Methamphetamine Frequently Asked Questions

A highly addictive drug, methamphetamine appears as a white, odorless, crystalline powder. Although it has effects similar to its parent drug amphetamine, meth is a more powerful stimulant because greater amounts of methamphetamine make it to the brain. Meth also lasts longer than amphetamine and can produce more harmful effects.

What Is the Scope of Methamphetamine Use in the U.S.?

Although methamphetamine use is increasing in a few regions, overall meth use has been declining during the past 10 years.

There are several government-sponsored national surveys that estimate the current and past-year drug use in the United States. All of these surveys have shown a steady decline in methamphetamine use in the past decade.

The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated 1.2 million meth users in the past year and 440,000 in the past month. By comparison, the same survey estimated 731,000 past-month users in 2006. NSDUH in 2012 indicated 133,000 new methamphetamine users (same as 2011) with an average age of 19.7 years.

The 2012 Monitoring the Future (MTF) estimated methamphetamine use by only 1% of 8th, 10th and 12th graders in the past year. This number has declined significantly since 1999 when meth was first added to the survey of the nation's adolescents.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) survey of drug-related emergency department visits revealed that methamphetamine accounted for 103,000 ED visits in 2011, down from 132,576 in 2004. Meth was the fourth most mentioned illegal drug during emergency visits behind cocaine, marijuana, and heroin.

The 2011 Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) showed that nationwide treatment admissions for methamphetamine use dropped from 8.1% in 2005 to 5.6% in 2011. Of all meth treatment admission patients, 53% were male and 68% were non-Hispanic whites.

However, in some areas of the West and Midwest, meth use is not declining. In the first half of 2012, meth was ranked first in drug-related treatment admissions in Hawaii and San Diego, second in San Francisco and third in Denver and Phoenix, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse's Community Epidemiology Work Group.

How Is Methamphetamine Used?

Methamphetamine can be used is a variety of ways because it is produced in several different forms. How meth is used can depend on what region of the country you are located. It can be smoked, snorted, injected or swallowed. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, smoking is currently the most common method of using meth.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Use?

Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that can increase physical activity and wakefulness and decrease appetite, even in small doses. People who use meth can also experience rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and high blood pressure.

If someone overdoses on methamphetamine, they can experience elevated body temperature and convulsions. If left untreated, these effects can result in death.

Research shows that methamphetamine, like other drugs of abuse, produces its effects by causing very high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine to be released in the brain. Meth causes so much dopamine to be released scientists believe it contributes to the drug's harmful effects on the nerve terminals in the brain.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the following are some of the short-term effects meth users can experience:

  • Increased attention and decreased fatigue
  • Increased activity and wakefulness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Euphoria and rush
  • Increased respiration
  • Rapid/irregular heartbeat
  • Hyperthermia

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Use?

Compared to other illicit drugs, methamphetamine can produce some negative long-term health effects that are irreversible. With other drugs, including alcohol, when a person stops using the drug, the damage the misuse caused can often begin to reverse itself and the user begins to recover. That's often not the case with some of the effects of methamphetamine use. 

How Is Methamphetamine Different From Cocaine?

Methamphetamine and cocaine have some similar behavioral and physiological effects, there are big differences in how they work in the body.

Cocaine is almost completely metabolized and removed from the body quite quickly. Methamphetamine, on the other hand, remains in the body unchanged for a much longer duration. Therefore, it remains in the brain longer, producing longer stimulant effects.

Both methamphetamine and cocaine increase dopamine levels in the brain, but studies have found that meth use leads to much higher levels of dopamine than cocaine because the nerve cells respond differently to the two drugs.

Both cocaine and methamphetamine prolong dopamine actions in the brain by blocking its reabsorption by certain nerve cells. But, meth only blocks reabsorption at low doses. It also increases the release of dopamine, which leads to much higher concentrations in the gap between neurons. This can damage nerve terminals.

Are People Who Use Meth at Risk for Contracting HIV/AIDS?

Yes, methamphetamine users are at greater risk for contracting and transmitting infectious diseases and that risk is not limited to injection users.

Certainly, injection drug users are at increased risk of HIV and hepatitis B and C mostly because of their re-use and sharing of contaminated needles and other paraphernalia. But, even users who smoke or snort meth can engage in unsafe behaviors, like unprotected sex, because their judgment and inhibition are affected.

Risky Sexual Behaviors

According to National Institute on Drug Abuse research, methamphetamine increases libido for both homosexuals and heterosexuals. Therefore, meth is linked to risky sexual behaviors more so than some other illicit drugs.

However, studies show that the greatest risk of contracting HIV infection is greatest for male meth users who have sex with other men.

Although early meth use increases libido for men, long-term methamphetamine use can negatively affect male sexual function, research shows.

Worsens HIV Progression

There is other research that indicates that methamphetamine use increases the viral replication of HIV, speeding its progression and consequences. Because meth users are less likely to adhere to their medication regime, HIV patients who are methamphetamine users and who are taking highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) are more likely to develop AIDS than non-meth users.

Other studies have found that people with HIV who also use meth are more likely to experience greater neuronal injury and cognitive impairment, compared with patients who do not use meth.

Fortunately, NIDA research also shows that drug misuse treatment, prevention, and outreach programs in the community can curtail the HIV risk behavior of people who use meth.

What Treatments Are Effective for Methamphetamine Misuse?

Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral and contingency management interventions, are currently the most effective treatment for methamphetamine addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a 16-week comprehensive behavioral treatment approach known as the Matrix Model has been found effective in reducing methamphetamine misuse. It combines behavioral therapy, family education, counseling, 12-step support, drug testing and encouragement for non-drug-related activities.

Incentive-based therapy programs have also been found effective for the treatment of methamphetamine misuse. Contingency management interventions, for example, provide tangible incentives for maintaining abstinence and continuing treatment.

Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR), is another incentive-based method that has proven effective through the National Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network.

There are approved medications that can help people to quit using substances such as alcohol and heroin, but there are currently no pharmacological treatments approved for methamphetamine misuse. Research is underway on some promising medical treatment to reduce meth use and prolong abstinence, but thus far none have been approved.

Can You Find Out If a Meth Lab Has Ever Been in a House You're Buying?

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has compiled a list by state of addresses where law enforcement found evidence of methamphetamine production or disposal. The list provides no information about whether the site has been cleaned. Owners must contact local police or health officials to determine if the building was cleaned. ​There is also the "shake and bake" method of producing meth, which can be just as dangerous.

Who Is a Typical Adolescent Meth User?

The "typical" student user of methamphetamine probably does not meet the profile you might expect. According to Pride Surveys, the typical adolescent user of meth is a 17-year-old white male who lives with both parents, who first tried meth at age 12.6, is an underperformer in school and does not think the drug is harmful to his health.

Both parents of the typical meth user are fully employed and most graduated from high school and attended college. According to the 3,000 meth users surveyed, 33.4% said those parents would not find it wrong if they used marijuana and 30.4% said their parents wouldn't object if they used other drugs.

According to the 2016 Pride survey, an anonymous student questionnaire for grades 6-12, 1.8% reported using meth in the past year while 1.3% reported using meth monthly.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: summary of national findings.

  2. Pride Surveys. Pride surveys questionnaire for grades 6 thru 12 standard report: 2015-2016 Pride national summary.

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