Harm Reduction: Methamphetamine

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Methamphetamine (also known meth for short) is a Class A drug. This means the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs considers meth to be one of the most dangerous substances in circulation.

Whilst many people consider meth to be uncommon in the UK, trends in recreational drug use suggest that the use of Class A drugs more generally is a problem in England, with approximately 881,000 adults using them annually.


The specific effects of meth can lead to very repetitive usage, leading to a pattern of drug binges that can quickly become risky. There are ways to decrease this risk in order to maintain a greater sense of safety whilst in contact with meth; this is known as harm reduction.

Meth Addiction

Meth is a psychotropic drug, which means that it impacts the brain during the process of usage, altering perception and affecting thoughts and feelings. It is also, however, a neurotoxin. This means that it is a ‘substance that alters the structure or function of the nervous system’ in various ways.

The main way that meth impacts the nervous system is by altering the dopaminergic pathways in the brain. In a way similar to cocaine, meth increases the flow of dopamine in the brain, which ultimately leads to feelings of reward. This reward can act to reinforce drug-taking biologically and can, therefore, lead quickly to addiction.

It has also been linked to significant structural changes in the brain, with studies showing ‘shrinkage and degeneration’ in layers of the prefrontal cortex’s cells. These changes are thought to be long-lasting and linked to significant behaviour change.

Harm Reduction: What is It?

Harm reduction is a way of ‘reducing morbidity and mortality’. Explained simply, harm reduction is an approach to decrease the likelihood of someone encountering serious impact or injury when sober living is difficult to attain. It’s a method of lowering the risks associated with drug use when it is tricky to eliminate that use.

Before we think about approaches to harm reduction in terms of meth, it’s important to first think about what types of harm we are actually trying to combat. These types of harm can be short or long-term.

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Short-Term Effects of Meth Use

Cardiovascular effects (increased breathing rate, faster heartbeat, higher blood pressure)

Difficulties with homeostasis (regulating body temperature)

Decreased appetite

Methamphetamine overdose (usually linked to high body temperature and seizures or convulsions)


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Long-Term Effects of Meth Use

  • Risk of infection


  • Risk of unsafe sex (leading to increased risk of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy)


  • Severe weight loss


  • Significant disruption to sleep


  • Skin problems (increasing risk of infection)


  • Complications with cardiovascular systems (such as heart attack)


  • Increased risk of stroke


  • Various neurotoxic effects (changes to brain structure and function)


  • Issues with memory and confusion


  • Development of anxiety


  • Development of paranoia


  • Development of hallucinations (seeing, hearing, feeling or perceiving what others do not)


  • Changes in behaviour, including an increase in violent tendencies

There are also various risks associated with the different methods of using meth.

Meth can be taken in four different ways:
1. Through smoking
2. Through swallowing (in the form of a pill)
3. Through snorting
4. Through injection

Smoking meth can lead to inhalation-related complications that particularly impact the respiratory systems, nose, and throat.
Swallowing meth can cause issues with your stomach, potentially leading to issues with intestine and bowel movement.
Snorting meth, like smoking, can cause issues to the respiratory system, having particular effects on the sinuses and nasal areas.
Injection carries a high risk of infection due to the use of needles. This can lead to the development of serious infection as well as the development of illnesses such as HIV/AIDs and hepatitis.

Meth: Methods of Harm Reduction

The United Nations estimates there to be around 33 million meth users globally.
In the US, meth leads to approximately 150,000 emergency hospital visits in 2011 alone.

The way that meth works on the brain means that cravings can be particularly difficult to ignore. Because the ‘high’ meth provides can be felt so quickly (especially when smoked or injected), it often means that people ‘overlap’ their meth use, using the drug in bursts in order to sustain the high. This can be very dangerous and lead to a range of different health complications.
There are several ways to reduce the risk of these serious health effects:

  • use smaller amounts


  • try not to binge; increase the time between each use (waiting an hour or more between hits)


  • limit the regularity of use where possible


  • think carefully about the method of use – avoid injecting where possible to reduce risk of infection


  • sterilise drug paraphernalia (boil smoking devices, use clean syringes and safe needle disposal processes such as local needle exchange)


  • do not mix (refrain from drinking or using other drugs to reduce the risk of overdose)


  • think carefully about your environment – are you with people you know and trust?


  • Plan your activities carefully – think about when you may be planning to use to make sure that you do not drive or work whilst under the influence of meth


  • Stay hydrated (with water, be careful about mixing with alcohol)


  • Make sure you eat regularly so your body feels stronger and more resilient to the impacts of the drug


  • Carry appropriate sexual protection, especially if you plan to have sex during or after using meth


Private Rehab: Getting Help With Meth Addiction

These harm reduction methods are suggested to individuals who may not wish to or may not be ready to stop using meth completely but would like to manage associated risks. However, if you feel that you are at a stage where accessing support for meth addiction is right for you, UKAT offers a range of meth rehab services at our centres across England.
You can access 7, 14 or 28-day treatment packages at our treatment centres. Whilst the exact treatment you engage with will depend on the treatment duration of your choice, our programmes for meth rehab have two key strategies: detoxing and therapeutic support.

Detoxing from Methamphetamine

As amphetamines are highly addictive, the cravings you can experience between use can be particularly difficult. This is why detox is used, as it gives your body a chance to get used to functioning without meth in your system, which, in time, will help to eliminate the difficult cravings that can frequently lead to relapse.
You may experience withdrawal symptoms during this process, but the UKAT team will be on hand to support you through this stage by monitoring your progress.

Therapeutic support for Meth Addiction

Detox addresses your body and its reliance on meth. Whilst this is essential in making sure you are physically safe and free from cravings, we believe that a successful recovery journey also starts with addressing the difficult thoughts and feelings that can accompany drug use.

Addiction can be a two way street – it can be caused by tricky experiences, trauma, dual diagnosis or difficult emotions – but it can also cause them in and of itself. This means there are often complex feelings associated with addiction in one way or another, and addressing these can be key to successful support.

For that reason, we offer a range of therapies in our meth rehab packages to ensure we take a holistic approach to addiction treatment and increase your chances of staying drug-free long-term.
Some of the therapies you may access include:


Access Support


If you or someone you care about is struggling with methamphetamine addiction and needs confidential advice or more information on managing this challenge, contact our dedicated team today. We are here to support you on your path to recovery and sobriety.