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Meth Use

Meth, or methamphetamine, is an addictive stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system. People use meth for its effects on energy and alertness and the high it produces. However, meth also leads to many short-term and long-term side effects, which can devastate a person’s health, making it difficult to understand meth use. Learn why someone close to you uses meth, how they use it, the penalties for meth charges, and how to get them help.

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Why Do People Use Methamphetamine?

People who use meth primarily do it because they have formed a methamphetamine addiction. Also called substance use disorder or meth use disorder, drug addiction prompts a person to continue using a drug despite its negative effects.

But what prompts the first instance of methamphetamine abuse? Research shows many factors may contribute to someone using meth for the first time.

Some factors that may lead a person to try meth include:

  • Recreational use (i.e., experimentation or wanting to try something new)
  • The feelings of euphoria meth creates (like extreme happiness and pleasure)
  • Self-medication for mental health issues, such as depression
  • As an escape from reality or everyday life
  • To prevent cravings and other withdrawal symptoms caused by meth addiction

Ways People Use Meth

People may use meth by snorting, injecting, or orally ingesting it (taking it by mouth). However, the most common method of use is smoking the solid form of the drug, crystal meth.

Because the comedown effects of meth are so unpleasant, people may binge meth (take multiple doses in a row) to avoid this experience as long as possible.

Meth is also a prescription medication (Desoxyn) used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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Who Uses Meth?

People may also use meth because it is a cheap alternative to other illicit stimulant drugs (such as cocaine) and is easily produced in clandestine meth labs. However, making meth is a dangerous practice.

Research shows that meth rates of use are highest in rural communities.

Meth abuse is also common among people with adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Perhaps this is because methamphetamine, like amphetamine, is used to treat ADHD. But, more research is needed to identify and treat co-occurring mental illness and meth abuse issues.

In general, meth use does not discriminate, as national survey reports show adolescents ages 12 and older use meth.

What Makes Meth Use So Dangerous?

Aside from the general risks of substance abuse (addiction, physical dependence), meth use is dangerous due to the high risk of both short- and long-term effects.

Some of the effects of methamphetamine include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Effects on dopamine (feel-good brain chemical) levels
  • Tolerance to meth, which prompts continued use
  • Difficulty experiencing pleasure without meth
  • Violent behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Meth-induced psychosis
  • Effects on existing mental illnesses
  • Weight loss
  • Meth mouth (tooth decay, meth sores, etc.)
  • Changes to brain structure (often in long-term meth users)
  • Meth withdrawal (cravings, anxiety, fatigue)
  • Meth comedown (period of deep depression after use)
  • Tweaking (extreme discomfort due to no longer experiencing the effects of meth)
  • Damage to organs, including kidneys, lungs, and liver

Continued use of methamphetamine increases a person’s risk of heart attack.

Injecting meth can increase a person’s risk of contracting infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDs or Hepatitis C, due to shared use of syringes.

Finally, periods of meth tweaking can lead to hallucinations, delusions, or psychosis and result in dangerous behaviors. These dangerous side effects often happen in people who use meth over time and no longer feel high from it.

When Did People Start Using Meth?

Methamphetamine was first made in the 1880s in Japan. It was developed as a cheaper and easier-to-produce alternative to ephedrine to treat respiratory issues.

Meth was given to soldiers on both sides during World War II to help keep them alert.

Due to its appetite suppression side effects, meth was prescribed in the 1950s as a diet aid. Meth was also prescribed for depression for its stimulating effects. Around this time is when abuse of meth became prevalent. Since the drug was easy to obtain, college students, truck drivers, and others began abusing meth in high numbers.

The U.S. government made meth illegal in the 1970s. The drug was highly sought in rural communities (and still is today) because it was a less costly alternative to cocaine.

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Legal Consequences for Meth Use

Meth is illegal at both federal and state levels. Here’s what you need to know about meth laws and penalties for meth charges.

Laws and Regulations

Meth was first made a Schedule II controlled substance under the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.

Today, meth remains a Schedule II drug, which means it’s illegal for use, possession, and sale, save for one form (Desoxyn) in certain medical instances.

