Methamphetamines are one of the most commonly abused drugs in the United States. This strong stimulant causes people to feel a rush of euphoria and energy, and it is highly addictive. If you or a loved one have ever used meth, an overdose is always possible. Unfortunately, a meth overdose can easily be fatal. Educating yourself on what an overdose looks like and how to treat it can help reduce the risk of death.
Meth Overdoses Are Extremely Common
Many people are under the impression that meth is safe since it does not cause quite as many overdoses as opioids. However, the reality is that it is very easy to overdose on meth. Since the ’90s, meth overdoses have been steadily on the rise. Compared to many other types of drugs, meth overdoses have increased at a far faster rate. In 2019, over 16,100 people died due to a meth overdose. This means that roughly 2 out of every 100 people with a meth disorder will die due to an overdose.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) only tracks fatal overdoses, so the true number of overdoses is even higher. In addition to the people who die of an overdose, far more have an overdose that is not fatal. Roughly 150,000 people a year visit the emergency room for an overdose. Often, these individuals continue to abuse meth until they do eventually have a more severe overdose. Keep in mind that meth overdoses may be more likely in chronic users, but it is possible for someone to overdose after using meth even one time.
How Does a Meth Overdose Affect the Body?
Meth is a type of stimulant drug, which means it causes increased levels of activity in your body and central nervous system. When used at low levels, methamphetamine results in more energy, improved alertness, heightened concentration and an elevated mood. At higher doses or after regular usage, meth can result in mood swings, psychosis, paranoia and aggression. Since meth ends up affecting almost every part of the body, symptoms of an overdose can be very broad.
In addition to mental effects, meth use will also affect the heart and other organs. As a person takes more and more of the drug, these organs go into overdrive. The heart will beat faster and faster, eventually resulting in abnormal blood pressure and heart rhythm. A person may experience internal bleeding or circulatory collapse due to this effect of an overdose. To try to handle the large load of toxins, the kidneys may work overtime, eventually resulting in kidney failure. During an overdose, the brain will produce abnormal amounts of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, which can cause a wide range of health problems.
Signs of a Meth Overdose
In the early stages of an overdose, a user will simply appear to be extremely high on meth. He or she may seem paranoid, aggressive and twitchy. As the overdose progresses, more severe symptoms will emerge. One of the first signs of an overdose is often an irregular or rapid heartbeat. Other potential signs of a meth overdose include:
- High body temperature
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Unusually high or low blood pressure
- Stomach pain
- Difficulty urinating
- Muscle aches
- Repetitive movements
- Mental confusion
- Loss of consciousness
Meth affects everyone differently, so not all overdoses will present in the same way. Some people may only exhibit one or two meth overdose symptoms. Others may experience almost all symptoms simultaneously. Furthermore, if a person has other health problems, taking too much meth can cause more unusual or varied symptoms to develop.
How Much Meth Does It Take to Overdose?
Since it can be hard to identify the early stages of an overdose, many people with a meth use disorder find it helpful to know what dosage will result in an overdose. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. On average, the typical dose of meth is somewhere between 5 to 60 milligrams of meth. More than this can often cause an overdose, and around 200 milligrams of meth are typically enough to be fatal.
However, repeated meth abuse causes people to develop a tolerance, which means that it may take more of the drug for them to feel the same effects. Therefore, a person who is a new user may overdose even on a small amount of meth. Furthermore, if a person temporarily quits using meth and then starts using it again later, the loss of his or her tolerance may cause him or her to overdose on his or her typical amount.
Many other things can influence how meth affects you, including:
- The time since your last dosage of meth
- Your height, weight and muscle mass
- Your overall state of physical health
- Your unique metabolism rate
- The type of meth you take
- Your method of ingesting the meth
Since it is impossible to tell exactly how much meth will be too much for your body to safely handle, it is important to seek help any time you suspect you’re overdosing.
How Does an Overdose Look If You’re Combining Meth With Other Drugs?
Roughly one-third of all methamphetamine doses involve opioids or other drugs as well. A multi-drug overdose is very common because taking certain drugs alongside meth can intensify meth’s effects. If a person is overdosing on more than one drug, his or her symptoms may look a little different. Drugs like opioids are central nervous system depressants, which means they slow down brain activity instead of speeding it up. Therefore, they can end up masking certain meth overdose symptoms.
