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Methamphetamine Use Disorder

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What is methamphetamine (meth) use disorder?

Meth use disorder is a medical condition that develops from long-term use of meth. You are not able to stop even though it causes physical or social problems. Meth use disorder is also called meth abuse.

What are the signs and symptoms of meth use disorder?

Signs and symptoms include at least 2 of the following in a 12-month period:

  • You have a strong urge or craving for meth. This is also called addiction. You are not able to control when you use it or how much you use. You spend large amounts of time trying to get, use, or recover from meth. In between uses, you think about when you will get to use it again.
  • You become tolerant to meth. This means the amount you have been using no longer has the effects you want. You need higher amounts to feel the effects.
  • You become dependent on meth. Dependence means your body becomes used to meth. You have withdrawal symptoms when you do not use meth for a short amount of time. You have to use it to stop or prevent withdrawal symptoms, such as shaky hands.
  • You are not able to stop, or to use less. You start again when you try to quit. You try to use lower amounts or to use it less often, but you are not able.
  • You continue to use meth even though it causes problems or is dangerous. For example, try to make the effect stronger by mixing it with alcohol or other drugs. You have problems at school, work, or home. You spend less time doing important or enjoyable activities. You may become violent or impulsive (acting without thinking about the risks). Meth use can also lead to health problems, such as the following:
    • Heart weakness or damage can develop because meth increases blood pressure and heart rate.
    • Skin problems may develop if you start picking at your skin or do not care for needle marks. 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.
    • Dry mouth can develop 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.

How is meth use disorder diagnosed and treated?

Blood or urine tests may be used to check the level of meth in your system. The tests can also check for physical problems meth can cause. Healthcare providers can help you make decisions about treatment programs. Treatment may be offered in a hospital, outpatient facility, or drug rehabilitation center. The goal is to help you decrease or stop taking meth.

  • A monitor will be put on you to check your heart.
  • 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, manage depression, or decrease false thoughts.
  • A detox program includes medicine and treatment to reduce withdrawal symptoms and anxiety when you stop taking meth. You will be in the hospital with close monitoring and care.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you manage depression and anxiety caused by meth use disorder. CBT can be done with you and a talk therapist or in a group with others.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy can help you set and reach healthy, positive goals.
  • Twelve-step facilitation (TSF) is a short, structured approach to reach early recovery. It is done one-to-one with a therapist in 12 to 15 sessions.

What can I do to lower the risk for certain problems meth use can cause?

  • Do not mix meth with medicines, drugs, or alcohol. The combination can be life-threatening.
  • Learn about the signs of an overdose so you know how to respond. Tell others about these signs so they will know what to do if needed. Signs include a fast heartbeat, chest pain, a severed headache, hallucinations, heavy sweating, and agitation. Get immediate help or call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for signs of a meth overdose.
  • Do not share used needles with anyone. Your risk for HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases is higher if you share used needles. Ask about needle exchange programs. You may be able to return used needles and syringes and replace them with clean items.
  • Work with healthcare providers if you are pregnant or want to breastfeed. Meth is not safe for you or your baby. Meth can prevent your baby from growing in your womb as he or she should. He or she may be born too early or die before birth. Your baby may have problems with his or her heart, brain, or body development. Do not breastfeed or give your baby breast milk if you take meth. The meth will go to your baby through the breast milk.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    PO Box 2345
    Rockville , MD 20847-2345
    Web Address: http://www.samhsa.gov
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 5213
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9561
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-1124
    Web Address: www.nida.nih.gov

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have chest pain, and your heartbeat or breathing is faster than usual.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You want to hurt yourself or someone else.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You are so nervous that you cannot do your daily activities.
  • 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.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever.
  • You know or think you may be pregnant.
  • 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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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.