Can Meth Kill You?

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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Can Meth Be Deadly?

Yes, methamphetamine can kill you. In 2021, over 32,000 people fatally overdosed on synthetic psychostimulants such as methamphetamine. Most people understand that meth and other similar drugs are dangerous, but they may not understand the potentially deadly ramifications. This article will discuss methamphetamine and its dangers.

What Is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine, more commonly referred to as “meth,” is a very powerful and highly addictive synthetic stimulant derived from amphetamine. The government classifies methamphetamine as a Schedule II stimulant. 

Methamphetamine Versus Amphetamine

Methamphetamine is a more concentrated form of amphetamine, making it more powerful and more damaging to the central nervous system. Methamphetamine is not distributed legally in medication, but amphetamines are legally found in multiple ADHD medications. 

How Is Meth Manufactured?

Methamphetamine is manufactured in illegal labs. The primary ingredient needed to manufacture meth is pseudoephedrine, which was once readily available at pharmacies. Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2005, which limits the number of products containing the drug that a person can purchase per day and requires pharmacies to keep records of buyers. 

How Do People Use Methamphetamine?

Meth is a highly versatile drug and is used in many ways. Users can smoke it, snort it, orally ingest it, or inject it. When someone injects meth, it will give them an immediate yet short-lived intense feeling of bliss. Snorting meth produces a less powerful response in roughly three to five minutes. Smoking meth provides the longest yet least powerful effect after 15 to 20 minutes. 

How Methamphetamine Impacts User Health

Methamphetamine has both short-term and long-term effects on user health. The severity of the effects is based on how much is used and if the person has preexisting health conditions. 

Short-Term Effects of Meth

When someone uses meth, it will cause their heart to go into overdrive and may increase their heart rate to dangerous levels. The person may also not be able to sleep. This can lead to additional physical and cognitive problems if they stay awake for an extended period of time. 

Additionally, the user may begin to lose focus and act erratically, which can lead to criminal behavior. For example, someone may act violently toward others or make reckless decisions, such as robbing a friend or a store.

Many people who use meth experience an itching sensation. Their attempts to alleviate this sensation can lead to scabs and open wounds on their skin. 

If a person decides to inject the drug, it leads to additional risks, especially if they share needles with others. Not only can the injection site become infected, but diseases like HIV can be transmitted by using dirty needles.

Effects of Meth on the Brain

Methamphetamine impacts several parts of the brain. The drug also damages the neurons that produce dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters help regulate mood and happiness. When these neurotransmitters get damaged, the body seeks new ways to experience pleasure. The user can stimulate the pleasure parts of the brain through the drug, so it turns into a vicious cycle of taking the drug to feel better. Eventually, this cycle turns into an addiction. The brain may also become damaged after extended drug use, which can impact regular cognitive processes, such as memory. 

Effects of Meth on Long-Term Physical Health

Methamphetamine can cause physical ailments that impact the user for the rest of their life. One of the most common long-term impacts of meth use is damage to the heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults around the world. People who abused meth put themselves at serious risk of heart disease later in life, which can lead to premature death. Methamphetamine also impacts the other organs in your body, such as the kidneys and the liver. The damage to these organs can also lead to serious long-term health problems. 

Effects of Meth on Oral Health

Many people who suffer from meth addiction experience “meth mouth.” Meth mouth is a colloquial term used to describe the damage that happens to a meth user’s oral health. The condition is characterized by severe decay on the surface of the teeth. This decay occurs for several reasons, including teeth grinding, poor diet, and the lack of oral hygiene while using. The problem will continue to get worse the more a person uses. 

Meth Withdrawal

Meth withdrawal symptoms occur when the body tries to re-adapt to a decrease in drug use. Some of the symptoms of meth withdrawal include:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of motivation

In most cases, withdrawal symptoms will appear two to three days after a person has stopped using the drug and last for weeks. The extent of the withdrawal symptoms depends on how long a person has been using the drug and how much they consumed when using it. People who inject methamphetamine tend to experience a worse withdrawal than others who consume it in other ways. When the withdrawal period is over, the person may still have a long journey ahead of them before they start to feel like they did before using meth. 