Any time a person is taking multiple drugs, it is important to closely monitor his or her physical health. Some potential signs of an overdose could include:
- Unusually fast or slow heart rate
- Abnormally fast or slow breathing
- Unusually hot or cold skin
- Mental confusion
- Difficulty remaining conscious
Treatment Options for a Meth Overdose
If you suspect a meth overdose, it is important to seek emergency care. A meth overdose is very serious and cannot be treated at home. Many people worry about going to the hospital because they were using illegal drugs. However, the reality is that hospitals protect the privacy of the patient. When a patient comes in who is overdosing, the hospital will focus on treating that person, not reporting him or her to the police.
After calling emergency services for a meth overdose, there are a few things you can do to help while waiting on paramedics to arrive. If possible, help the person lie down on a soft surface in the recovery position, on his or her side with his or her head supported. This can reduce the risk of problems if the person experiences seizures or unconsciousness. Carefully monitor his or her breathing and heart rate. If the individual’s breathing stops, you may need to do CPR until help arrives.
When you get emergency care for a meth overdose, there are a few potential treatment options. Many hospitals give naloxone as a routine medication in all cases of an overdose. Naloxone is used to instantly reverse an opioid overdose, and it is not harmful to those who are not taking opioids. Therefore, many hospitals will administer it just in case opioids may be contributing to an overdose. Unfortunately, there is no medication that immediately reverses meth overdoses. Instead, hospitals will just focus on providing supportive care, so the user’s body remains safe while the excess amounts of meth are processed.
Most people who overdose will be administered activated charcoal to help absorb poisonous substances in their system. Then they will receive intravenous fluids to help reduce dehydration and stress while their condition is assessed. Treatment will vary based on what meth overdose symptoms a patient is displaying. For those who are aggressive, agitated, paranoid or having seizures, benzodiazepines may be used. These medications can provide a calming effect on patients. For individuals with hyperthermia, ice application, misting sprays and other cooling techniques may be used. In situations in which a person is experiencing an irregular heart rate, he or she may need medications or supportive therapies to stabilize his or her heart rate.
Treatment can be even more complex in cases where a person’s overdose has caused other organ problems. Kidney failure is an incredibly common overdose complication, and it requires extensive care. Patients may need dialysis, transplants and other treatments to help their kidneys function correctly. Meth overuse can also cause lung damage, so some patients may need to spend time on a ventilator.
What Can You Do to Prevent Future Meth Overdoses?
Since it can be so hard to treat a meth overdose, it is important to try to prevent them. The most effective prevention for meth overdoses is always going to be getting substance use disorder treatment so that you can quit using meth. However, if you do have a meth use disorder, this is typically easier said than done. Therefore, it can be helpful to learn a few harm reduction tips. These cannot fully protect you from overdoses, but they may help lower your risk of a deadly overdose. Here are some things you can do to reduce the risk of overdosing.
- Never combine meth use with any other drugs, including alcohol or over-the-counter medications.
- Test your meth before using it to ensure it has not been mixed with other drugs.
- Always have a companion around when you use meth, so you can have someone to get help if you overdose.
- Carefully measure your meth dosages, and make a note of how much you have had that day if you are likely to forget it.
- If you haven’t used meth for a while, take a smaller-than-usual dose.
Get Care at Granite Recovery Centers
To make sure you do not have a meth overdose again, you need to seek substance abuse treatment. The most effective way to quit using this highly addictive drug is behavioral therapy. Therapy works well for meth addiction because it addresses the root cause of addiction. Patients get help managing the triggers and behaviors that can lead to drug abuse. There is a variety of therapy models available for drug abuse, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management (CM) interventions and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
At Granite Recovery Centers’ substance abuse treatment program, we use these methods and more. Our team of medical professionals will assist you with finding the right combination of group and individual therapy for your needs. Our rehab center offers both residential and outpatient services. You can live on campus while you focus on recovery, or you can choose to follow your regular schedule while visiting us routinely for care. Whatever rehab schedule you pick, you can be confident that the Granite Recovery Centers will provide the latest in evidence-based treatment.
Overcoming a meth addiction can be hard, but you do not have to do it alone. With the right care and support, you can get the tools you need to quit using drugs and rebuild your life. If you are tired of risking overdoses, contact Granite Recovery Centers to learn more about our meth addiction treatment options.