Why is Meth So Addictive?

Methamphetamine, or meth for short, is a stimulant that produces euphoric feelings. First produced in 1919 was first used as a medication to treat narcolepsy asthma and as a weight-loss drug. It was also used in the early 1900s to help keep soldiers awake. However, in 1970 it was outlawed after scientists and doctors realized that it was highly addictive. Today, however,  methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II Drug, and can still be found in some forms of prescribed medication.

Common street names for meth include crank, tina, crystal meth, speed, and ice. Meth comes in two forms- a powder form and a crystalline form. It can be smoked, taken in pill form, injected, or snorted. In the United States, more than 1.6 million individuals admitted to using methamphetamine.

How Does Meth Affect the Brain?

Methamphetamine can actually cross the blood-brain barrier. It affects the central nervous system. When meth is introduced into the body, it creates a surge of dopamine. This surge creates a sense of pleasure and euphoria and enacts the brain’s reward system leaving the user wanting more. However, meth only lasts a short while in the body, so many users binge on the substance in order to keep the feeling. When an individual first uses meth, they are making a conscious decision in the prefrontal cortex. However, after a few uses, the drug itself can actually change the way the brain operates, and that decision-making moves to the brain stem- making it involuntary. Over time, the brain will begin to stop releasing dopamine on its own- making substance use the only way an individual can find that euphoric feeling.

Symptoms of Meth Use

Many times it can be apparent that someone is using methamphetamine. One can watch for classic symptoms if they are concerned their loved one may be using them. These symptoms, according to the CDC, include:

  • “extreme weight loss
  • addiction
  • severe dental problems
  • intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching
  • anxiety
  • changes in brain structure and function
  • confusion
  • memory loss
  • sleeping problems
  • violent behavior
  • paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real though they aren’t.”


Not everyone that uses meth will show these symptoms, and there may be other symptoms that are not on this list. It is also important to note that not only does meth show physical symptoms, it also does internal damage to the body.

Health Risks and Long-Term Effects of Meth Use

In addition to the short-term symptoms discussed above, several health risks come with meth use. Methamphetamine increases the heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in a heart attack or stroke. The risk of infection from open sores is also an immediate danger. Along with these risks, meth can cause a dangerously high body temperature, convulsions and seizures, an increased risk of HIV infection, and meth is one substance that comes with a very high rate of overdose. Long-term effects include (but are not limited to): changes in brain function, changes in brain structure, long-term paranoia, dental issues, aggressive behaviors, deficits in motor function, and memory loss. In addition, due to restricted blood flow, there is an increased risk for damage to the liver, kidney, and lungs death of bowel tissue.

The Reason Behind Meth’s Uncontrollable Grasp

There are many reasons an individual may try meth for the first time. From curiosity to running from emotions, the list is truly endless. However, the first time one uses meth, they are immediately at risk for addiction. This is because of the potency of methamphetamine and the way it alters the brain and its functions. At first, many users will tell you they continued to use the substance to get that “high,” to experience the euphoria, to get that burst of energy. However, it does not take long for methamphetamine to alter the way the brain releases dopamine, and a chemical dependency emerges.

What Makes Meth So Addictive?

Meth is so addictive because it can, and does, change the way the brain works. It alters the way a user finds pleasure and reward, and without meth, the body can go into withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal include depression, anxiety, cravings, fatigue, headache, dehydration, muscle pain and spasms, and cognitive issues. These symptoms, coupled with the pleasurable sensations the drug gives, hold an uncontrollable grasp on those addicted to meth.

Treatment For Meth Addiction at Riverwalk Recovery Center

Treatment for meth addiction is available. At Riverwalk Recovery, we understand addiction intimately and offer a broad spectrum of treatment services. From outpatient detox to partial hospitalization, Riverwalk has the tools and resources to make your journey to recovery a successful one. We use therapies and modalities proven effective by scientific research, and every one of Riverwalk’s primary therapists is a licensed or master’s level clinician.

Our team of compassionate professionals is invested in your success and prioritizes patient empowerment. If you or someone you love is addicted to meth, their best chance of getting free of it before tragedy strikes are addiction treatment. Don’t wait until it’s too late to ask for help.

Contact us for help today

Ready to start? We’re here for you.

Send us a message