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Teen Methamphetamine Abuse: Facts & Statistics

Meth is currently the most abused synthetic drug in the United States. Addiction is highly common, yet harder to achieve than with any other drug. It’s vital to inform your kids about the dangers of meth use and help steer them away from it. If your child has already succumbed to the dangers of meth, it's imperative you help them get help now.

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18 min read

What Is Meth?

Meth is short for methamphetamine. Prescribed by some doctors to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (i.e. ADHD) and narcolepsy, meth is mostly abused as an intense stimulant — a psychostimulant. It can pack nearly 4 times the punch of a similar dose of cocaine.

It gets its nicknames “ice,” “crystal” and “glass” due to its most popular form: an odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that can be either white or blue. While straight methamphetamine can be a white, brown, orange or pink powder — and sometimes in pill form — crystal meth is far more potent and more dangerous because it can be smoked. This method delivers the drug into the brain and bloodstream more quickly. The surge in hospital cases and social problems related to the drug can be tied to the trend of smoking this “ice.”

Upon ingesting crystal meth (by either smoking, swallowing, snorting, or injecting), users feel a blast of energy and pleasure, caused by a rush of dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical. The main high lasts up to 30 minutes, with lingering effects for up to 12 hours. Once the high wears off, the drop-off can be severe. To avoid losing the high, users often come running back to the drug, resulting in abuse — taking large doses repeatedly — and in thousands of cases, addiction — where they can’t make it through their day without receiving a dose.

The drug is made from methylamine, a hard-to-find chemical, along with other ingredients such as ephedrine pseudoephedrine, an active ingredient in some over-the-counter medicines like Sudafed. Because of this, many states have begun to make these medicines prescription-only. The final product is “cooked” in a lab, the process that results in a chemical reaction that yields the drug. It’s currently the most abused synthetic drug in the U.S. and it’s abused by nearly 25 million people around the world.

Meth is defined by the United States Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule II drug, meaning that it satisfies 3 conditions:

  • It has a high potential for abuse.
  • It has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.
  • Abuse of the drug may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

Crystal meth goes by many street names, such as:

  • Ice
  • Glass
  • Crystal
  • Speed
  • Crank
  • Chalk
  • Tweak
  • Cristy
  • Tina
  • Cookies
  • Rocket fuel
  • Shards
  • Go
  • Whizz

Why Is Meth Dangerous?

teen passed out from meth with paraphernelia

Viewing “before and after” photos of meth’s effects can be striking. Meth is a highly destructive substance. It can tear apart someone physically, on the inside and outside, and send their life into a tailspin. The worst part is that, in the throes of addiction, a meth addict will continue taking the drug in copious amounts — even as the side effects become apparent, debilitating and very hard to reverse.

Meth use is linked to criminal activity, high-risk sexual behavior and psychosis. Addicts often lose touch with reality completely, watching relationships, jobs and overall health crumble in the process. According to a 2012 study, more than 1.2 million Americans have tried meth — and it isn’t just street criminals and kids in bad neighborhoods. It’s a drug that now thoroughly impacts the suburbs and teens from all backgrounds.

One in 33 kids has tried meth in U.S., according to one study, and at an average age of 12. The problem is only growing. The meth hitting the streets is constantly getting more potent, and cases of addiction and overdose are popping up around the world. Your teen may be offered meth – 1 in 10 already have been — without knowing the full scale of risks involved. One experiment with this extremely dangerous drug can open up your son or daughter to serious problems. Make sure your kids know at an early age to avoid meth at all costs.

Where Would My Teen Get Meth?

Nearly a quarter of American kids say it is very or somewhat easy to get meth. It’s created in labs big and small, sometimes even in a drug dealer’s kitchen. Many of the “superlabs” that produce high amounts of crystal meth are located in Mexico, and it’s estimated that 90% of meth still comes from there. But meth labs have started to appear around the United States to meet the recent increase in demand for the drug. To increase the supply and reduce the cost, meth is often diluted with additives before it hits the street.

