Crystal Meth Side Effects: Signs, & Symptoms of Methamphetamine Use

Meth use can easily lead to a serious addiction, and its abuse is a widespread issue in the United States. Misuse of the drug creates serious health problems and, in some cases, leads to fatal consequences. It is important to keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms of meth abuse.

As addicts continue to use methamphetamine, they are likely to display a number of outward signs indicating their drug dependency. Meth addiction can manifest itself in a variety of physical forms, from rotting teeth to hyperactivity, and is not difficult to identify. If you believe a loved one may be addicted to methamphetamine, look for these signs and symptoms.

Methamphetamine deeply affects a user’s brain and body. These effects are often visible in a number of areas of a meth addict’s life. One of the first signs of methamphetamine abuse is a sudden loss of interest in other areas of life. Hobbies, relationships and career goals will all take a back seat to meth. Methamphetamine alters how meth addicts think and feel, and makes procuring the next dose of the drug their most important task.

It is not uncommon for frequent users of the drug to display these behavioral signs of meth addiction:

  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Neglecting relationships
  • Isolating themselves from others 
  • Sudden shift in social groups
  • Risky financial behavior, such as cashing out savings in order to buy meth
  • Criminality, such as stealing money in order to buy meth
  • Obsessive focus on a particular issue or task
  • Forgetting important dates, times or events
  • Increased aggression or violent behavior
  • Clumsiness (decreased fine motor skills)
  • Distracted behavior in social situations
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Erratic sleep patterns, such as insomnia and hypersomnia
  • Hyperactivity and high energy
  • Extreme loss of appetite (eating little or not at all for several days)
  • Displaying a tic or twitch (a small, repetitive behavior, such as pulling hair or picking at a particular spot on the skin)

Those addicted to meth may also have these pieces of paraphernalia in their home, car or personal space:

  • An unusually large amount of aluminum foil, particularly with burn or scorch marks (used in smoking crystal meth)
  • A water pipe or other pipe (used in smoking crystal meth)
  • Burned spoons
  • Rolled up slips of paper, rolled up dollar bills, empty pen cases, or straws (used to snort meth)
  • Pieces of glass or shards of a broken mirror, or razor blades (used to snort meth)
  • Needles or syringes (used to inject meth)
  • New shoelaces or rubber tubing (used as a tourniquet if injecting the drug intravenously)

While it is true that people who are addicted to methamphetamine are most likely to be young, white men, anyone can become addicted to the drug at any time. If you notice one or more of these signs in a loved one, they may have a methamphetamine addiction. Knowing how someone acts on meth is a good first step in getting someone the help they need. Addiction is a disease and, as with any other disease, an afflicted person will need to see a medical professional as soon as possible.

Meth addiction can cause a variety of physical and psychological reactions. Some people consider these adverse effects an allergic reaction to crystal meth, but they are, by and large, ordinary effects of a methamphetamine addiction. Every inch of the body and brain are adversely influenced by the drug, and there are many easily identifiable symptoms which loved ones can be on the lookout for.

The following are common physical symptoms of meth addiction:

  • Sudden or severe weight loss
  • Extreme perspiration
  • Irregular breathing patterns
  • Nosebleeds
  • Sores that are slow to heal
  • Dilated pupils
  • Burns, particularly on the lips or fingers
  • Track marks on the arms
  • Blackened, rotting teeth (also known as “meth mouth”)
  • Broken teeth (the result of meth-induced tooth grinding)
  • Bad breath
  • Premature aging of the skin

The following are common psychological symptoms of meth addiction:

  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Agitation or fidgeting
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Belief that there are insects crawling under skin (leading to “meth sores“)

Beyond these common symptoms, some methamphetamine users experience severe and immediately life-threatening issues such as seizures, heart attacks and liver failure. If any of these occur, it is imperative to get the affected person to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible.

crystal meth abuse symptoms
Methamphetamine is a dangerous and highly addictive stimulant. If abuse is continued over a long period of time, the brain begins to rely on its stimulant effects and creates a need for its use. This turns into addiction — the most dangerous of all long-term effects of methamphetamine use.

These long-term health effects can be divided into physical and psychological categories. The physical effects of chronic meth use include:

  • Increased chances of developing cancer
  • Liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Malnutrition (due to an extreme loss of appetite)
  • Birth defects
  • Reproductive issues, such as miscarriages and infertility
  • Infection (due to skin-picking and poor hygiene, both of which often accompany methamphetamine use)
  • Blackened, rotting teeth (also known as “meth mouth”)
  • Overdose
  • Death

The long-term psychological effects of meth use include:

  • Addiction
  • Tolerance, leading to increased dosage
  • Anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure, resulting from the destruction of dopamine receptors in the brain)
  • Impaired cognition, judgment, memory and motor skills
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

Meth addiction — defined as the psychological need for the drug — is the most common side effect of long-term methamphetamine use. Typically, the process of addiction begins with the user developing a tolerance to the drug. Once you develop a tolerance for meth, you’ll likely begin to experience symptoms of withdrawal when you don’t use methamphetamine at regular intervals. This is called methamphetamine dependence. The development of an addictive psychological need for the drug can occur at any point along this journey.

There is no cure for addiction, but the disease can be treated. Addiction specialists believe that those who are addicted to meth can be in a state of recovery as soon as they commit to getting clean. The recovery process requires significant time, concentrated medical attention, and psychological counseling. It also requires a great amount of support and accountability so an individual does not return to their drug habit after becoming sober.

It is all too common for those using methamphetamine to overdose on the stimulant. This occurs when the user consumes a large amount of the drug at one time, effectively poisoning their body. In many cases, acute meth overdose has fatal consequences. There are many signs of overdose that loved ones can look out for in order to catch an overdose in its early stages, while there is still hope for recovery.

Meth overdose symptoms include:

  • Irregular breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Seizure
  • Agitation
  • High body temperature
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Kidney failure

If you believe that someone is experiencing a meth overdose, call 911. Professional medical assistance is the best chance the user has at survival. Make sure the user does not injure themselves or others. If they are warm to the touch, attempt to cool them down with a cold cloth. Once the user has been transported to the hospital, medical personnel will treat the symptoms of the overdose and provide breathing support as well as intravenous liquids.

If the user survives an overdose, there’s a chance the side effects could become long-lasting, or even permanent. An overdose is a sure sign of a serious methamphetamine abuse issue. It is critical that the user seeks recovery treatment following this event.

“Crystal Meth Abuse Signs, Symptoms and Addiction Treatment.”,
“Crystal Meth Overdose Facts | Drug Overdose Symptoms.” Project Know,
“How Meth Destroys The Body | The Meth Epidemic | PBS.” FRONTLINE,
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America. “Facts About Meth.” Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force,
“What Are the Long-term Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse?” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA),