In 2018, almost 2 million people 12 or older reported using methamphetamine, or meth, in the past year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Meth use disorder can damage the body’s major organs and cause long-term mental health issues. And there is evidence that teen meth users experience worse brain damage than adult users.
“The young brain is still growing, developing more and more synapses, more and more knowledge, and so there can be more and more damage,” Donald Moses, MD, a Vermont-based psychiatrist specializing in teens and drug use, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
Here’s how to spot meth use in a child and what to do about it.
Signs Your Child or Teen May Be Using Meth
The physical symptoms of meth use include:
- Dilated (larger) pupils
- Loss of appetite
- Disconnected thoughts
- Increased sensitivity to noises
- Skin sores
A child or teen using meth might also show behavioral signs like:
- Sleep changes
- Social changes
- Losing money
- Mood swings
Meth is a stimulant that causes an intense high and then a crash, which also has symptoms.
“It can bring about a severe crash when the inebriating effects wear off, causing a person to sleep for days afterward,” says Princess Drake, PsyD of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Center City, MN. “Other common physical effects of coming down from the drug include body aches, heartburn, and feeling extremely lethargic, nauseous, and confused.”
Meth affects the brain chemicals dopamine, which plays a role in motivation and reward, and serotonin, which helps control mood and sleep. “When meth wears off, dopamine and serotonin are both depleted, resulting in anxiety and depression,” says Drake.
In long-term meth users, dopamine disturbances can lead to chronic depression and cognitive problems like trouble with memory and processing thoughts.
The reasons children try meth range from peer pressure and boredom to early exposure and mental health issues, experts say.“The glorification of meth’s euphoric high, access at home to the substance, or difficulty managing mental health symptoms may make meth appealing to them,” says Drake.
Lack of attention from parents can also lead to drug use, as can misdiagnosed or ignored learning disabilities like dyslexia, dysgraphia, and slower cognitive processing. “Ignoring a learning disability in a child can cause anxiety or depression, which could lead to coping with drugs,” says Moses.
If you want to talk about meth use with a child or teen, it’s recommended you take a compassionate stance and avoid judging them.“First of all, you have to understand they’re not being bad. There needs to be more compassion, more understanding. You have to let them know, ‘I’m trying to help you, and this is not punishment,’” Moses says.
Get Help Now
If you or a loved one is struggling with meth use disorder, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.