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Teen Meth Addiction

Crystal meth on table next to a glass pipe  

When many people think of street drugs, meth is one of the first drugs that come to mind. Even people who have never experienced meth firsthand can list the horrible side effects of the drug thanks to some successful public health campaigns.

In 2006, the United States government passed regulations to make methamphetamine more difficult to manufacture. A primary ingredient of methamphetamine is called pseudoephedrine and is present in many over-the-counter (OTC) medications that help relieve congestion. The regulation made it more difficult to obtain large quantities of pseudoephedrine from a drug store.

Meth production decreased for several years but has recently experienced a resurgence. As the manufacturing of meth became harder in the United States, Mexican cartels noticed the opportunity for profit and increased smuggling activity. Today, meth is a significant public health concern in the United States.

Despite the availability of meth in the country, its use is still relatively rare among teenagers. Teen drug use more often involves alcohol, marijuana, or opioid prescription pills. However, any meth use is incredibly dangerous and harmful for developing teenagers.

What is Meth?

Meth is a stimulant that increases energy, alertness, and feelings of pleasure. The full chemical name is methamphetamine.

People use meth because it makes them feel euphoric. Some people may even use it to increase their productivity because it lowers their need for food and sleep.

The pleasurable feelings of meth are so powerful that people may stay up for days at a time to continue using the drug. People often binge high amounts of meth and then crash for days at a time as their body shuts down and forces a recovery period. The binge and crash cycle is the same as the addictive cycle: euphoria, crash, and craving.

Methamphetamine has some medical uses and can be prescribed to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and obesity. However, it is not commonly prescribed because it has a lot of negative side effects and a poor reputation. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) categorizes methamphetamine as a Schedule II controlled substance.

Meth can be smoked, snorted, inhaled or injected. It can be dissolved in liquid and taken orally. Pure meth has an off-white crystalline appearance and is crushed into a fine white powder.

Meth vs. Crystal Meth

Chemically, meth and crystal meth are the same substance. Drug dealers and the people who buy drugs from them sometimes use these terms to differentiate between pure and impure versions of meth.

When meth is ground into a powder, it has a white and flakey appearance. Drug dealers can take similar-looking powders and mix it with meth to increase profits.

Crystal meth is associated with a more pure form because it is more difficult for a drug dealer to “cut” or imitate larger crystal shards. Therefore crystal meth may be sold for a higher price and is generally accepted as being purer.

Teen Meth Use Statistics

As of 2018, the prevalence of meth use is low amongst 12- through 17-year-olds. For example, 0.7% of 12th graders (or 1 in 142) reported using meth in their lifetime.

Meth use appears to increase with age. In 2017, about 0.3% of 12- to 17-year-olds had ever tried methamphetamine in their lifetime. In the same year, 3% of people ages 18- to 26-years-old had ever tried meth. That stat increases to 6.4% in people aged 26 or older for the same year.

Those meth statistics underscore the importance of continuous education about the dangers of meth, even into late teens and early adulthood.

Teenage Meth Use in Rural Areas

Methamphetamine use is actually a bit higher in rural areas compared to large urban areas — 0.7% for the first and 0.4% for the second.

Methamphetamine use can be difficult to combat in rural areas owing to differences in employment, poverty levels, education and isolation from treatment facilities.

Effects of Meth on the Teenage Brain and Body

Meth works by increasing levels of dopamine in brain cells. Dopamine is a natural chemical that neurons use to pass messages back and forth. Typically, dopamine is sent between cells to indicate that a specific behavior was “good” and it should continue.

Besides the desired effects of meth, it causes the following negative, short-term effects of meth:

  • Fast heart rate
  • Faster than normal breathing
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Increased wakefulness
  • Lowered appetite

Long-term effects can be distressing and happen after weeks to months of continuous use. Some effects of long-term crystal meth use include:

  • Addiction (euphoria, crash, and craving)
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Dental problems like “meth mouth”
  • Hallucinations
  • Itching and compulsive scratching
  • Memory problems
  • Paranoia
  • Significant weight loss
  • Trouble falling asleep

Since dopamine is used for normal brain functioning, changes the levels impacts that structure and function of neurons and the brain. Teenagers are in a critical developmental period, and meth impacts teenage brain development.

Signs of Teen Meth Use

Signs of drug use in teens can be challenging to spot because of the nature of being a teenager. We cannot use the same signs as one would point to in an adult. For example, shifting friend groups and changes in mood might be a sign of drug use in an adult but be normal for a teenager.

Therefore, when looking for signs of drug use it is important to consider the context. The behavioral changes should be outside of normal before considering meth use.

Another corroborating factor might be finding drug paraphernalia like pipes, razor blades, straws, empty capsules or scales.

Some signs of meth use in teens may include:

  • Body odor like ammonia
  • Burn marks on fingers and mouth
  • Dilated pupils
  • High body temperature
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Tooth decay from poor personal hygiene (meth mouth)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weight loss

Meth Addiction Treatment

Treatment for meth addiction is similar to other treatments for substance use disorder (SUD).

SUD begins with an initial assessment by a chemical dependency professional. The professional will determine where the person falls on a spectrum of substance abuse and the level of treatment they need.

Once teen drug rehab begins, it typically moves from one phase to the next, beginning with medical detox, moving to treatment and then finally progressing to aftercare and sober support.

People who cannot stop meth by themselves may be candidates for inpatient rehab. In an inpatient facility, a person lives and attends treatment around the clock. Days are highly structured with therapy and recreational activities designed to break the strong compulsions that come along with addiction.

A person has to continually abstain from using meth to allow their brain time to recovery from the structural changes. Good treatment programs should be at least 90 days, but longer programs are generally more successful.

If you suspect your teen is addicted to methamphetamine, contact Next Generation Village to speak with a representative about how professional addiction treatment can help. Your teen deserves a healthier future, call today.

Related Articles About Teen Meth Use

Meth and the Teenage Brain

What’s the Difference Between Meth and Crystal Meth?

Meth Binges

Why Does Meth Make You Lose Weight?

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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