Meth Overdose: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system (CNS).1 Meth increases the activity of several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, a brain chemical important for motivation and the reinforcement of rewarding behaviors.1
Individuals who use meth report feeling a euphoric “rush,” an intense pleasurable feeling that only lasts a couple of minutes, then fades as quickly as it started. Thus, individuals use repeat doses to maintain the high.1
Similar to other substances, taking too much meth, using it in combination with other substances, or ingesting adulterated meth can result in an increased risk of toxicity or fatal overdose.2
In 2021, nearly 33,000 deaths in the United States involved meth.3 Between 2015 and 2019, the number of methamphetamine-related overdose deaths nearly tripled among U.S. adults aged 18 to 64.2
Read this page to learn more about the signs of a meth overdose, what to do if someone overdoses on meth, and where to get help for meth addiction.
What Is Meth?
Methamphetamine, colloquially referred to as meth, is classified as a Schedule II drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which means it has a high potential for dependence and addiction.4 In 2021, 2.5 million Americans aged 12 or older reported using methamphetamine within the past year. Additionally, an estimated 1.6 million individuals aged 12 or older in the U.S. met the criteria for a methamphetamine use disorder in 2021.5
Though legally available by prescription as Desoxyn—a drug with very limited use for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity—most methamphetamine used in the United States is produced and distributed illicitly and used recreationally.6
When a person uses meth, they experience increased alertness and physical activity, decreased appetite, and an elevated mood.6 However, chronic recreational meth use can lead to a host of health consequences, including but not limited to aggression, mood swings, cognitive problems, severe tooth decay, weight loss and malnutrition, paranoia, and hallucinations.1
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What Causes a Meth Overdose?
Meth overdose—without the presence of other substances—occurs when a person takes too much of the drug at once or chronically over time and experiences a toxic reaction to the drug.1 This reaction can result in life-threatening cardiovascular events, such as stroke and heart attack, as well as organ damage.1
When an individual takes meth and opioids together, the side effects can be more potent, unpredictable, dangerous, and potentially fatal.7
Opioids are depressants that slow down the CNS; meth, as previously stated, is a stimulant that activates the CNS. Contrary to what some think, combining meth with opioids—or other depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines—does not balance the drugs’ effects out. In fact, the opposite happens. Mixing the two substances can modify or even mask the symptoms of one or both drugs, which can lead individuals to think neither substance is producing the desired effect and result in them taking more of one or both substances, which can lead to overdose.7
Others may unintentionally mix opioids and meth. Fentanyl, a potent opioid, is often used to adulterate methamphetamine—and other street drugs—since it resembles meth in its powder form. Overdose can occur when an individual unwittingly uses a drug they believe is meth but is meth laced with fentanyl.9
Signs of Meth Overdose
Though the symptoms of a meth overdose—without the presence of other substances—vary from one individual to the next, understanding general warning signs can help you identify a potential overdose and get the person the help they need. Signs of a meth toxicity, alone, may include:10,11
- Chest pains.
- Rapid increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.
- Kidney problems.
- Altered mental status, including psychosis.
- Heart attack.
- Circulatory collapse.
Fentanyl (or other opioid)-involved overdoses can cause slow or stopped breathing and death. When meth is taken in conjunction with another substance—intentionally or not—it may be difficult to tell if the individual is high or experiencing an overdose.7
Getting Help for Meth Use
If you or your loved one needs help for meth use, it is important to note that after using meth long-term, abruptly stopping use can result in withdrawal symptoms that can be physically unpleasant and psychologically taxing. While these symptoms are rarely dangerous or life-threatening, undergoing medically managed detox can help alleviate these withdrawal symptoms as you get the meth (and other substances) out of your body safely and comfortably.14
After detox, most people need further treatment for meth addiction as detox, alone, is generally not sufficient to sustain lasting recovery.14 You need to learn the skills necessary to avoid returning to meth and other substance use, which is taught in a formal treatment program.14
Treatment can occur in a variety of settings. You may benefit from an inpatient program, where you live in a 24/7 supervised environment and participate in various types of counseling and behavioral therapies each day. Or you may go to an outpatient program, which looks similar to an inpatient program, but allows you to return home or to a when you’re not attending treatment sessions.15
Whether you go to an inpatient or outpatient treatment program for meth addiction, you will participate in evidence-based behavioral therapies—such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or contingency management—designed to help you identify the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that led to addiction; help you change the way you think about meth and other substances; and avoid relapse.16
For meth or other stimulant misuse, the Matrix Model—a 16-week comprehensive treatment approach that combines behavioral therapy, family education, individual counseling, 12-step support, drug testing, and encouragement for non-drug-related activities—has been shown to be effective.16
If you or someone you love needs help for meth use or addiction, speak to an Admissions Navigator, who can answer your questions and explain your options. Call American Addiction Centers (AAC) today at