Coast to coast, home-based meth labs are seized and shut down all the time. But the problem rages on, and kids are accessing meth in one way or another. Your teen may get it from a local dealer, from a friend or relative or even from ordering online through anonymous black market websites. The United Nations reports that nearly 500 metric tons of meth or similar drugs are produced worldwide each year. The DEA seized more than 2,000 kilograms of meth and raided nearly 12,000 labs in 2010, double the amounts of each from 2007.

As with any illicit drug, it’s hard to know exactly where a given dose is coming from. But with more than 600,000 regular users in the U.S. alone, it’s clear to see that the laws haven’t prevented the drug from spreading.

Why Would My Teen Use Meth?

Teens may give crystal meth a try for a variety of reasons. The teenage years are notorious for experimentation, high levels of stress and reckless partying. If you learn your son or daughter has picked up a meth habit, it’s likely due to a combination of the following factors.

Pleasure

In one survey of high schoolers in the U.S., 24% believed meth makes you feel euphoric or happy, and 22% figured it would help deal with boredom. These are common excuses for teens to try most any drug: the high. Crystal meth in particular is known for its pleasurable short-term effects, and naive teens may recommend it to friends as a way to feel this rush. They rarely, if ever, take into account the wave of side effects that come along with that minutes-long euphoria.

Weight Loss

The same study revealed that 23% of teens felt meth helps people lose weight. With self-esteem and body issues being (sadly) such a big part of the high school experience, a teen may overhear this and pick up meth to battle their own image issues. This particular cause of meth use may involve girls more than boys, and cause meth habits to stick more in these girls as well — female meth addicts apparently have twice as hard of a time kicking the addiction than boys do. Women now make up 42% of ER visits related to meth, which is significantly more than the female base for any other illicit drug.

Injury

Teens who’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury are over 4 times as likely to abuse to meth than those who haven’t. This includes concussions. If someone in your family has a history of brain trauma, make sure you stay engaged with them and keep track of their activities to make sure they don’t turn to meth — or any drug, for that matter — as a coping mechanism.

Environment and Peer Pressure

Of course, a lot of teen drug habits begin due to peer pressure, both direct and indirect. If your neighborhood has a higher rate of teen meth abuse, your teen is more likely to have friends and classmates who offer up the drug or simply do it in their presence. Friends may encourage your teen to give it a try — even if they don’t, seeing them get high off it is bound to make your teen curious about the drug. Some teens abuse the prescription form of meth as a “study drug,” in an effort to gain an academic advantage.

Influence from Media

None of us are immune to taking away ideas from everyday media images. Illicit drugs are a big part of teen-targeted websites, movies and TV shows. Crystal meth recently took center stage in Breaking Bad, one of the most watched and critically-acclaimed shows of all time. The finale alone was viewed by more than 10 million people.

The show centered around two main characters who got into the meth business and turned a massive profit, albeit with drawbacks (gang involvement, run-ins with the police). Some experts argue that the show normalized meth use, and countries like Germany and the UK (along with the U.S.) saw a flood of meth users that were perhaps partially influenced by the show. Meth incidents in Britain jumped 400% in 2014, the final year of the show.

“I’m not surprised following the success of Breaking Bad that we have news of a surge in the use of methamphetamine,”

Professor Ellis CashmoreAuthor on celebrity and media culture

“The fact millions of people have watched the show and been entertained by it almost instantly glamorises its subject matter, whether deliberate or not.”

If your teen is a fan of this show or any others that happen to reference meth, it can easily influence them towards experimentation.

“The fact this character we grow and love is taking crystal meth instantly makes people curious,”

Mental Health Issues

A large number of crystal meth abusers also report a co-occurring mental disorder, which either exists before their drug habit or develops partially as a result. Eating disorders, ADHD, depression and panic disorders are all common among teens, and around half of young people who wind up in treatment for a drug problem also have some form of mental illness. Bipolar disorder in particular is commonly linked with teen meth abuse.

How Is Meth Used?

teens using meth

The most common methods for taking crystal meth are smoking it — typically using a glass pipe — or processed into a liquid and injected via needle. It can also be snorted or consumed orally.

