There’s a common misconception that methamphetamine is an instantly addictive drug, that one “hit” will make you hooked for life. Researchers, physicians and addiction specialists are quick to report that this isn’t true, and in fact there are many stages of methamphetamine addiction that may take weeks, months and even years to develop fully. But although most people who experiment with methamphetamine don’t become addicts, those who do face serious physical and psychological problems.
The signs of methamphetamine addiction—those that come with a sudden or prolonged increase in its use—vary widely from person to person. In terms of mood changes, a methamphetamine addict will gravitate between depression and anxiety and display bouts of euphoria. Behaviorally, the addict becomes preoccupied with obtaining and using the drug, hides their use from others and may socially isolate themselves from friends and family. It’s also common for the addict to engage in dangerous and risky behaviors, be impulsive, exhibit aggressive and violent tendencies and have changes in memory and the ability to think and reason.
Physically, the methamphetamine addict will tremble and shake constantly, experience nausea and vomiting, appear sweaty without it being hot, have dilated pupils, suffer from sleeplessness, a loss of appetite and exhibit extreme paranoia, psychosis, disordered thinking, and, in rare circumstances, hallucinations. Anhedonia—the inability to feel pleasure—also occurs with methamphetamine abuse, and additionally many regular methamphetamine users become physically rundown, leaving them susceptible to a host of illnesses. Liver damage is common with frequent methamphetamine use, and because the drug decreases blood flow through the body’s tissues, serious methamphetamine addicts are at an increased risk of seizures, heart attacks and strokes.
Long-term use of methamphetamine also leads to a condition known as rhabdomyolysis, a serious breakdown of skeletal tissue that leads to a release of muscle fiber—called myoglobin—into the bloodstream. The condition is extremely harmful to the kidneys and can damage them permanently. Addicts also suffer from malnutrition as they fail to eat regularly, and as a result there is a constant destruction of organ tissue and an inability for the body to repair the damage.
Pictures of long-term methamphetamine users present a disturbing outward physical appearance, and those pictures are often used by health professionals and drug researchers as examples of what the drug is capable of doing to the human body. “Meth mouth” —a condition of severe tooth decay—is one of the most apparent characteristics of the addict, as are open sores on the face and body and a loss of hair and skin elasticity.
Aside from the physical and psychological symptoms of methamphetamine addiction, users are at a greatly increased risk of homelessness, divorce and financial and legal problems. And studies also indicate that domestic and child abuse is increasingly common in homes with methamphetamine addicts.