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Devastating Effects of Methamphetamine

by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator

This article appears in the July 2005 NEBLINE Newsletter


There is much talk and information in the news and papers about methamphetamine laboratories and making of meth. That is only part of the story.

Meth use has a devastating effect on individuals’ lives, families and communities. Meth is one of the most addictive street drugs and is associated with serious health problems. Some of its many street names are: speed, chalk, crystal, crank, glass or ice. Meth can be injected, snorted, smoked, or taken orally -- the method of use varies the time needed for the user to get high.

Meth users come from a variety of age groups, lifestyles and communities. Females make up a higher percentage of users. Young girls are drawn to meth for its ability to help them lose weight fast. The number of high school students using meth continues to rise. According to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey of 2003, 6.3% of high school students surveyed in Nebraska have used meth.

Meth initially sends a message to the pleasure center of the brain to release dopamine, a natural and feel-good chemical. Dopamine is a reward for repeating activities needed to stay alive, such as eating. However, hours after taking meth, brain cells release an enzyme which stops the dopamine flow. