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Healing, Strengthening, and Advancing the Lives of LGBTQ People Seeking Recovery

10 Ways To Recognize Meth Abuse In A Loved One

Person with arms around loved one after recognizing meth abuse signs

Methamphetamine has been around for about 100 years, but it took until the early 1990s for it to become widely available and popular. Now, meth is one of the most abused drugs. Find out what makes this drug so addictive and the physical signs of meth abuse in a loved one.

If you or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of meth abuse, La Fuente has a meth addiction treatment center in Hollywood, California that can help. Treatment is essential when it comes to meth addiction, as the drug can cause severe damage to the user’s physical and mental health. Call 888.903.9898 to learn more about our meth addiction treatment center in Hollywood, California.

What Is Meth?

Methamphetamine, also referred to as crystal, ice, or simply meth, is a powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system and produces euphoric side effects. It comes in a few different forms. The most common is crystal, a pure, distilled form of the drug. It can be smoked, snorted, or injected and is highly potent. 

Base is another form that’s white, yellow, or brown and is wet or oily. It’s usually swallowed or injected. While not as pure as crystal, it’s purer and more potent than speed. 

Speed is the least pure form of meth. Unlike crystal or base, speed comes in the form of a white or yellow powder that can be injected, snorted, or swallowed. It’s commonly sold on the streets and includes a lot of additives that allow dealers to sell fewer products for more money.

What Makes Meth So Dangerous?

The main reason meth is dangerous is because of how addictive it is. As a stimulant, meth causes a huge release of the “feel-good” neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is naturally occurring and is essential for survival. While essential for learning, memory, and sleep (among other things), it’s most commonly known as the chemical that allows humans to feel pleasure from food or sex. 

When the drug wears off, users experience profound feelings of depression. Many continue taking the drug to avoid such feelings (and to chase the initial high). Some may stay up for days at a time as a result.  Both of these features—the extreme high and the terrible crash—make meth one of the most addictive illicit drugs on the market. As a result, many recreational users quickly turn into the throes of addiction.

Signs of Meth Abuse

Meth use takes a toll on the mind and body. Physical signs of meth use will emerge with repeated use but can also appear in new users. 

If you suspect meth abuse in a loved one, here are some signs to look out for. 

1. Skin Sores

Sores are one of the most visible signs of meth abuse to look for. They vary in appearance based on what caused the sores, whether they’re infected, and the length of time they’ve been on a person’s body. 

That being said, meth sores generally look like red dots, rashes, and cuts. On the face, meth sores can look like acne. Around the lips and inside the mouth, they resemble cold sores or canker sores. Elsewhere on the body, meth sores may look like chicken pox blisters that someone has scratched. 

If a meth sore becomes infected, it can look like a bad blister with a black or brown center. In addition, the blister may swell and fill with pus. Left untreated, these blisters can spread the infection to other body parts. 

Methamphetamine abuse can lead to sores for a few reasons. The first is that meth use leads to hallucinations. Many people experience these hallucinations as bugs crawling on or in their skin (sometimes referred to as “meth mites” or “crank bugs”). Consequently, users will try to remove the imaginary bugs by scratching the skin with fingernails or sharp objects. Over time, this prolonged scratching leads to tears and wounds on the skin. 

2. Dilated Pupils

Meth, like other amphetamines, is a stimulant drug. As such, it causes the same types of physical symptoms, albeit in a more severe way. One side effect of stimulants is increased pupil size. If your loved one is exhibiting larger-than-normal pupil size, meth abuse could be to blame.  Typical pupil size is 1-2 millimeters in diameter under normal conditions. However, after taking methamphetamine, pupil size can reach as wide as 3 millimeters in diameter. 

3. Reduced Appetite

Just like other stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and cocaine, meth use often leads to a decrease in appetite. That’s because much of appetite is controlled by blood sugar levels and other cues. When the stomach is empty, or the body needs food, the areas of the brain in charge of regulating appetite signal you to seek out food. 

This process is interrupted when using meth. Meth throws off the brain’s normal dopamine levels, interfering with the way neurons in the brain communicate changes like hunger.

4. Weight Loss

A separate but related sign of meth use is weight loss. Weight loss occurs mainly because meth causes a decrease in appetite, but other factors contribute as well. 

The first is that people abusing meth may not prioritize eating. Because meth users try to avoid withdrawal symptoms at all costs, they tend to spend a lot of time, money, energy, and other resources obtaining the drug. As a result, tasks like eating and self-care are deprioritized. 

