Patterns and Characteristics of Methamphetamine Use Among Adults

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By all accounts, methamphetamine use among adults is a pressing concern in the US. The phenomenon remains prevalent despite continued legislation and state action and threatens public health. Through co-use with opioids, it also overlaps with the ongoing opioid crisis, which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared an epidemic and a public health emergency – only worsening its impact on families nationwide.

At Archstone Recovery, we take pride in operating the treatment center in Lantana FL continues to trust. For this reason, and to fulfill our moral duties to our communities, here we would like to explore methamphetamine use among adults in due depth. We will outline warning signs and withdrawal symptoms, short-term and long-term effects, and notable patterns and characteristics of methamphetamine use.

If this concerns you, especially in terms of offering help to a loved one, please read on.

What is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It is a Schedule II stimulant in the US, so it is not a strictly illegal substance. When it is used medically, its primary uses are treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and assisting in short-term weight-loss treatments.

That said, these medical uses are rare and limited. As such, it is most commonly used and misused as an illicit recreational substance. For such uses, methamphetamine can be taken by mouth, snorted, smoked, or injected.

A black-and-white photo of a crystal meth rock.
Methamphetamine is a potent substance with considerable addiction risks, which comes with an unfortunate variety in consumption methods.

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance that induces powerful feelings of euphoria. Its form is that of a white crystalline powder – hence the street name “crystal meth”. It derives from its parent drug, amphetamine, but is far more potent and dangerous than it. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains this difference, and methamphetamine’s sheer potency, as follows:

“Like amphetamine, methamphetamine causes increased activity and talkativeness, decreased appetite, and a pleasurable sense of well-being or euphoria. However, methamphetamine differs from amphetamine in that, at comparable doses, much greater amounts of the drug get into the brain, making it a more potent stimulant. It also has longer-lasting and more harmful effects on the central nervous system. These characteristics make it a drug with high potential for widespread misuse.”

While data on underage use is sparse, methamphetamine seems to be predominantly used by adults. In 2016, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that “about 9,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 [,less than 0.1 percent of adolescents ,]were current methamphetamine users”. At the time, this was followed by “65,000 young adults aged 18 to 25” and “an estimated 594,000 adults aged 26 or older”.

Methamphetamine use; warning signs and withdrawal symptoms

In terms of signs of use and withdrawal symptoms, methamphetamine use among adults does not markedly differ from use among the general population. It does share some symptoms with other stimulants, but comes with a unique overall profile.

A depressed man leaning on a wooden table indoors.
As with many substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, and isolation are among the most visible warning signs of methamphetamine use.

Warning signs

As with many substances, early use may be identified by physical, psychological, or behavioral changes. In the case of methamphetamine, all three of these groups feature notable signs that tend to be easier to identify.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) pinpoints the following physical symptoms, among others:

  • A thinning, frail body
  • Facial acne or sores
  • Rotted teeth
  • A droopy quality to the facial skin
  • Convulsions
  • Lowered immunity/susceptibility to infectious disease
  • A dramatic increase in body temperature
  • Increased libido
  • Intense scratching

Psychological symptoms may initially be harder to identify, and some emerge more visibly with long-term use. These vary across individuals, but can include:

  • Memory problems
  • Inability to learn new motor skills and other tasks
  • Impaired visual memory
  • Psychosis, including include delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia, and irritability
  • Paranoia, irritability, and confusion as side effects of persistent meth-induced insomnia – or “tweaking”

Finally, behavioral changes also vary but will typically include:

  • Obsessive self-involvement with substance use
  • Interest in drug paraphernalia, such as baggies, glass tubes, and others
  • Secrecy
  • Isolation
  • Criminal behavior

Use by adults may mostly vary from use by underage individuals as regards social contexts, such as employment versus school performance.

Withdrawal symptoms

Should an individual seek treatment, withdrawal symptoms tend to match use symptoms. VerywellMind identifies the following main withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue and sleepiness
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Increased appetite
  • Meth cravings

Unfortunately, such symptoms can be quite severe. As such, individuals who try to quit on their own may fail and be discouraged from attempting again.

A man in pain curled in a bed under blue lighting.
Methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe, which increases the likelihood of failure to quit.

Methamphetamine use; short-term and long-term effects

Finally, methamphetamine use among adults and underage individuals alike comes with notable short-term and long-term effects. The nature and potency of these effects may best showcase the substance’s potential for addiction, and the difficulty that users face when attempting to quit.

