Methamphetamine addiction

Methamphetamine is also known as P, meth, ice, speed, pure, burn, goey, crank, crystal, ice, yaba and tina

Key points about methamphetamine addiction

  • Methamphetamine is a strong and addictive drug.
  • If you use it, you are at risk of becoming addicted.
  • Long-term methamphetamine use harms your physical and mental health, relationships and emotional wellbeing.
  • However, there are services that have helped many people to overcome this addiction.
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  • All drug use brings a risk of harm but methamphetamine is a particularly strong and addictive drug. People who use it can quickly become dependent on it. 
  • Addiction can harm your physical and mental health, as well as lead to losing your job, savings, home and relationships. You also risk overdose from a strong batch or large dose of methamphetamine, which can be fatal. 
  • Addiction is a health condition, not a lifestyle choice or weakness. It’s important to get help sooner rather than later. Thousands of New Zealanders have beaten their addiction to methamphetamine.
  • There are many services that can help you to recover, from online counselling to inpatient rehab.
  • Although relapse is normal during your recovery, expect to recover. Most people who have an addiction will recover.

 

Overdose of methamphetamine can result in heart attack or stroke, and even death. Call 111 if you or someone else is experiencing these symptoms of overdose:
  • chest pain
  • irregular/racing heartbeat
  • difficulty breathing
  • extreme agitation and confusion
  • sudden severe headache
  • convulsions or seizure
  • passing out or unconscious

Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects your central nervous system. It causes rapid release of dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline producing enhanced feelings of energy, mood and libido (sex drive). You have feelings of increased confidence, alertness and wellbeing or euphoria (a 'high'). This lasts for around 6 hours. 

But, the high is followed by a comedown, which can last for days. You can feel much worse than before you took the drug. It can be hard to sleep and you may feel exhausted. You may also get headaches and dizziness, paranoia, hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that are not there), confusion, and feel irritable and down.

Because of this, people often take more methamphetamine to feel better. This can lead to a repetitive cycle of use, in which you use larger and more frequent amounts of methamphetamine. This makes methamphetamine easy to become addicted to.

The meth cycle

The following infographic shows this cycle:

Image credit: Northland DHB

Using methamphetamine is a risk to your physical and mental health. This is partly from the drug itself and partly from the things you tend to do when using it. Harm can also be caused by contaminants and by-products of the manufacturing process. This is particularly risky if you inject methamphetamine.

People who use methamphetamine over a long period of time may develop severe health problems such as:

  • physical dependence, needing to use more to get the same effect and finding it difficult to stop, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you do
  • ongoing sleep problems that affect your concentration, work, studies and quality of life
  • decreased appetite and desire for food, resulting in weight loss and malnutrition, severe tooth decay, loss of teeth and skin sores
  • severe mental and emotional symptoms, such as anxiety, mood changes, depression and suicidal thoughts, aggression and violent behaviour, psychosis (paranoia, hallucinations – seeing and hearing things that are not there – and delusions)
  • cardiovascular problems, ie, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack.
  • the unknown effect methamphetamine has when it is mixed with other drugs or medication
  • risky sexual behaviour that leads to STIs or unplanned pregnancy
  • risk of overdose from a strong batch or large dose of methamphetamine, which can be fatal
  • risks of injecting (eg, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, skin infection, septicaemia).

You also risk losing your job, savings, home and relationships, and put yourself at risk of a criminal conviction. (Methamphetamine is classified as a Class A drug like heroin.)

While you may recover from some of the harm after you stop using the drug, some health effects may be permanent. The sooner you stop, the better for your long-term health.

Addiction means losing control over your use, finding it difficult to stop using the drug, with cravings and a compulsive drive to keep using, despite adverse consequences. You can have a physical craving or a psychological need.

Watch out for the following 4 key 'Cs':

  • compulsion
  • loss of control
  • cravings
  • continued use despite consequences.

If you have been using methamphetamine often, you might not notice how much it is affecting you. Ask someone you trust if they think it is harming you and your life.

You are likely to be addicted if you are: 

  • using more methamphetamine than you used to
  • finding it hard to stop using
  • missing school, work or family commitments
  • always thinking about it.

If you’re not sure, test your drug use(external link).

