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Is My Friend Addicted to Meth? How You can Tell

Meth is a dangerous stimulant drug that is most notoriously sold as crystal meth, ice, or crank. While it may be smoked, it is also notoriously snorted or injected.

Domestic production of meth declined after law enforcement actions in the United States in the mid-2000s, but since about 2015, meth produced by super labs in Mexico and China has been entering the U.S.

This mass-produced version of meth is purer and cheaper, so it is more addictive and easier to get. This is a very harmful combination.

As more people in the U.S. begin to abuse meth, you are more likely to know someone who struggles with addiction to this potent substance. What are the signs that someone you care about is addicted to meth? There are several potential indicators.

Addiction Criteria Can Indicate Meth Abuse

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) has been updated to offer new diagnostic criteria for medical professionals so that they can recognize and treat mental and behavioral conditions like addiction.

There are 11 basic criteria used to determine if an addiction is present.

  1. Does your friend take more of the substance or take it for longer than intended?
  2. Does your friend talk about quitting, or tried to quit, and been unable to?
  3. Does your friend spend a lot of time getting the drug, taking the drug, or recovering from the aftereffects of the drug?
  4. Does your friend experience strong cravings for the substance?
  5. Does your friend repeatedly fail to fulfill work, school, or home obligations because of the drug?
  6. Does your friend know that the drug is making their interpersonal problems worse but keeps taking it anyway?
  7. Has your friend ever stopped participating in hobbies or activities they love so they can take the drug?
  8. Does your friend consume the drug even though it puts them in physically dangerous situations, like driving while intoxicated?
  9. Does your friend take the drug even though they develop physical ailments or mental issues because of the substance?
  10. Does your friend find that the original dose does not produce the same level of intoxication, so they take more?
  11. Does your friend experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop taking the drug or are unable to take it?

There are three basic levels of substance use disorder (SUD), per the DSM-5, based on how many of these questions warranted a “yes” answer. Mild SUD is diagnosed if your friend experiences two to three of these symptoms; moderate addiction is diagnosed with four to five of the criteria; and severe addiction involves six or more of these symptoms, all occurring consistently over 12 months.

The DSM-5 separates different drugs into different substance use disorders. Meth falls under the stimulant use disorder category. In addition to the 11 criteria listed above, meth addiction is indicated by some behavioral changes and side effects.

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Short-Term and Long-Term Side Effects of Abusing Meth

Since meth is such a strong, harmful drug, its abuse causes several side effects. Short term, you may notice these signs in your friend:

  • Surges of physical and mental energy
  • Appearing very attentive
  • Physically shaking or twitching
  • Scratching themselves due to hallucinating insects on or under their skin
  • Wide eyes
  • Anxiety or paranoia
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Other psychotic breaks from reality
  • Looking emaciated because they do not eat
  • High blood pressure and heart rate
  • Unpredictable behaviors, including self-harm or violence toward others
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Jaw clenching
  • Sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Seizures or a heart attack

These are frightening enough, but over time, someone you care about who abuses meth may develop chronic health problems such as:

  • Damaged nerve terminals in the brain, which means normal levels of neurotransmitters are less effective
  • Brain damage similar to dementia or Parkinson’s disease
  • Cardiovascular damage, from heart disease to chronic high blood pressure
  • Prolonged anxiety, paranoia, depression, insomnia, or psychosis
  • Homicidal or suicidal thoughts
  • Cracked, damaged, or missing teeth
  • Sores on the skin
  • Infections
  • Risky behavior

These symptoms may not be noticeable in everyone, especially at the onset of meth abuse. You may not be around the person when they are high and experiencing hallucinations or paranoia. Instead, you may see that they are missing work or school because they sleep through alarms.

You may not see what they eat or when, but you may notice they are losing weight quickly. You may not be in their home very often to see drug paraphernalia, but their clothes may smell like smoke or chemicals. They may become irritable, aggressive, sad, or unresponsive to positive events.

Over time, the person may lose their job or change friends so that they hang out with people who have meth. The person also may suffer legal consequences from being arrested or hospitalized or neglect basic hygiene to the point where their appearance may change. Losing weight may lead to anorexia and emaciation.

You will see mental changes because they may feel like they need to be high all the time to feel normal. They may contract a severe illness like tuberculosis or hepatitis.

Anecdotally, many of us believe that someone we care about who is suffering an addiction to a dangerous drug like meth must “hit rock bottom” before they accept help. This is not true. If you notice any signs of addiction, especially major changes in behavior, you can make a difference by saying something.

How Can You Help a Friend Overcome Meth Addiction?

helping a friend

If you are a close friend or relative of someone who is struggling with meth addiction, you may consider an intervention. This process involves setting up a meeting with the person abusing meth, while they are sober if possible, and expressing your concern for their condition. You then offer as much help and support as you can for them to get addiction treatment.

In planning an intervention, have prepared statements and avoid blaming the person or making them feel guilty because that can trigger more substance abuse. Instead, focus on concern and caring. Provide resources for evidence-based detox and rehabilitation if possible.

Interventions are effective when planned correctly, so you may consider having a therapist, doctor, spiritual or religious leader, or addiction specialist, including a professional interventionist, plan and lead the meeting for you. You can conduct an intervention yourself, including a one-on-one intervention, if you feel safe doing so.

The important part is that you recognize that your loved one is struggling and that help from medical professionals is available.

Sources

(2017). Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide, 2017 Edition. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/sites/getsmartaboutdrugs.com/files/publications/DoA_2017Ed_Updated_6.16.17.pdf#page=54

(2015). How and Why to Diagnose Substance Use Disorders Under DSM-5. MOJ Addiction Medicine & Therapy. Retrieved January 2019 from https://medcraveonline.com/MOJAMT/MOJAMT-01-00009.pdf

(June 2016). 2. Substance Use Disorders. Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey of Drug Use and Health. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519702/

(October 29, 2013). Methamphetamine. Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR). Retrieved January 2019 from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/meth.asp

(October 26, 2017). Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112

(July 20, 2017). Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/intervention/art-20047451

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