Is Meth Addictive?

Meth, particularly the crystal form, is as addictive as they come. From both a psychological and a physical standpoint, those who try meth often get hooked immediately.

“It felt like what I’d always been missing, It felt like there’d always been this hole inside me, and this was the only thing that was ever going to fill it.”

Nic SheffAuthor

The high on crystal meth is supposedly unparalleled in terms of pure pleasure.

“By the time I actually did start doing heroin, it felt like nothing compared to crystal meth,”

“Sure, it was good for cutting the come down from the meth but between the two, there was no question which one I’d take—every time.”

Once the superhuman high wears off though, 6–12 hours later, meth users feel an insufferable withdrawal (i.e. the body and mind’s response to not having a particular drug). This sends you plummeting from your highest high to your very lowest low. In order to wash away this intense withdrawal, users will hurry to seek out another fix. They will also develop a tolerance, where more of the drug is needed to feel any of its effects.

This can quickly and violently evolve into a daily cycle. Addicts, then, will spend so much time and energy on getting high on meth that they fail to see the toll being taken by the drug.

What Are The Effects of Meth Use?

Your teen’s meth use is a cause for concern and immediate action, as the myriad of side effects range from moderate to quite severe. This harsh substance can do permanent damage to your teen, inside and out, from the first few uses. The effects can only get worse from there. Meth abusers have a historically difficult time returning to a normal life after the habit takes hold.

How the Body Is Affected

The visible effects of meth abuse are perhaps greater than any other drug. Seeing photos of a meth addict — especially if you knew them before the fact — can be an unsettling experience. By causing the destruction of tissues and blood vessels, meth inhibits the body’s ability to repair itself. So the damage done will only worsen over time, making meth addicts a shell of their former self (in appearance, at the very least).

Common physical side effects of meth include:

  • Severe acne
  • Dry and pale skin
  • Appearing older (by years or even decades)
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Tooth decay and loss
  • Scabs and sores
  • Poor hygiene

“Meth mouth” is a complete deterioration of the teeth and gums due to heavy meth use. This is characterized by rotting and discolored teeth, cavities, and other problems caused by the salivary glands being dried out. Addicts are also prone to aggressively grind and chatter their teeth. This, paired with improper diet and dental habits, causes teeth to become cracked or fall out completely.

A teen in the early stages of meth use won’t necessarily wear all these side effects. But it’s amazing how fast their body can deteriorate as the habit continues. Meth addicts in jail or in treatment tend to look like different people entirely than they were years or even months prior.

Besides these more visible side effects, meth use impacts the body in other serious ways as well. Liver damage, lowered resistance to illness, increased heart rate, extreme rise in body temperature and convulsions are regular results of heavy meth use. Stroke and death are not uncommon. In 2011, more than 100,000 ER visits in the U.S. resulted from meth use.

How the Brain Is Affected

With repeated use, meth destroys the wiring in the brain’s pleasure centers. This makes it increasingly impossible to feel any pleasure at all — ask a hardcore meth addict and they will tell you.

Even after a year’s sobriety, former meth abusers show severe impairment in memory, judgment and motor coordination. This impact on the brain’s cognitive abilities is compared to the symptoms seen in people with Parkinson’s Disease.

A common response from the mind of a meth addict is erratic, violent behavior. “Tweaking,” a term given to this disturbing hyperactive and obsessive behavior, is on display in meth addicts both in public and in treatment. No longer in complete control, a meth addict may lash out at others or themselves, along with exhibiting odd body movements (eyes twitching 10 times faster than normal, jerky arm and leg motions, quivering lips) and extreme paranoia. Addicts are known to have delusions, particularly of bugs under their skin, causing them to pick and claw at their body during the worst tweaking episodes. Being caught tweaking in public in a major reason why so many meth addicts wind up in jail, sometimes repeatedly. Among meth users, 20% develop some form of long-term psychosis.

