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Methamphetamine Abuse


What is methamphetamine (meth) abuse?

Meth abuse is any use of meth, or needing more meth for the same effects you got from smaller amounts. Meth is an illegal drug that stimulates your central nervous system.

What may happen right after I use meth?

You will have changes in your behavior and how you feel when you use meth. These changes usually occur right away. You may be more talkative, active, nervous, and you may anger more easily. You also may have an increased desire for sexual activity.

What are the long-term effects of meth abuse?

  • Memory and concentration problems can make it hard to learn or remember information. You may feel confused. You may also do things more slowly than before.
  • Behavior problems may include violent or impulsive actions. Impulsive means you act without thinking first.
  • Physical problems include heart weakness or damage. Your heart may have trouble working correctly. Men may have a decreased ability to have sex.
  • Self-care problems include not keeping yourself clean and not eating properly because you are focused on using meth. Meth may cause you to look older than you really are.
  • Skin problems may happen if you start picking at your skin or do not care for needle marks. You may think you see or feel bugs on or under your skin and try to pick them off. Skin picking causes sores to grow, and the sores can get infected. Meth injection causes needle marks on your skin. Needle marks can also get infected.
  • Mouth problems can develop from meth use. Meth can cause dry mouth and make you chew, clench, or grind your teeth more than normal. This causes your teeth to wear down. Your teeth may turn dark or black. They may break, crumble, or fall apart. Your teeth may need to be pulled out.

What are the signs and symptoms of meth abuse?

  • Fast or fluttering heartbeat, and chest pain
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fast breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever, chills, and sweats
  • Ringing in your ears or grinding your teeth
  • Confusion or hallucinations
  • Seizure or coma

How else is meth harmful?

  • Meth is more harmful when you combine it with alcohol or other drugs, such as cannabis or cocaine. This can be life-threatening.
  • Your risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV and hepatitis, is increased. You may have sex more often with different people. You may be less likely to practice safe sex, such as using a condom. People who inject meth often share used or dirty needles.
  • Exposure and burns in meth labs happen because meth is cooked from chemicals and materials. These can cause a fire or explosion. You can get burns from the open flame when you cook meth or are in the meth lab. The following problems can also happen:
    • You may feel sick or vomit. You may also have a headache or trouble breathing.
    • You may have chest pain and feel dizzy.
    • Your eyes may be damaged. Burns may occur on your skin, or you may get an inhalation burn. This occurs when you breathe in the chemicals used to make meth and damage your lungs. This can be life-threatening.
    • Children and others in the area may breathe in, eat, or absorb chemicals through their skin. They can be poisoned, or stuck by needles. Their lungs can be damaged by breathing in the smoke from meth.

What is meth withdrawal?

Withdrawal occurs when you decrease or stop using a drug you are addicted to. Meth users may have trouble coping with the symptoms of withdrawal and may start using meth again. Withdrawal signs and symptoms go away in days to weeks after you stop using meth. Meth withdrawal can cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • Seizures
  • Feeling sad or wanting to kill yourself
  • Strong cravings for meth
  • Feeling tired, sleeping longer than usual or not being able sleep at all, or bad dreams
  • Trouble focusing on a task, moving more slowly and taking longer to complete tasks, or feeling restless
  • Feeling nervous, angry, hungry, or unwell, or thinking people are trying to hurt you

How does meth affect an unborn baby or child?

  • If you are pregnant and use meth, your baby may not grow in your womb as he should. He may be born too early or die before birth. Your baby may have problems with his heart, brain, or body development. Do not breastfeed your baby if you use meth. You will give meth to your baby through your breast milk. Ask healthcare providers for more information about treatment programs and drug use while breastfeeding.
  • Your child may not grow as he should. He also may have trouble learning or managing anger.

How is meth abuse diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will check your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. You may also need any the following:

  • Blood, urine, and hair tests may be used to check for meth. You may also be tested for HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.
  • A newborn meconium test may be used to check for meth. Meconium is your newborn baby's first bowel movement.

How is meth abuse treated?

A monitor will be put on you to check your heart. You may be given treatments to decrease a high body temperature. You may also need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to absorb the drug if you swallowed meth, or to lower your blood pressure. Medicines may be given to help you stay calm, reduce depression, or decrease false thoughts.
  • Contingency management is a program to help you stop using drugs by giving rewards. You may be rewarded for staying in treatment or giving drug-free urine samples. You may get rewards for having STI or tuberculosis tests, or getting vaccines to help decrease the spread of disease. Rewards may include vouchers to buy food.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you change your thinking and behavior. It can help you manage depression and anxiety caused by meth use. CBT can help you learn good coping skills and ways to manage stress. CBT can be done with you and a talk therapist or in group therapy.
  • Family therapy and support groups may include your friends and family. Support groups are meetings with a talk therapist and other people who have used meth or other drugs. Programs near where you live may support your choice to quit using drugs. Ask for information about programs in your town.
  • Harm reduction is a program to help support your choice to avoid spreading disease. You may be able to return used needles and syringes and replace them with clean items.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have chest pain, and your heartbeat or breathing is faster than usual.
  • You are so nervous that you cannot function.
  • You feel sick or vomit, or have headaches or trouble breathing while being around or cooking meth. You may also feel dizzy.
  • Children or others who have been near meth look or act ill, or will not wake up.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You want to hurt yourself or someone else.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You are using meth and know or think you may be pregnant.
  • You have withdrawal symptoms and want to start using meth again.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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