Methamphetamine Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Methamphetamine?

Man Smoking Meth
Meth Is Highly Addictive. © Getty Images

A highly addictive drug, methamphetamine appears at 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. Read more...

What is the Scope of Methamphetamine Abuse in the U.S.?

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Meth Use Has Declined in Recent Years. © Getty Images

Although methamphetamine abuse 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 abuse 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?

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Meth Can Be Used in Several Ways. © Getty Images

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 it is currently the most common method of using meth. Read more...

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse?

Meth Crystals
Closeup of Meth Crystals. © Getty Images

Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that can increase physical activity and wakefulness and decrease appetite, even in small doses. Meth abusers 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 Abuse?

Man With Syringe
Addiction Is One Long-Term Meth Effect. © Getty Images

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

How is Methamphetamine Different From Cocaine?

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Meth Affects the Body Longer Than Cocaine. © Getty Images

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. 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 Methamphetamine Abusers at Risk for Contracting HIV/AIDS?

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There Are Risks With Meth Abuse. © Getty Images

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 homosexual and heterosexual meth abusers. 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 abuse can negatively affect male sexual function, research shows.

Worsens HIV Progression

There is other research that indicates that methamphetamine abuse 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 meth abusers with HIV 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 abuse treatment, prevention and outreach programs in the community can curtail the HIV risk behavior of meth abusers.

What Treatments Are Effective for Methamphetamine Abusers?

Woman at Meth Lab
Meth Addiction Is Tough to Kick. © Getty Images

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 abuse. 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 methamphetamine abuse. 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.

Pharmaceutical Treatment

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


National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Methamphetamine." Research Report Series Updated September 2013

The Partnership at "Methamphetamine." Drug Guide. Accessed March 2014.

Can I Find Out If a Meth Lab Has Ever Been in a House I'm Buying?

Meth Lab
Was Your House a Meth Lab?. © Getty Images

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. Read more...

Who Is a Typical Adolescent Meth User?

Man Buying Meth on Street
Who Uses Meth?. © Getty Images

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 percent said those parents would not find it wrong for they used marijuana and 30.4 percent said their parents wouldn't object if they used other drugs.

Prior to the 2005-2006 school year, Pride Surveys received 101,141 responses to their anonymous student questionnaire for grades 6-12. Of those responding, 3.1 percent reported using meth at least once in the past year and 2 percent reported using it monthly.

Hard Core Drug Users

According to the Pride Surveys report, other highlights from the 2006 survey include:

  • More than half (51.1 percent) find meth to be "very easy" to obtain. Another 12.5 percent said "fairly easy."
  • The meth users of the student group constitute a hard-core group of drug users with 74.7 percent reporting monthly use of marijuana, compared to 8.2 percent among other students.
  • Three-fourths of the student meth users (77.3 percent) said their friends use marijuana sometimes, or more frequently, with more than half (51.9 percent) smoking pot "a lot."
  • Daily tobacco use was reported by 52.9 percent among meth users, compared with 6 percent in the rest of the student population.
  • Daily alcohol use was reported by 39.5 percent, compared with 1.1 percent among non-users.

The age breakdown for meth users was: 19+ years (6.4 percent); 18 years (9 percent); 17 years (18.1 percent); 16 years (16 percent); 15 years (15.9 percent); 14 years (13 percent); 13 years (10 percent); 12 years (6.1 percent); 11 years (2.8 percent); 10 and under years (2.6 percent).

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