Methamphetamine is a type of stimulant drug that is highly addictive. It was derived from its parent drug, amphetamine. Amphetamines like meth increase physical activity and talkativeness, diminish one’s appetite, and give a sense of well-being, or euphoria.2 Amphetamines are sometimes prescribed to treat symptoms of narcolepsy or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that approximately 1.7 million Americans (0.8%) had used methamphetamine in the past year.3 Among US veterans aged 18-25, the rate of past year methamphetamine use was 2.5% (vs. 0.8% among all 18- to 25-year olds). US veterans aged 26 and older report a significantly lower rate of past year meth use at 0.5% (vs. 0.8% of all Americans 26 or older).17
Many veterans struggle with mental health disorders or have difficulty reintegrating into civilian life, which puts them at increased risk of developing a substance use disorder. Methamphetamine is one of many substances that may be used in an effort to cope.2
It’s important for veterans and their loved ones to understand that recovery from meth abuse and addiction is possible. Understanding the signs of meth addiction, the addiction treatment process, and the resources available to veterans can help you start your journey to recovery.
Table of Contents
- What is Meth?
- Why Do Veterans Abuse Meth?
- Side Effects of Meth Use
- Signs of Meth Addiction
- Signs of Meth Withdrawal
- Meth Rehab and Treatment Options
- Finding Meth Rehab for Veterans
- Does the VA and Veteran Benefits Cover Meth Rehab?
- Can Rehab for Meth Use Affect My Veteran Benefits?
- Does Meth Rehab Go On My Record?
What is Meth?
Methamphetamine has a high potential for abuse and addiction. Meth can be found in powder or pill form. Crystal meth usually has the appearance of a shiny white or bluish glass. It can be smoked, snorted, ingested, on injected. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, meth can also be taken as a pill or be found in powder form that can be smoked, snorted, ingested or injected.4
As a powerful stimulant, methamphetamine produces an immediate sensation of wakefulness and a feeling of increased energy and physical performance.3 Methamphetamine’s effects are felt quickly and the exact mechanisms for producing euphoria aren’t well understood. Meth rapidly increases dopamine levels, a chemical in the brain, by increasing dopamine release and blocking dopamine re-uptake.2 This neurotransmitter is involved in motivation and reinforcing rewarding behaviors. Meth’s effect on dopamine contributes to the reinforcing and addictive potential of the drug.2 It is believed that with chronic use, the increased amount of dopamine in the brain may lead to potentially permanent nerve damage.3
Why Do Veterans Abuse Meth?
Reintegrating into civilian life is a big adjustment for veterans. While there are clear stressors to being in service to the military, the lifestyle also fosters a tight-knit sense of community. It can be difficult for veterans to find the sense of community and comradery they had in the military in civilian life. These changes put some veterans at higher risk of developing substance use disorder (SUD).1 In particular, veterans with a history of trauma have a higher risk of alcohol abuse or drug use.1 Nearly 63% of veterans returning from combat missions in the Middle East have been diagnosed with SUD and a co-occurring mental disorder like PTSD.1
Close to 11% of veterans presenting to the Veterans Affairs health system meet the criteria for the diagnosis of a substance use disorder.1 Many also have co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Therefore, veterans are at an increased risk of developing substance use disorder, including SUD due to methamphetamine use.
Impacts of Meth Use on Veterans
Meth use can contribute to various issues affecting veteran populations, especially if it is present alongside a co-occurring mental health disorder like post-traumatic stress disorder. Substance use is often tied to an increased risk of suicide in veterans.13 It’s estimated that over 30% of suicides by current or former army personnel involved substances of some kind, ranging from alcohol to methamphetamine.13
Addiction to illicit drugs like methamphetamine can lead people to neglect obligations like work, time with family, social obligations. In extreme cases, this can lead to homelessness, which is a consistent problem facing veteran communities. As of 2019, the homeless rate for US veterans is 10.2%, with nearly 70% of homeless veterans meeting the criteria for a substance use disorder diagnosis.5, 13
Side Effects of Meth Use
Short-term effects of methamphetamine use include:2
- Wakefulness and increased physical activity.