Another reason meth abuse leads to weight loss is that the drug often causes an increase in the number of calories burned. Like other stimulants, meth increases heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, wakefulness, and body temperature. All these processes require energy, so people using meth may burn calories faster than those who aren’t using the drug. 

5. Body Odor

Meth use can sometimes lead to strong body odor in some users, so this is a sign to look out for if you suspect a loved one of abusing meth. 

Body odor may occur for a couple of reasons. The first is due to the chemicals used to produce meth. When combined, these ingredients create an odor similar to that of:

  • Ammonia
  • Vinegar
  • Paint
  • Rotten egg
  • Cat urine

These odors can come out in the vapors emitted from smoking meth or in the sweat of meth users. Users may stay awake for days, engage in vigorous physical activity, and not bathe or brush their teeth during that time.

6. Insomnia

As with other stimulants, meth attacks the central nervous system. This leads to increased energy, wakefulness, and insomnia. The third symptom is particularly pronounced in meth users. Not only is meth significantly more potent than other stimulants, but its addictive properties cause users to seek out more and more of the drug, even if that means staying up for days.

Signs of insomnia include:

  • Dark circles around the eyes
  • Yawning and fatigue during the day
  • Trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning

Meth can also cause confusion and disorientation, which is particularly concerning because it could lead to dangerous behavior or accidental injury.

7. Extreme Mood Swings

Meth causes users to experience dramatic mood swings. One minute they could be on top of the world. Then, they may feel anxious or angry. Usually, these feelings are brought on by paranoia, leading to delusions of persecution or danger. As a result, they may blame those around them for these feelings or become convinced that others intend to harm them. 

After the intense high, many meth users experience long-lasting depression. They may stop engaging in normal daily activities like bathing, cleaning, or spending time with friends.

8. Increased Libido

At a neurological level, meth stimulates sexual arousal by releasing chemicals like dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of well-being and desirability. Meth can also increase adrenaline, giving users more stamina for sexual activity. 

These same chemicals also lower inhibitions and impair judgment. Both of these may make users more likely to engage in high-risk unprotected sex, something that makes users susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases. 

Hepatitis B, C, and HIV are particularly concerning for this population because many take the drug intravenously and share needles.

9. Premature Aging

One common symptom of meth abuse is premature aging. This happens because meth causes blood vessels to constrict, thereby cutting off the steady flow of blood to the body. Heavy, prolonged meth abuse can weaken and destroy these vessels. As a result, tissues are more prone to damage, and the body cannot repair itself. Skin loses its elasticity and luster, making users look like they’ve aged decades in only a few short years.

10. Meth Mouth

Meth mouth is one of the most recognizable symptoms of meth abuse. It’s characterized by broken, discolored, and rotting teeth. While the exact reasons behind meth mouth remain unknown, there are several compelling explanations. 

One is that the drug causes the salivary glands to dry out, which allows acids in the mouth to eat away at the tooth enamel and gums, causing weak spots that are susceptible to cavities. 

These cavities are made worse by commonly observed behaviors in meth users, including teeth grinding, a diet of sugary foods and drinks, and a lack of oral hygiene like brushing and flossing.  

Meth use also causes users’ blood vessels to shrink, something that limits the steady supply of blood the mouth needs to stay healthy. With repeated shrinking, these vessels die, and oral tissues decay. 

Some reports also attribute tooth decay to the corrosive effects of the chemicals in the drug, such as anhydrous ammonia (like those in fertilizers), red phosphorus (found on matchboxes), and lithium (found in batteries). When smoked or snorted, these chemicals might erode the tooth’s protective enamel coating.

La Fuente Can Help Heal Meth Abuse

Finding out that a loved one is abusing meth is incredibly difficult. Meth is a scary drug, and facing a family member who you suspect of abuse may seem like an impossible task. There’s no denying that the road ahead will be challenging, but the fact that you’re here and educating yourself is a huge step in the right direction. The stigma of drug use is real, but meth abuse is highly treatable. With the proper evidence-based treatment, meth users can learn how to live healthy and productive lives.

At La Fuente Hollywood Treatment Center, we specialize in treating meth addiction. We offer medically-supervised detox in addition to a complete rehab program. Our program uses medications to minimize withdrawal symptoms and behavioral therapies to help patients examine why their meth use started and help them learn coping skills to avoid relapse in the future. To learn more about our LGBTQ-affirmative meth treatment program, fill out our form or call us at 888.903.9898 today. A staff member will contact you within 24 hours to help you decide if La Fuente is right for you.

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