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased respiration rate
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Dilated pupils
  • Severe hypertension
  • Hyperthermia – extremely high body temperatures
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions


Effects of meth addiction

Chronic abuse of methamphetamines can cause major problems in nearly every area of an addict’s life. There is no good that can come out of abusing meth for prolonged periods of time. The longer it is abused, the worse the effects get. The most common effects of methamphetamine abuse include:

  • Job loss
  • Crumbling interpersonal relationships
  • Damage to brain cells that contain the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine
  • Parkinson’s-like symptoms resulting from brain damage
  • Divorce
  • Domestic abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Financial ruin
  • Consequences of risky behaviors
  • Total psychosis
  • Severe malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Legal problems
  • HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C infections from shared needles
  • Profound confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Violent behaviors
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Skin sores
  • “Meth mouth,” or tooth rot and decay
  • Damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and other vital organs
  • Infections from communicable diseases
  • Increased suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Withdrawal Symptoms

Meth withdrawal signs and symptoms

The effects of withdrawal and psychological dependence upon the drug are often what keep an addict using, despite being surrounded by negative consequences in their life. Withdrawal from methamphetamines should be done under the supervised care of medical professionals in a rehab setting that provides a monitored detoxification program. Most commonly reported withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Intense craving for methamphetamines
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Shaking and tremors
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hypertension
  • Heart palpitations
  • Respiratory failure
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Meth addiction and co-occurring disorders

Disorder that may co-occur with meth use and abuse may include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Stimulant abuse
  • Other substance abuse
  • Schizophrenia
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