Methamphetamine (Meth) —What It Is & What It Does

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that boosts brain activity. There are many forms of methamphetamine, ranging from the “street” version crystal meth to prescription medications for narcolepsy, ADHD and weight loss. It’s important to note that even the medical versions of these drugs can be dangerous and addictive when misused or for a long time. If your child has a prescription for a drug like Desoxyn, be sure it is taken exactly as directed and always inform your doctor if you notice any worrisome behavior changes. It’s also possible to build a tolerance to these drugs — if your adolescent requires increasingly higher doses of a prescription drug to maintain effects, you may need to consider other treatment options to prevent them from becoming too dependent on methamphetamine.

In addition to the derivatives of methamphetamine that might be prescribed by a physician, there are street forms of methamphetamine that mimic the stimulant attributes of these drugs. The street version is typically called meth or crystal meth and usually appears as a rock-like substance. It is produced in illegal labs and often smoked, which allows the drug to more quickly enter the bloodstream and communicate with the brain. Street meth is incredibly dangerous because there is no way to know who created the drug or what it contains. It is also very powerful and highly addictive. Adolescents who have previously used or abused prescription stimulants — including medications like Adderall or Ritalin — may be at a higher risk for trying meth, due to misconceptions that these drugs are very similar.

Between prescription stimulants and crystal meth, an estimated 86,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 were affected by addiction to methamphetamine and similar drugs in 2017 alone. These numbers, supplied by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, suggest an ongoing problem with adolescent meth addiction in the United States that must be addressed.

How Methamphetamine Addiction Works

Methamphetamine causes over-stimulation of certain pathways in the brain that regulate energy, focus and mood. The result is an artificially produced rush of alertness and euphoria that can make individuals feel happier, more outgoing and less apprehensive of their surroundings or their actions. The result is a high that makes people more likely to engage in risky, impulse-driven behaviors including underage drinking, unprotected sex or physical fights.

Meth also interferes with the brain’s dopamine receptors. These receptors appear on certain brain cells, and when meth binds to them, it tricks the brain into releasing more dopamine than usual. Dopamine plays an essential role in rewards pathways — dopamine is usually released when you do something pleasurable or good, and it trains your brain and body to want to do things that produce these effects. But sometimes the things that feel good aren’t things that are good for you — like meth. When adolescents take this drug, the repercussions on their still-developing brains and bodies are immediate and substantial, with a high risk for long-term damage.

The high point or “rush” from methamphetamine typically peaks minutes after taking it, but the residual high can last for up to 12 full hours. Because the peak high quickly ebbs after the initial rush of euphoria, users often take more of the drug within a single session, creating a “binge” habit necessary to extend the high. But keeping the high going in this manner also results in a more drastic “come down” once the drug’s effects finally wear off (usually when the user simply runs out of drugs for the time being). The contrast between the extreme high and extreme low when taking meth only serves to strengthen the addiction and the perceived need to keep using the drug.

Signs of Meth Addiction

Meth is not an easy drug habit to hide. Many patient stories show individuals who believed they were getting through their days successfully, but from the outside, their loved ones or acquaintances clearly knew something was wrong. The mental and physical effects of this drug are often severe and lead to a rapid decline in health and behavior. The extreme highs and lows usually result in obvious and uncharacteristic moods, as well as irritability or denial when the problem is confronted.
If you start to see any signs of drug abuse in your adolescent and you suspect it might be a meth problem, you should always seek professional help as quickly as possible. Some indications that your adolescent might be abusing meth include:

  • High-level mood swings
  • Violent behavior
  • Inability to retain memory
  • Depression
  • Unnatural weight loss and lowered appetite
  • Sleep disruption
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Periodic hallucinations
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Injection site “track marks”
  • Intense tooth decay
  • Acne and other skin conditions
  • Acute signs of premature aging

You may also notice signs of the drug itself, including drug paraphernalia (pipes or needles), powders or pills. Forms of meth and methods of use include:

  • Powdered form, taken by snorting
  • Powdered form, dissolved into liquid like water or alcohol
  • Pill form that can often be pink, yellow or blue
  • Crystallized rock, which is smoked
  • Powder dissolved into solution and injected directly into the bloodstream

If meth abuse and addiction are not caught and treated early, serious long-term effects can persist even beyond treatment. Methamphetamine interferes with the brain’s natural ability to improve focus and connection using behavioral training tactics, so it can be difficult retrain the brain and bring it back to a healthy balance. Some of the risks that your adolescent may be facing if meth abuse is not treated include:

  • High blood pressure, potential for blood clots
  • Increased heart rate that can lead to stroke and potential for heart attack
  • Decreased liver and kidney function
  • Difficulty breathing, especially when smoking is the primary method of ingestion
  • Delusions
  • Emotional instability
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Reduced cognition
  • Upset stomach, long-term digestion trouble
  • Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease


Treating Meth Addiction

The long-term effects of methamphetamine can be devastating to your adolescent’s health, so identifying the issue and responding quickly is critical. At Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center, adolescents and their families work in therapy to reconnect and understand the problems associated with meth addiction, as well as the consequences of long-term use. Stonewater addiction treatment programs support emotional, physical and spiritual wellness that are nourished through family, peer group and individual therapies.

As an adolescent-specific program, we are uniquely aware of the social pressures and worries that this age group may be facing. We work with each of our clients and their families individually to identify the events that led them to substance abuse and to pinpoint the ways in which the cycle of addiction can be broken for good. While of course, it is never too late to get treatment for addiction, adolescents in particular need to see that they have another chance at a full, successful and happy life. At Stonewater, there are no “lost causes” — only new beginnings.
Stonewater offers a full range of levels of care for adolescents who are struggling with addiction to meth and other substances. Our treatment options include:

Meth is most commonly and most effectively treated with medical detox that helps the client safely phase the drug out of their body and mind, followed by intensive addiction therapies such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and experiential therapies that replace drug habits with healthy sober hobbies. At Stonewater, we provide all of these options and more — our treatment model is designed to be customized to each client’s needs and interests, providing a recovery experience that is engaging and exciting, renewing your adolescent’s love of life and hope for their future.

Reach Out to Stonewater Today

Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center is located in Oxford, Mississippi, and welcomes adolescents from the surrounding areas and beyond. No matter where you are or what your experience with addiction has been like, we want to help you and your family get the treatment you need to heal together. If you have questions about methamphetamine addiction and how to start the recovery process with Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center, contact us at 662-598-4214.