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What Is Methamphetamine Abuse?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Methamphetamine abuse refers to the use of methamphetamine for any reason other than one that is medically prescribed. The drug has some limited and legal uses to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Taking more than the prescribed amounts, using someone else’s prescription, or, more commonly, taking illegally manufactured methamphetamine is considered abuse. Chronic abuse results in addiction, but even people not dependent on the drug may suffer dangerous behavioral changes or physical consequences while taking it.

Many people find methamphetamine attractive because it has strong stimulant properties, which are caused by the drug’s action on neurotransmitters affecting dopamine levels. It can produce a high that lasts for hours. The quality of euphoria produced may partly depend on the delivery method and drug purity.

Smoked or injected methamphetamine tends to produce a purer high. Inhalation of the drug may raise energy but can also be associated with higher agitation and nervousness. Individual responses to the drug in all of its available forms may vary.

The most common population associated with methamphetamine abuse is males between the ages of 18-25. Women certainly use the drug, too, and there is great concern about pregnant women taking it. In the United States, past estimates suggest that roughly 4% of people over 12 have abused methamphetamine at least once.

There are side effects and physical health issues related to methamphetamine abuse. Even a single use can cause racing heart, anxiety, higher blood pressure, and difficulty sleeping. A single overuse can cause cardiac death.

Chronic methamphetamine abuse has been connected to anorexia, violent behavior, and extreme dental problems. Long-term use also may create confusion, result in psychosis, and cause cardiac damage. Consistent abuse is linked to damage to areas of the brain that affect verbal learning, emotional response, and motor skills. These impairments can be permanent.

Methamphetamine abuse increases the likelihood of contracting certain diseases. The greatest risk is increased potential to develop HIV and hepatitis C. Chance of this occurring is highest when people share needles for injection. The drug has also been linked to indiscriminate sexual activity, which significantly elevates chances of getting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

Other significant problems include increased likelihood of birth defects if pregnant women use this drug, or the possibility that newborns will be born addicted to it. Since methamphetamine abuse creates disinhibition and may result in violent behavior, it is also linked to crime. Chronic methamphetamine abuse can mean people are more likely to be in jail or facing criminal charges.

The body gradually becomes tolerant to and dependent on methamphetamine. Detoxing from this drug is difficult and requires medical support and supervision. Once an initial detox is accomplished, most people can receive continued support in outpatient settings.

Groups like Narcotics Anonymous® may prove helpful in providing support to those in recovery. Individual therapy, particularly behavior-focused therapies, may provide motivation for staying clean. Therapy is also recommended because strong depression may accompany recovery and create the temptation to continue drug use to alleviate it.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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