Meth Addiction

Methamphetamine (“meth,” “ice,” “crystal meth,” “crank,” etc.) is a stimulant substance that, while having some usefulness as a legitimate medication, has a much more prominent social role as a drug of abuse. Compared to two other well-known sources of stimulant abuse—cocaine and amphetamine—methamphetamine makes unusually drastic changes in normal brain chemistry. For this reason, people who abuse the drug have a particularly strong chance of developing the symptoms of addiction. Doctors classify methamphetamine addiction as one form of a more broadly inclusive condition called stimulant use disorder.

The Basics

Methamphetamine comes from modification of the same basic chemical formula used to make amphetamine. When manufactured legitimately as a controlled medication, it is sometimes used to treat people affected by the sleep disorder narcolepsy, the excessive level of body weight associated with obesity and morbid obesity, or by the behavioral problems associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, such legitimate use occurs only rarely, and methamphetamine intake in the U.S. is much more likely to take the form of an unsanctioned behavior involving the use of illegally made batches of the drug. Methamphetamine produces its effects by accelerating the baseline activity rate inside the central nervous system and steeply boosting levels of the brain chemical responsible for producing the highly pleasurable feeling known as euphoria. Speak Confidentially with a Promises Scottsdale Recovery Advisor at 888-478-0036.

Meth Addiction

The methamphetamine-initiated boost in pleasure levels is accompanied by profound changes in the brain’s chemical makeup. If these changes occur repeatedly over time, the brain can come to view them as necessary and expect to experience them on a regular basis. Such a shift in brain orientation signals the development of a physical dependence on methamphetamine’s effects. Addiction sets in when a person physically dependent on methamphetamine starts to experience a number of accompanying, dysfunctional symptoms, including strong drug cravings when not currently consuming meth, withdrawal when meth intake falls below accustomed levels, lack of control over meth intake, the development of tolerance to the drug’s effects and the emphasis of methamphetamine-related activities as a primary daily priority.


The American Psychiatric Association established the stimulant use disorder diagnosis in 2013 to identify anyone affected by an addiction to methamphetamine or any other stimulant drug or medication, as well as anyone affected by the non-addicted abuse of these substances. Before this diagnostic category was created, all forms of stimulant abuse were viewed as distinct and separate from all forms of stimulant addiction. Doctors look for at least two to three symptoms of abuse or addiction before diagnosing stimulant use disorder in methamphetamine users or any other stimulant users. Current guidelines allow for the identification of 11 total symptoms of the disorder.

The scientific community has not developed any medications that deal effectively with the impact of methamphetamine addiction. For this reason, recovering addicts are typically treated with a form of psychotherapeutic counseling called behavioral therapy, which seeks to modify the internal cues, external triggers and actions that support drug use. One form of behavioral therapy, called contingency management, uses the periodic rewarding of cash or vouchers to encourage recovering addicts to stay active in the treatment process and remain abstinent from substance intake. Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse have specifically verified the effectiveness of a contingency-based approach to meth addiction treatment called Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR). Speak Confidentially with a Promises Scottsdale Recovery Advisor at 888-478-0036.

Another approach to behavioral modification, called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), identifies the situations likely to result in drug use then gradually helps patients change their outlook and actions in those situations so that drug use does not appear as an option. Some programs use multiple approaches to modify the behaviors of recovering methamphetamine addicts. Specific techniques that may play a role in such a combined approach include contingency management, CBT, one-on-one counseling, participation in 12-step mutual support groups and involvement of family members in program objectives.