Methamphetamine addiction

Methamphetamine is also known as P, meth, ice, speed, pure, burn, goey, crank, crystal, ice, yaba and tina

Methamphetamine is a strong and addictive drug. If you use it, you are at risk of becoming addicted. Long-term methamphetamine use harms your physical and mental health, relationships and emotional wellbeing. However, there are services that have helped many people to overcome this addiction.

Key points

  1. All drug use brings a risk of harm but methamphetamine is a particularly strong and addictive drug. People who use it can quickly become dependent on it. 
  2. Addiction can harm your physical and mental health, as well as lead to losing your job, savings, home and relationships. You also risk overdose from a strong batch or large dose of methamphetamine, which can be fatal. 
  3. Addiction is a health condition, not a lifestyle choice or weakness. It’s important to get help sooner rather than later. Thousands of New Zealanders have beaten their addiction to methamphetamine.
  4. There are many services that can help you to recover, from online counselling to inpatient rehab.
  5. Although relapse is normal during your recovery, expect to recover. Most people who have an addiction will recover.
Overdose of methamphetamine can result in heart attack or stroke, and even death. Call 111 if you or someone else is experiencing these symptoms of overdose:
  • chest pain
  • irregular/racing heartbeat
  • difficulty breathing
  • extreme agitation and confusion
  • sudden severe headache
  • convulsions or seizure
  • passing out or unconscious

Why is methamphetamine so addictive?

Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects your central nervous system. It causes rapid release of dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline producing enhanced feelings of energy, mood and libido (sex drive). You have feelings of increased confidence, alertness and wellbeing or euphoria (a 'high'). This lasts for around 6 hours. 

But, the high is followed by a comedown, which can last for days. You can feel much worse than before you took the drug. It can be hard to sleep and you may feel exhausted. You may also get headaches and dizziness, paranoia, hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that are not there), confusion, and feel irritable and down.

Because of this, people often take more methamphetamine to feel better. This can lead to a repetitive cycle of use, in which you use larger and more frequent amounts of methamphetamine. This makes methamphetamine easy to become addicted to.

The meth cycle

The following infographic shows this cycle:

What are the risks of using methamphetamine?

Using methamphetamine is a risk to your physical and mental health. This is partly from the drug itself and partly from the things you tend to do when using it. Harm can also be caused by contaminants and by-products of the manufacturing process. This is particularly risky if you inject methamphetamine.

People who use methamphetamine over a long period of time may develop severe health problems such as:

  • physical dependence, needing to use more to get the same effect and finding it difficult to stop, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you do
  • ongoing sleep problems that affect your concentration, work, studies and quality of life
  • decreased appetite and desire for food, resulting in weight loss and malnutrition, severe tooth decay, loss of teeth and skin sores
  • severe mental and emotional symptoms, such as anxiety, mood changes, depression and suicidal thoughts, aggression and violent behaviour, psychosis (paranoia, hallucinations – seeing and hearing things that are not there – and delusions)
  • cardiovascular problems, ie, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack.
Other risks include:
  • the unknown effect methamphetamine has when it is mixed with other drugs or medication
  • risky sexual behaviour that leads to STIs or unplanned pregnancy
  • risk of overdose from a strong batch or large dose of methamphetamine, which can be fatal
  • risks of injecting (eg, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, skin infection, septicaemia).

You also risk losing your job, savings, home and relationships, and put yourself at risk of a criminal conviction. (Methamphetamine is classified as a Class A drug like heroin.)

While you may recover from some of the harm after you stop using the drug, some health effects may be permanent. The sooner you stop, the better for your long-term health.

What are the signs of addiction to methamphetamine?

Addiction means losing control over your use, finding it difficult to stop using the drug, with cravings and a compulsive drive to keep using, despite adverse consequences. You can have a physical craving or a psychological need.

Watch out for the following 4 key 'Cs':

  • compulsion
  • loss of control
  • cravings
  • continued use despite consequences.

If you have been using methamphetamine often, you might not notice how much it is affecting you. Ask someone you trust if they think it is harming you and your life.