Penalties for Meth Use, Sale and Possession

Penalties for the use, sale, and possession of meth are as follows for first convictions:

  • Meth use: up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine
  • Meth possession (10-99 g): no less than 5 years/no more than 40 years in prison; up to $2 million fine
  • Meth possession (100 g or more): no less than 10 years/up to life in prison; up to $4 million fine

Meth Rates of Use in the United States

The following rates show the scope of meth drug use in the United States:

  • Approximately 6 million people ages 12 and older reported using meth in the past 12 months in 2020 (National Institute on Drug Abuse – NIDA).
  • 5 million people have a meth use disorder (NIDA).
  • Over 28,000 people died in 2020 due to overdoses involving methamphetamine and other psychostimulants (NIDA).
  • Past-year rates of use for meth from 2015-2018 were about 6.6 people per 100,000 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC).
  • Of those using meth, 3% used the drug by meth injection (CDC).
  • Meth arrest rates increased by 79% from 2015 to 2019 in states with available data (The PEW Charitable Trusts).

What Treatments Can Help You Quit Meth Use For Good?

If you or someone close to you is battling meth use, know that recovery from meth addiction is within reach.

Highly effective treatment programs for meth use include:

  • Drug detox: This initial phase of treatment helps you rid your body of meth, alcohol, opioids, and other substances of abuse. This way, you are ready for treatment.
  • Matrix Model programs: The Matrix model was developed to treat stimulant drug addiction and involves evidence-based treatments like family therapy, relapse prevention, self-help, and psychoeducation.
  • Intensive inpatient treatment: Because of the risks of meth addiction, inpatient rehab programs may be necessary. They offer 24-hour care and targeted behavioral health treatments.
  • Step-down levels of care: Treatment typically continues after drug rehab with outpatient programs, such as partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient treatment, or other outpatient services.
  • Aftercare support: Long-term meth recovery requires strong support, such as from a group therapy program, sober sponsor, family members, and rehab center alumni networks.
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Finding Help for Yourself or a Loved One Battling Meth Use

When you’re ready to seek help for yourself or a family member facing meth use, try searching for a reputable treatment program using a treatment locator.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides an easy-to-use navigator on its website to help you find meth treatment near you.

For additional support, search for Meth Anonymous meetings online to find peers in addiction recovery or seek a confidential referral from your healthcare provider.

Whatever you choose, know that help is available and a life without meth is possible.

Meth Use FAQs

What do hospitals use meth for?

Desoxyn, the legal form of methamphetamine, is used to treat ADHD. Meth was used in the 1950s and 1960s as a diet aid but is no longer prescribed.

What is meth use disorder?

Meth use disorder is the medical term for meth addiction. This health condition is characterized by intense cravings for meth, withdrawal symptoms, a mental reliance on meth, and other symptoms.

Does meth use cause iron deficiency?

Meth can lead to iron deficiency in babies exposed to meth while in the womb (during pregnancy).

Can meth use cause rhabdomyolysis?

Meth use can lead to rhabdomyolysis, a serious medical condition leading to muscle tissue breakdown that affects kidney function. Rhabdomyolysis is seen most in people with high levels of meth intoxication.

Can meth use cause hyperthyroidism?

Meth use can lead to hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. Meth also causes other thyroid dysfunction issues.

Can meth use cause tardive dyskinesia?

Meth abuse has been found to cause tardive dyskinesia and other conditions that affect nerves and movement, according to multiple studies by the National Library of Medicine.

This impact on nerves and movement is likely the result of meth’s effects on dopamine levels.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020 March 27) Retrieved March 4, 2023 from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912a1.htm

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  8. The PEW Charitable Trusts (2022 August 16). “Methamphetamine Use, Overdose Deaths, and Arrests Soared From 2015 to 2019.” Retrieved March 4, 2023 from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2022/08/16/methamphetamine-use-overdose-deaths-and-arrests-soared-from-2015-to-2019

  9. Radiological Society of North America. Radiology (2018 February 20). “Case 251: Nontraumatic Drug-associated Rhabdomyolysis of Head and Neck Muscles.”

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