- Decreased appetite.
- Faster breathing.
- Rapid and/or irregular heartbeat.
- Increased blood pressure and body temperature.
Chronic or long-term methamphetamine use is associated with many negative health effects on both the brain and the body. These include:2
- Weight loss.
- Dental problems (e.g., “meth mouth”).
- Intense itching and skin lesions from sores and scratching.
- Memory loss.
- Sleeping problems.
- Violent behavior.
- Visual or auditory hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that seam real although they aren’t).
- Increased risk of bloodborne, sexually transmitted infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.
Some of these effects are reversible, but others may be long-term or even lifelong impairments.2 Studies suggest that long-term changes in the body’s dopamine system may result in potentially permanent deficits in coordination and verbal learning, and that people who once used methamphetamine are at increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Signs of Meth Addiction
Addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder marked by compulsive drug-seeking and continued use despite harmful consequences.6 According to the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual utilized by mental health providers, to be diagnosed with a stimulant use disorder, a person must meet at least 2 of the following criteria over a period of 12 months:6
- Using a stimulant drug in increasingly larger amounts over longer periods.
- Continued desire to cut down but experiencing unsuccessful attempts to reduce drug use.
- Spending more time in activities geared toward obtaining stimulants.
- Experiencing cravings for stimulant drugs.
- Failing to fulfill major roles, responsibilities, or duties because of drug use.
- Continuing to use the drug despite experiencing negative consequences.
- Giving up social, work-related, or recreational activities to instead seek out and take drugs.
- Using stimulants in situations where it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving).
- Persistent use of stimulants despite knowledge of having psychological or physical problems related to the drug.
- Tolerance, either by needing increasing amounts of the drug or experiencing a diminished effect when taking the same amount of a drug.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when ceasing or cutting back on the drug.
Signs of Meth Withdrawal
When a person who has developed a physiological dependence to methamphetamine suddenly stops or significantly reduces their use of the drug, they can develop withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours.8 These withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Irritability and general dissatisfaction with life.
- Drug craving.
- Vivid or unpleasant dreams.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia, meaning excessive sleeping.
- Increased appetite.
- Psychomotor agitation, or movements that serve no purpose (e.g., pacing around the room, tapping fingers or toes, etc.).
Meth Rehab and Treatment Options
If you are a veteran or your loved one served in the military, there are many options for your treatment for methamphetamine rehabilitation. It’s important to remember that, as a veteran, you have access to a valuable resource; the VA health network. The VA health network is one of the largest healthcare networks in America, and can provide vital support in connecting you to treatment provider, covering the cost of treatment, and improving your quality of life.14 If you or your loved one is seeking meth rehab, a good starting point is to contact a VA representative for more information. Some VA treatment options for meth addiction include: 9 and 3
- Inpatient treatment with medically managed detoxication.
- Intensive outpatient treatment, in which you will meet with counselors, psychiatrists, and therapists and have behavioral therapy combined with family education, 12-step support groups, drug testing, and sober activities.
- Residential care (otherwise known as sober living), which can help you get acclimated to your new sobriety and life without drug use.
- Continued care and relapse prevention, ensuring that you have the support needed to continue living sober.
There is currently no FDA-approved medication used to treat methamphetamine addiction, however, combination treatment using injectable naltrexone and oral bupropion has shown promise in Phase III clinical trials. Additional research will help to confirm if those two drugs can be an effective adjunct to existing behavioral therapies used to treat stimulant use disorder. Effective behavioral treatments for stimulant use disorders include motivational interviewing, contingency management, community reinforcement approach, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
The first step in addressing your addiction to meth is admitting you have a problem. Then the process can begin by helping you get through detoxification. The withdrawal process from methamphetamine can lead to headaches, seizures, and dehydration. Although not usually life-threatening, there may be benefits to have withdrawal managed in an inpatient setting with 24/7 care. This could mean attending medical detox in a hospital or detoxification center.10
After the withdrawal process, you can begin behavioral therapy.3 It’s important to remember that each person’s treatment plan will vary according to the individual. Treatment may be delivered in an inpatient or outpatient setting, and will take into consideration any co-occurring mental health conditions. You’ll likely participate in:18
- Individual and group therapy.
