What are the Signs and Symptoms of Meth Use?
Methamphetamine, widely known on the street as meth, chalk, ice, and crystal, is a highly addictive stimulant drug. It’s sold as a white, crystalline powder that’s bitter-tasting and odorless.
Methamphetamine abuse is a widespread problem in the U.S., and although it’s not the most popular illicit drug of abuse, it’s certainly one of the most destructive. If you suspect that your loved one is using meth but are unsure, there are a number of tell-tale signs that are indicative of the abuse of this drug. The more you know about how meth is used and its effects on the body and behavior, the better you can watch for signs of abuse and work to get your loved one the help he needs to recover.
How Meth is Abused
Methamphetamine works by increasing the amount of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. The psychoactive effect of meth is an intense but short-lived euphoria, and those who abuse it typically take it repeatedly over a short period of time to maintain the high.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine is taken by mouth, snorted, smoked, or dissolved in a liquid and injected. Smoking and injecting meth are the preferred methods, since they both deliver the drug very quickly to the brain and produce the most intense effects.
Paraphernalia Associated With Meth Use
Retired narcotics detective Gary Ferency offers a rundown of the paraphernalia most commonly associated with meth, which is typically sold in the cut-off corners of plastic sandwich bags and secured with a short piece of a twist tie. According to Ferency, other meth paraphernalia includes:
- Hollowed out ink pens or cut pieces of straws, which are used to snort or smoke meth.
- Strips of creased aluminum foil, which hold the meth while a flame heats it from underneath. When the meth begins to evaporate, a hollowed-out pen or straw is used to suck the smoke into the lungs. According to Ferency, you may find little balls of foil lying around.
- Glass pipes, which are used to smoke meth. In a pinch, users may utilize a hollow glass tube, which will have burn marks on one end, or a gutted light bulb, which will have a hole at the top.
- Syringes, which may indicate that your loved one is injecting meth. If this is the case, you may also find spoons with burn residue on them. The spoon is used to hold the meth in a little water while a flame melts it from underneath. You may also find little pieces of cotton or cigarette filters, which are used to filter the solution before injecting it.
- Torch lighters, preferred by meth users over standard lighters, which tend to burn the tip of the thumb when lit for very long.
Signs of Short-Term Meth Use
Shortly after using meth, your loved one may:
- Have dilated pupils
- Exhibit increased wakefulness
- Be more physically active
- Experience a loss of appetite
- Seem anxious or restless
- Breathe faster
Meth also temporarily increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Once the high winds down, users typically sleep for long periods of time.
Signs of Long-Term Meth Abuse
According to PBS’ Frontline, long-term methamphetamine use can cause extreme weight loss, and the hallucinations it produces can lead users to pick and scratch at “bugs” on their skin. The harsh chemicals and toxins can cause severe acne breakouts, and any open sores on the skin will take longer to heal due to meth’s ability to destroy blood vessels and tissues. Burns around the mouth are commonly associated with smoking meth, and since the drug suppresses the activity of infection-fighting white blood cells, viral and fungal infections of the skin are common among meth users.
Long-term meth use also causes “meth mouth,” which is the slang term for severe dental problems that are caused by the chemicals in meth, the drying out of the salivary glands due to meth use, and the compulsive grinding of the teeth, which is common among users. Meth mouth is characterized by discolored, broken, or rotting teeth, and it can occur even among short-term users.
Those who abuse meth may become aggressive or violent, withdraw socially, steal or borrow money to buy meth, lie about their drug use, and become combative when confronted with it.
Getting Help for Meth Addiction
Meth is an extremely difficult drug to stop using due to its intense withdrawal symptoms, which include the inability to feel pleasure, the onset of a deep, dark depression, and suicidal thoughts. The sooner your loved one gets help through an inpatient addiction treatment facility, the better their chances will be of successful long-term recovery.