Short-term effects

From the first few uses, methamphetamine can fuel a gripping addiction through powerful euphoric effects. NIDA identifies the following main ones among them:

  • Increased attention and decreased fatigue
  • Increased activity and wakefulness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Euphoria and rush
  • Increased respiration
  • Rapid/irregular heartbeat
  • Hyperthermia

Such effects are rather typical of stimulant use, however, so they may not constitute early signs of methamphetamine use specifically.

Long-term effects

Once dependency and addiction settle in, long-term adverse effects may become more visible over time. In line with symptoms identified by AAC above, NIDA notes long-term effects including:

  • Psychosis; paranoia, hallucinations, and repetitive motor activity
  • Changes in brain structure and function
  • Deficits in thinking and motor skills
  • Increased distractibility
  • Memory loss
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Mood disturbances
  • Severe dental problems
  • Weight loss

Understandably, such effects don’t typically have the time to manifest in underage individuals. However, they may occur in young adults if consistent methamphetamine use has started from an early age.

A close-up black-and-white photo of a person scratching their flaky skin.
Itching from methamphetamine use can also cause skin irritation and bleeding, especially after prolonged use.

Patterns and characteristics of methamphetamine use among adults

Having covered the fundamentals of methamphetamine use, here we can delve deeper into its patterns and characteristics among adult users. In no particular order, the following ones bear noting.

Demographics and trends

A large-scale JamaNetwork study, examining data from 2015 to 2019, might best outline the demographics and ages of methamphetamine use. As regards racial makeup, PubMed reports that, in weighted percentages:

  • 0% were Hispanic individuals
  • 6% were non-Hispanic Black individuals
  • 6% were non-Hispanic White individuals

Sex-wise, 50.9% were women and 49.1% were men – outlining a mostly equal distribution.

What is equally notable, however, are the trends within these demographics. From 2015 to 2019, the study notes that “the adjusted prevalence of [methamphetamine use disorder (MUD)” without injection”:

  • More than tripled among heterosexual women and lesbian or bisexual women
  • More than doubled among heterosexual men and homosexual or bisexual men
  • Increased over 10-fold among Black individuals
  • Nearly tripled among White individuals
  • More than doubled among Hispanic individuals

Age-wise, the study also notes significant differences among age groups. Noting that MUD with injection had already surpassed MUD without injection, it notes that the former increased by:

  • 300% among those aged 18 to 23 years
  • 229% among those aged 24 to 34 years
  • 118% among those aged 35 to 49 years
  • 120% among those aged 50 to 64 years

This closely aligns with the study’s other findings on increased overdose deaths involving methamphetamine, increased methamphetamine use, and increased co-use with cocaine specifically. More notably, in our context, it underlines what could very likely outline a demographic pattern in methamphetamine use among adults.

A close-up of a person preparing an illicit substance using a spoon and a syringe.
Methamphetamine use via injection is, unfortunately, on the rise, particularly among young adults.

Co-use with other substances

The note on co-use with cocaine bears noting as well, as co-use with other substances seems to be an increasingly common characteristic of MUD. This is indeed common among many substance use disorders (SUDs), as ResearchGate data finds, but how it manifests in MUD bears noting.

Citing 2015-2018 data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note some notable co-use trends among adults using methamphetamine within the past year. Specifically, “estimated prevalences of past-year use or misuse of other substances included”:

  • Cannabis use – 68.7%
  • Binge drinking – 46.4%
  • Nicotine dependence – 44.3%
  • Prescription opioid misuse – 40.4%
  • Cocaine use – 30.4%
  • Prescription sedative or tranquilizer misuse – 29.1%
  • Prescription stimulant misuse – 21.6%
  • Heroin use – 16.9%

How co-occurrence with mental health disorders, whether it manifests alongside MUD or another SUD, affects these trends remains to be explored.

Co-occurrence with mental health disorders

It is, however, equally notable. The co-occurrence of SUDs and mental health disorders, dubbed dual diagnosis, is also a significantly prevalent characteristic of MUD.

This is notable because it seems significantly more common than with other SUDs. NIDA finds that 37.9% of adults with SUDs also have mental illnesses, and that 18.2% of adults with mental illness also have an SUD. Yet, the above CDC study finds that “of persons who used methamphetamine, an estimated 57.7% reported any mental illness, and 25.0% reported serious mental illness during the past year”.

Why dual diagnosis is more prevalent in methamphetamine use among adults compared to other SUDs remains to be explored. So far, primary factors seem to be the exact substances co-used with methamphetamine and the severity of the effects of such use.

A depressed woman in a curled position.
Mental health disorders are notably common with methamphetamine use, more so than with most other SUDs.