Addiction gets worse over time, so if you notice the signs early, it's easier to stop then. The longer you are addicted the harder it is to break free. Addiction can be treated with: 

  • counselling (online, by telephone or in person)
  • motivational interviewing and cognitive behaviour therapy (types of psychological treatment that encourage you to change your behaviour)
  • medication
  • group therapy
  • family therapy
  • detox programs in hospital or at home
  • residential treatment programmes, such as Odyssey House(external link) and Higher Ground(external link) 
  • rehab in hospital or at home.

No single treatment will work for everyone first time. You can talk to your doctor or other health professional to make a treatment plan that suits you. Relapse is to be expected. Have a realistic plan that provides ongoing help for you and your family will help you avoid and/or get through relapses.

If you decide to cut back or stop after using methamphetamine often, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. It’s a good idea to get some help when you do. Counselling and support from a health professional, whānau/family and friends is the best approach to help you to stop methamphetamine use.

  • Tell your partner, close friends or family members so they can support you to make the change.
  • Contact one of the specialised services that know about how to stop using methamphetamine, such as MethHelp(external link), the Alcohol and Drug Helpline(external link) or one of the other support services listed on this page.
  • Talk to your doctor. If depression or anxiety is the underlying cause for your drug use, they may prescribe medication for that or to help you sleep during your withdrawal stage. If you have been using other drugs, eg, alcohol or benzodiazepines, tell your doctor as you may need specialist help (stopping these suddenly may be dangerous).
  • See a counsellor or therapist(external link) to talk to about your methamphetamine use and any other problems in your life that may have led you into using methamphetamine. 

There are a lot of different things that will affect how long and intense your withdrawal will be. They include:

  • what you have been using
  • what else you have been using at the same time
  • how much you have been using
  • how often you have been using
  • how long you have been using
  • how you have been using (drinking, smoking, snorting, injecting)
  • how healthy you are generally
  • if you have any mental or physical health issues
  • your attitude
  • the support you get from family, whānau and friends.

Before you stop:

  • organise support, such as friends or family/whanau, your GP or other healthcare professional, and one of the support agencies listed on this page
  • organise a safe place, somewhere quiet where people aren’t using drugs
  • plan ahead, including a routine (getting up at a set time, showering, having breakfast and so on), things you enjoy doing and treats that help you to relax and avoid using
  • work out a strategy for managing your cravings, such as delaying the decision to use, distracting yourself with things to do, celebrate when you resist and using your breathing to calm yourself
  • learn some strategies to help you sleep, such as having regular bedtimes, natural products that make you sleepy, keeping your bedroom for sleep. 

See more ideas in Managing your own withdrawal – a guide for people trying to stop using drugs and or alcohol(external link) Matua Raki, NZ

It is safest to not use methamphetamine, but if you do use it, there are a few things you can do to reduce harm to yourself and others. 

Being safer around methamphetamine

If you are going to use, before you do:

  • make arrangements for children to be cared for by someone who is not using
  • eat well for energy reserves
  • clean your teeth
  • use soap and water or alcohol swabs to clean your hands.  

When using:

  • use chewing gum to minimise tooth grinding
  • sip water as your mouth will get dry, but not too much
  • avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks which dehydrate you
  • avoid driving as your judgement will be impaired
  • avoid mixing with other drugs or medication
  • if you have sex, use condoms and lube and practice safe sex. 

After using:

  • catch up on fluids, food and sleep the next day
  • avoid driving as you will be tired. 

Method of use 

Taking any type of speed, including methamphetamine, orally is generally safer than smoking, injecting or snorting because your stomach can handle acidic and foreign substances better than your lungs, veins or nose. Swallowing methamphetamine in empty pill capsules or wrapped in cigarette papers and drinking plenty of water reduces potential harm.

The vapour produced from smoking methamphetamine can damage your lungs and smoking is more addictive than snorting or eating. If you do smoke, use a shatterproof Pyrex pipe. Other pipes (or glass) can get too hot or give off toxic fumes. Avoid using broken or cracked pipes. Damaged pipes can lead to burns, cuts and infections.

If you snort methamphetamine, ensure it is finely chopped with a razor or knife and use alternate nostrils. Also, avoid sharing straws for snorting. Blood and mucus left on the straw can cause the spread of blood-borne viruses, such hepatitis and HIV.

Injecting methamphetamine increases your risks of HIV, hepatitis and sepsis, a bacterial infection of your injecting wound, if you share needles (and other equipment). There is also a risk of skin abscesses and collapsed veins. Using a wheel filter can help to remove impurities that cause infections. Injecting also increases your risk of stroke and heart attack.