How Relationships and Responsibilities Are Affected

Crystal meth can go from a part-time escape to a life-changing addiction in the blink of an eye. Along the way, a teen will see much more than their health go to waste. Relationships and responsibilities will fall apart. This can be directly related to the addiction — as they skip out on friends, family obligations, and school to get high — or inadvertently, as the side effects and the hangovers make them a black sheep in both personal and professional settings. One way or another, a teen’s meth habit will lay waste to the things they know and love, burning bridges that can leave them stranded in a bad way.

How Can I Tell If My Teen Has a Problem?

meth paraphernelia

Worrisome behavior or physical changes in your teen may indicate a relationship with drugs or alcohol. Meth, in particular, causes symptoms that are difficult to hide on their part and should set off red flags for parents.

One or more of these signs might indicate a meth problem in your teen:

  • Restlessness or insomnia, followed by prolonged periods of sleep
  • Extreme alertness or energy
  • Decreased appetite and rapid weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fidgeting or other anxious behavior
  • Repetitive, obsessive-seeming activity
  • Mood swings, hostility or aggression
  • Hallucinations and paranoia
  • Memory loss
  • Sickness and other health problems
  • Burns or “track marks” (marks on the inner arm)

You may discover paraphernalia as well — items related to storing or using meth. This can include glass pipes, lighters, aluminum foil, plastic bags, needles or other random materials. If you see residue from the drug, such as white powder stains or small crystals, this can be a dead giveaway.

Other Signs of Meth Abuse or Addiction

A habit like crystal meth will likely cause a domino effect of signs in your teen. Other than the most blatant side effects of the drug, this can trickle down into all aspects of their routine and behavior.

Signs might include:

  • Slipping grades and constant abstinences from school
  • Disinterest in hobbies and other activities
  • Suspicious behavior, lying, unknown whereabouts
  • Carelessness in hygiene and appearance
  • Valuables or cash missing from your family
  • Trouble with the law

Cooking Meth At Home

A number of users try to skip the middleman altogether, and cook meth in their own home. For every person that succeeds, countless others fail, with sometimes tragic results. Failed attempts to produce meth often result in explosions, personal injury and property damage. It can also land them in jail.

If you notice assorted items popping up — glass or plastic tubes, propane tanks, etc. — or a smell that you can’t identify, investigate to see if your teen (or their friends) attempted to cook meth in your home.

What Does Withdrawal Look Like?

The comedown after a meth high often sends users into despair. The mind and body will react in several painful ways, otherwise known as a withdrawal. The severity of meth withdrawal, which can last up to 4 weeks, is one of the primary reasons that addicts can’t stay away — 88% of meth addicts relapse, returning to the drug at some point after quitting. To quell these symptoms, if only temporary, addicts will seek out more meth by any means necessary.

Symptoms of meth withdrawal can include:

  • Intense depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Shaking and tremors
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Profuse sweating, fever and “the chills”
  • Heart palpitations
  • Respiratory failure

Withdrawal from crystal meth can send an addict into a flurry of cravings and panic. If your son or daughter is struggling with meth but you don’t catch earlier signs, you will certainly be able to tell that they’re experiencing withdrawal. If you do, drop everything and get them medical attention immediately.

Does My Child Need Drug Rehab?

If you notice signs that your child has engaged in substance abuse — whether meth or another drug — you should take action right away to quell that behavior. Act fast — the more quickly your family takes action, the better chance your teen has to recover. Unfortunately, if addiction has already taken root, your efforts will likely be unsuccessful without professional intervention. For help figuring out what to do, contact a treatment advisor such as your child’s doctor or one of our advisors at TeenRehabCenter.org, who are available to you for free.

If you are overwhelmed by the costs of rehab and the litany of substance abuse treatment options, do not give up. We at TeenRehabCenter.org exist to offer you free help with these very matters. Contact us to speak confidentially with a professional addiction advisor for free, and get advice on how to approach the situation. As difficult as it may seem, remember that the problem will only worsen if you choose to do nothing. Don’t let your teen slip towards an uncertain future — get in touch and we can help you immediately.

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