You are likely to be addicted if you are: 

  • using more methamphetamine than you used to
  • finding it hard to stop using
  • missing school, work or family commitments
  • always thinking about it.

If you’re not sure, test your drug use.

How is methamphetamine addiction treated?

Addiction gets worse over time, so if you notice the signs early, it's easier to stop then. The longer you are addicted the harder it is to break free. Addiction can be treated with: 

  • counselling (online, by telephone or in person)
  • motivational interviewing and cognitive behaviour therapy (types of psychological treatment that encourage you to change your behaviour)
  • medication
  • group therapy
  • family therapy
  • detox programs in hospital or at home
  • residential treatment programmes, such as Odyssey House and Higher Ground 
  • rehab in hospital or at home.

No single treatment will work for everyone first time. You can talk to your doctor or other health professional to make a treatment plan that suits you. Relapse is to be expected. Have a realistic plan that provides ongoing help for you and your family will help you avoid and/or get through relapses.

What support is there to help me stop using methamphetamine?

If you decide to cut back or stop after using methamphetamine often, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. It’s a good idea to get some help when you do. 

  • Tell your partner, close friends or family members so they can support you to make the change.
  • Contact one of the specialised services that know about how to stop using methamphetamine, such as MethHelp, the Alcohol and Drug Helpline or one of the other support services listed on this page.
  • Talk to your doctor. If depression or anxiety is the underlying cause for your drug use, they may prescribe medication for that or to help you sleep during your withdrawal stage. If you have been using other drugs, eg, alcohol or benzodiazepines, tell your doctor as you may need specialist help (stopping these suddenly may be dangerous).
  • See a counsellor or therapist to talk to about any other problems in your life that may have led you into using methamphetamine. 

What self-help can I do when I am withdrawing from methamphetamine use?

There are a lot of different things that will affect how long and intense your withdrawal will be. They include:

  • what you have been using
  • what else you have been using at the same time
  • how much you have been using
  • how often you have been using
  • how long you have been using
  • how you have been using (drinking, smoking, snorting, injecting)
  • how healthy you are generally
  • if you have any mental or physical health issues
  • your attitude
  • the support you get from family, whānau and friends.

Before you stop:

  • organise support, such as friends or family/whanau, your GP or other healthcare professional, and one of the support agencies listed on this page
  • organise a safe place, somewhere quiet where people aren’t using drugs
  • plan ahead, including a routine (getting up at a set time, showering, having breakfast and so on), things you enjoy doing and treats that help you to relax and avoid using
  • work out a strategy for managing your cravings, such as delaying the decision to use, distracting yourself with things to do, celebrate when you resist and using your breathing to calm yourself
  • learn some strategies to help you sleep, such as having regular bedtimes, natural products that make you sleepy, keeping your bedroom for sleep. 

See more ideas in Managing your own withdrawal – a guide for people trying to stop using drugs and or alcohol Matua Raki, NZ

Learn more

The following links provide further information about methamphetamine addiction. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.    

MethHelp is an online tool with information and stories of change 
Managing withdrawal NZ Drug Foundation
Kina Families and Addictions Trust Support for family, whānau and friends of people using alcohol and other drugs
Care NZ Manaaki Aotearoa 
Cannabis, methamphetamine and oral health Ministry of Health, NZ, 2017
Methamphetamine and the law New Zealand Police
Start Your Recovery US, 2018

References

  1. Methamphetamine NZ Drug Foundation
  2. About methamphetamine DrugHelp, NZ
  3. Addiction The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, 2016
  4. Methamphetamine National Institute on Drug Abuse, USA, 2013
  5. Methamphetamine Alcohol and Drug Helpline, NZ
  6. Am I addicted? DrugHelp, NZ
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Alistair Dunn, addiction specialist lead clinician, Opiate Substitution Treatment Service, Northland DHB and Dr Vicki Macfarlane, addiction specialist lead clinician, Medical Detoxification Services, Pitman House, Waitemata DHB Last reviewed: 26 Oct 2018