Overdose deaths

Beyond use rates, co-use, and dual diagnosis, overdose deaths are also a vital characteristic of MUD. This is also particularly notable in that it overlaps with co-use.

Among other findings, extensive research by Pew Research Center on the same 2015-2019 period revealed unsettling overdose trends. Key among them are:

  • Deaths from methamphetamine overdoses more than doubled during this period, from 2.1 to 5.6 per 100,000.
  • All 43 states with data available for 2015 and 2019 reported increases in methamphetamine-related death rates; three-quarters (34) experienced at least a doubling of the death rate.
  • The share of all meth-related overdose deaths involving fentanyl more than quadrupled during this period, from 7% to 31%.

Part of this spike, they continue, may “be attributed to methamphetamine increasingly being contaminated with fentanyl, which can be fatal in even small doses”. In combination with increased co-use of methamphetamine and fentanyl, of which the latter can be notoriously fatal, this street market factor may indeed be too significant to ignore.

Seeking treatment and treatment completion rates

Finally, and unfortunately, methamphetamine use among adults also comes with a very notable variant in seeking treatment and treatment completion rates. Arguably in part due to the powerful euphoric effects of early use and the deterring withdrawal symptoms, as outlined above, MUD does differ from other SUDs in these regards.

A focus photo of a person’s hand extended toward the camera.
Individuals seeking addiction treatment may face additional challenges when attempting to quit methamphetamine.

The reasons notwithstanding, and although such conclusions can often be based on estimates, individuals with MUDs do seem to seek treatment less often. This is particularly true of co-use with opioids, as Frontiers research finds. Specifically, analyzing data from cases with primary opioid use disorder (OUD), the study found that “a slight majority (51.4%) of the sample prematurely discharged from treatment”. In addition, it found that:

  • The opioid and methamphetamine co-use group had the highest proportion of individuals who were women (45.0%), unemployed (62.5%), current injection drug use (76.0%), living in the Midwest (35.9%), living in the south (33.5%), and living in the west (15.5%).
  • The opioid and methamphetamine co-use group also had the highest proportion of individuals not receiving medications for OUD (84.9%), not having a prior treatment episode (28.7%), and not completing treatment (57.4%).
  • [Other] co-use groups had higher odds of completing treatment than the opioid and methamphetamine co-use group.

That said, general methamphetamine treatment outside of opioid co-use tends to have similar completion rates as other SUDs. This does still depend on factors outside of specific substance used, as AAC asserts citing the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and others. Most notably, it notes that “the sooner someone receives help for meth abuse, the better the long-term prognosis is”.

Methamphetamine use among adults; treatments

To conclude with a note on methamphetamine addiction treatment, here we should also note the typical journey to recovery an adult user might expect.

A close-up photo of a psychotherapist and a patient on the couch during a therapy session.
Beyond initial medical detox, psychotherapy is the primary component of methamphetamine addiction treatment.

As AAC notes above, “there are no specific medications designed to treat meth addiction”. That is to say, no specific medications are designed to treat the addiction itself. Instead, meth addiction is primarily treated through behavioral therapy, while medications mostly treat symptoms. As such, MUDs are typically treated in the following fashion, as WebMD also outlines:

  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT); this initial step employs medications in a safe clinical environment to help the individual overcome withdrawal symptoms and achieve initial abstinence
  • Psychotherapy programs; typically the key focus of outpatient programs, psychotherapy of such types as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) allows the individual to root out the causes of addiction
  • Aftercare programs; upon successful completion of rehabilitation, such programs offer a robust support network which helps prevent relapse

Depending on co-use, dual diagnosis, and other factors like addiction duration and effect severity, methamphetamine addiction treatment can also include additional steps. Most notably, if the individual requires clinical care, a residential/inpatient detox Florida or Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) may be necessary.

A distant photo of a person at the top of a green mountain.
The journey to recovery differs among individuals, but all challenges along the way are worth it.

Archstone Behavioral Health is here for you

In summary, methamphetamine use remains a pressing issue of public health in the US. It does primarily concern adults, but not exclusively so; underage users are not entirely non-existent. It comes with notable patterns and characteristics, from its prevalence among racial groups to specific substances it sees co-use with. Recent trends, such as significant spikes in injection use among young adults, also bear noting.

Finally, in co-use with opioids, methamphetamine use also comes with worryingly lesser treatment completion rates. As the opioid crisis remains, this is a particularly worrying characteristic for us and our treatment provider peers.

We hope you found this article informative, especially if the subject concerns you or your loved ones. If you would like additional information, or would like to explore treatment options, we at Archstone Behavioral Health are here for you. Please feel free to contact us today, and we’ll be more than happy to assist you as best we can.