If you are injecting, you can access needles, syringes and other equipment to support safe injecting practice and reduce risk of health-related complications through the Needle Exchange Programme(external link). Needle exchanges also provide for the safe disposal of used needles and syringes.

Video: Did you know: Methamphetamine

These videos may take a few moments to load.

English


(NZ Drug Foundation, NZ, 2017)

Te reo Māori

(NZ Drug Foundation, NZ, 2017)

To listen to this video in Samoan or Tongan, turn on subtitles in the video at the top of the page via the closed caption (CC) menu of the YouTube player controls.

Video: Let's make a change

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(Northland District Health Board, NZ, 2017)

Video: The cycle of meth abuse

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(Northland District Health Board, NZ, 2017)

Video: Methamphetamine Patu i te hoarir

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(Northland District Health Board, NZ, 2017)

Video: Drug dealers – enough is enough

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(Northland District Health Board, 2017)

Video: The road to recovery

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(Northland District Health Board, NZ, 2017)

The following links provide further information about methamphetamine addiction. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.    

MethHelp(external link) is an online tool with information and stories of change 
Managing withdrawal(external link) NZ Drug Foundation
Kina Families and Addictions Trust(external link) Support for family, whānau and friends of people using alcohol and other drugs
Care NZ Manaaki Aotearoa(external link) 
Cannabis, methamphetamine and oral health(external link) Ministry of Health, NZ, 2017
Methamphetamine and the law(external link) NZ Police
Start Your Recovery(external link) US, 2018
Methamphetamine information sheet(external link) Community Alcohol and Drug Service, NZ, 2016
Methamphetamine(external link) NZ Drug Foundation

Resources

Addiction factsheet(external link) The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, 2017
Methamphetamine – P(external link) Community Alcohol and Drug Services, NZ, 2016
A guide to conversations with young people about drugs & alcohol(external link) NZ Drug Foundation, 2018
Living well – life strategies for family, whānau and friends of people using alcohol and other drugs(external link) Kina Families & Addictions Trust, NZ
P**d off: A guide for people trying to stop using meth/P/ice/speed(external link) Matua Raki, NZ, 2010
MethHelp: How to stay in control(external link) Drug Foundation NZ, 2018
A guide to talking therapies in NZ [PDF, 564 KB] Te Pou, NZ, 2009
He rongoā kei te kōrero – talking therapies for Māori(external link) Te Pou, NZ, 2010
Talking therapies for Asian people [PDF, 3.1 MB] Te Pou NZ, 2010
Talking therapies for Pasifika peoples [PDF, 3.1 MB] Te Pou NZ, 2010

References

  1. Methamphetamine(external link) NZ Drug Foundation
  2. About methamphetamine(external link) DrugHelp, NZ
  3. Addiction(external link) The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, 2016
  4. Methamphetamine(external link) National Institute on Drug Abuse, US, 2013
  5. Methamphetamine(external link) Alcohol and Drug Helpline, NZ
  6. Am I addicted?(external link) DrugHelp, NZ
  7. Addressing methamphetamine use in primary care(external link) BPAC, NZ, 2018

Treating methamphetamine addiction

  • Health professionals need to be proactive when the opportunity arises in identifying people who have problems with methamphetamine use, as they may have little contact with health services and are unlikely to reveal their drug use without being asked.
  • Methamphetamine use is most prevalent among people aged in their 30s and under, and is more common in males compared with females and in Māori compared to people of other ethnicities.
  • People who use methamphetamine are at risk of dependency, psychosis and other mental and physical health complications, as well as financial, family, relationship and legal problems.
  • Counselling and support from a health professional, friends and family is currently the best approach for helping people to stop using methamphetamine.
  • Evidence does not support the use of any currently available pharmacological treatments to help patients quit or prevent relapses.
  • There are a variety of self-help resources and support programmes available that patients can be directed to.

Read more: Addressing methamphetamine use in primary care(external link) BPAC, NZ, 2018 

Resources for clinicians

Brochures

methamphetamine factsheet wdhb

Methamphetamine – P

Community Alcohol and Drug Services, NZ, 2016

meth help how to stay in control drug foundation nz

MethHelp: How to stay in control

Drug Foundation NZ, 2018

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Alistair Dunn, addiction specialist lead clinician, Opiate Substitution Treatment Service, Northland DHB and Dr Vicki Macfarlane, addiction specialist lead clinician, Medical Detoxification Services, Pitman House, Waitemata DHB

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