- Family education or therapy sessions.
- 12-step groups or mutual-help meetings.
- Contingency management treatment approaches, such as prizes or other incentives for negative drug tests.
Meth Addiction Medications
There are no medications at present that have shown efficacy in the treatment of meth addiction.3
Is Rehab Effective?
Evidence-based rehab is generally considered an effective way to address substance use disorders and addiction. Outcomes vary depending on the individual, and it is worth noting that relapses are common.15 However, many people who attend and complete a rehab program experience a reduction in drug use, as well as high functioning in society.15 To be successful, it is important that a treatment program incorporates the following:10
- Behavioral counseling.
- Evaluation and treatment for any co-occurring mental health conditions.
- Long-term follow-up, also known as aftercare.
While each plan must be individualized, a program that includes these steps usually gives you a higher success rate of maintaining your sobriety.
Finding Meth Rehab for Veterans
Veterans can go to their local VA health system and get more information about receiving treatment for substance use disorder. It’s important to ensure that you have VA Healthcare.9 You can also speak with your primary care provider at your local VA about your substance abuse.9
Veterans can access many benefits, including if they’re at risk of becoming homeless.9 The VA will also ensure that you receive treatment for any co-occurring mental health illness, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression.9 Veterans can receive the following types of care for substance abuse:11
- Medically managed detoxification.
- Short outpatient counseling.
- Intensive outpatient treatment.
- Residential care.
- Continuing care and relapse prevention.
- Family counseling.
- Self-help groups.
Does the VA and Veteran Benefits Cover Meth Rehab?
Veterans can get access to care when they enroll in their VA health care benefits. Your benefits may vary depending on your length of service and discharge status. The VA serve veterans who served in all branches of the military. The VA treatments will help address all types of problems that may arise from the abuse of methamphetamine and other substances.11
It’s important to verify the extent of your coverage. To determine if the VA covers meth rehab, consider the following two steps:
- Call 1-800-827-1000, the VA’s general information hotline.
- Contact your local Vet Center or speak with your current VA doctor.
Additionally, if you qualify for other state-sponsored insurances like Medicaid or Medicare, you may be able to receive additional benefits along with your VA benefits.12
Can Rehab for Meth Use Affect My Veteran Benefits?
Getting the help that you need and seeking treatment for substance abuse from any drug will not affect your VA benefits.9 Remember, all the services available for you depend on your special needs; speak with your local VA to learn more about your benefits when you enroll in a methamphetamine rehabilitation program.
Does Meth Rehab Go On My Record?
Veterans can be assured that seeking help and getting access to rehabilitation services is kept confidential. This information is part of HIPAA-protected law; all your treatment plans and notes are maintained in strict confidence. If you are a veteran ready to get help for your substance use problem, rest assured that the VA will preserve your confidentiality.9
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, October). Substance Use and Military Life Drug Facts.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, May). Methamphetamine Drug Facts.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, October). Methamphetamine Research Report.
- United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020, June).
- Tsai, J., Pietrzak, R. H., & Szymkowiak, D. (2021). The Problem of Veteran Homelessness: An Update for the New Decade. American journal of preventive medicine, 60(6), 774–780.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders in Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2020, May). Substance Use – Amphetamines.
- Shoptaw, S. J., Kao, U., Heinzerling, K., & Ling, W. (2009). Treatment for amphetamine withdrawal. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews (2).
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020, June). Substance Use Treatment for Veterans.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, June). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction Drug Facts.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019, December). Mental Health: Treatment Programs for Substance Use Problems.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020, April). VA Healthcare and Other Insurance.
- National Institute of Drug Abuse. (2019). Substance use and military life DrugFacts.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. About VA Health Benefits.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018) How Effective is Drug Addiction Treatment?
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2020). Treatment of Stimulant Use Disorders.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2019). 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Contingency Management Interventions/ Motivational Incentives.