Overdosing on Meth

It is possible to overdose on methamphetamine. While overdoses can happen after years of prolonged use and increasing the dosage, overdoses can also happen early during experimentation. 

When someone overdoses on meth, the signs can start small. Similar to regular meth use, users can experience increased heart rate and trouble breathing. They may also sweat profusely and have wide pupils. The symptoms can continue to grow worse and can lead to seizures, heart failure, and even coma. If someone doesn’t get the help they need right away, it can lead to death due to a heart attack, organ failure, brain failure, or physical trauma as the result of a seizure. 

How to Handle an Overdose

When someone shows signs of an overdose, it’s essential to get them to the emergency room. Doctors will be able to provide the person with breathing assistance and keep them safe in the case of a seizure. Medical staff may also give them laxatives if the person took the meth orally in an attempt to rid their body of the drug. Doctors may also administer medicines to treat the person’s symptoms, such as anxiety, agitation, nausea, seizures, and high blood pressure.

Recovering From Meth Addiction

Each person’s recovery journey from a substance use disorder is different. However, seeking out professional assistance and support groups can be helpful.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating people with substance use disorders. CBT is a type of talk therapy based on the fundamental idea that the way someone thinks and feels impacts their behavior. The therapist’s goal is to assist their clients through the challenges of maintaining sobriety. During sessions, the therapist will help a person identify and change their thoughts and behaviors to support a sober lifestyle. 

Getting Involved With a 12-Step Program

In addition to seeking professional assistance, getting involved with a support group like Narcotics Anonymous may help a person abstain from meth. People who participate in a 12-step group will voluntarily attend meetings with peers who have similar issues. The person will have the opportunity to learn from the successes of others who were once in similar situations.  The twelve steps are as follows:

  • Step One: Acknowledge the problem. 
  • Step Two: Acknowledge the existence of a higher power with a higher sense of purpose for each person. 
  • Step Three: Submit to the higher power’s help. 
  • Step Four: Dive into one’s own moral shortcomings. 
  • Step Five: Publicly admit wrongdoings. 
  • Step Six: Agree to change personal moral shortcomings with help from a higher power. 
  • Step Seven: Ask for forgiveness and for help removing shortcomings. 
  • Step Eight: Document the people affected by our wrongdoings. 
  • Step Nine: Ask for forgiveness from those who have been harmed. 
  • Step Ten: Admit to current personal failures. 
  • Step Eleven: Pray and meditate.
  • Step Twelve: Experience spiritual awakening and change. 

The 12-step process can be a long, grueling journey with pitfalls along the way. This is why the support of the other members of the group is essential. In most cases, participants are given a sponsor who is further along on their recovery journey to offer support when cravings get intense or a participant is dealing with stressful issues.

Treatment Centers

While some people successfully achieve sobriety by seeking out a therapist and getting the support they need on their own, this is a monumental task. The advantage of treatment centers is that they have a dedicated staff committed to helping people succeed in their recovery. 


Most treatment center programs start with the detoxification phase. During this phase, their medical staff will oversee your health and can deal with any serious concerns that come up. Their goal during this stage is to keep you as comfortable as possible as you experience withdrawal symptoms. Once you feel better, a staff member will work with you to develop your treatment plan.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is often appropriate for people who have not been using meth for long and do not use other substances. Good candidates also usually have a strong support network outside of the center. Participants will spend several hours a week in treatment, which will include group therapy and individual therapy. However, they live at home and can go to work or school. 

Inpatient Treatment

Clients in an inpatient program live at the facility. This provides more structure for people who have been using drugs for a long time, have issues with several substances, or have tried a treatment program before. They will attend individual and group therapy sessions just like a person in an outpatient program does.

DWC: Defining Wellness Centers

At Defining Wellness Centers, our goal is to treat people with substance use disorder and give them new hope for a productive and happy life. We offer a wide range of treatment programs, including outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, and medical detoxification. Contact us today for more information about our programs and how we can support your recovery journey.

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If you are ready to take the step towards a new life, call Defining Wellness today and learn more about how we can help you.