What Does Meth Addiction Look Like?

It’s not easy to watch someone you love struggle with addiction, and it is even harder when the drug takes a visible toll on their physical and emotional self. Meth addiction is one of the most troubling addictions to watch, as it turns a once level headed person into someone who can become almost animalistic.

Meth addiction is well known to be not only one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs but also to be one of the most mentally taxing and deteriorating addictions to struggle with as well. Meth use became a problem first in the late ’70s, with amphetamines and other stimulants making headlines as weight loss pills and drugs used by bikers. Since then, it has risen to the top of the DEA’s classified drugs list and has become a household name due to many home meth lab explosions in the news and the show Breaking Bad.

What does meth addiction actually look like, for those who are concerned for their loved one and curious what to look out for?

The Early Signs

Primarily, most people don’t begin their drug addiction with meth. Usually, people experiment with other drugs first, and after developing an addiction and a tolerance to these other drugs, find they need something cheaper and much more powerful. So, the first warning sign for meth addiction is:

  • If the person has struggled with other drugs in the past.

Enter, meth. It is incredibly cheap to buy, and extremely powerful, however short-lived. This short-lived lifespan of the high pushes users into needing more of the drug more often, in order to continue the high they are looking for. This chase for the drug results in many other warning signs such as:

  • Stopping use of other drugs, or using them less
  • Changing sleeping patterns, or sleeping less

The tricky thing about identifying a meth addiction is that the worst visible signs don’t show up overnight, just like with any other drug. While addiction can definitely take place in the early days of use, for people who are often not around much anyway, or who are able to easily hide their comings and goings, it can be even harder to spot warning signs of addiction. Some of the visual cues you may be able to identify if the person has recently ingested meth are:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive chatting
  • Rapid eye movement
  • Jaw clenching
  • Grandiose thoughts

The Late Stage

Many people have seen the before and after photos of people who have been using meth. The change the people in those photos go through is terrifying. The sunken eyes and cheeks, the emaciated appearance, the scars and scabs on the face, arms and hands, and the gaunt jaw are all identifiable side effects of long-term meth use.

Before it gets to that point, where does it go before that? What are some deeper warning signs, the ones past the irregular recreational use, that someone can look for if they are worried that their loved one might need help for meth addiction?

One of the most common side effects of using meth is mental deterioration. A culmination of lack of sleep, lack of food, and the paranoia that comes from the drug, mental collapse can be one of the most identifiable effects of meth use. It can look different for some people and take longer to take effect if the person is also using other drugs, but some of the most common symptoms of mental deterioration from meth use are:

  • Extreme paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Grandiose thoughts about themselves and their abilities
  • Imagined physical strengths or abilities


The increased need for more of the drug in order to chase the high creates even more paranoia and visions. Even after the person comes down from a high, there is often residual anxiety and paranoia. It can take some time before a person is able to return to normal mental functioning after ending meth use.

The rest of the physical effects of using the drug are often the ones that many people think of when they imagine someone who uses meth. Often characterized by skinny or frail physiques, emaciated facial features, yellowing of the teeth, scabs on the hands and face, and empty looking eyes.

People often become malnourished, and meth use can cause a lot of damage to the liver and kidneys. When people overdose from meth, it often causes heart failure, seizures, and stroke.

Getting Off of Meth

Although it can be extremely difficult to stop using meth for good, it is not impossible. If you or your loved one is thinking about getting clean from meth, there will be some side effects that you can expect to experience. Generally, there are three main stages of meth detox.


  • The Crash: This is the initial phase and begins from the last use through the second or third day. The most common indicators of the come downstage are:


      • Irritability
      • Anxiousness
      • Extreme fatigue and excessive sleeping
      • Consuming large amounts of food
      • Depression


  • The Acute stage: 42 to 72 hours after the last use and ranging upwards of a week, this stage is characterized by the effects from the depleted brain centers and lack of sleep or nutrition.


      • Insomnia
      • Difficulty Concentrating
      • Body aches and pains
      • Extreme anxiety and depression
      • Exhaustion and Lethargy
      • Memory Problems and Psychosis


  • Extinction: This is the final stage and can last anywhere from 2 weeks to several months.This is what many people call the “Post Acute Withdrawal” stage and is the reason why many meth users relapse in early sobriety. It is characterized by:


    • Extreme and sudden mood swings
    • Very high levels of anxiety
    • Extreme lows of depression
    • Irritability and Agitation
    • Cravings
    • Insomnia, Nightmares, difficulty sleeping

If it sounds uncomfortable, that’s because it is. Not everyone experiences the same side effects from meth withdrawal, but evidence has shown that the timeline is pretty consistent, and the side effects are generally shared throughout.

Meth addiction is very serious and potentially fatal, but it doesn’t have to be the end. There is hope from healing from meth use.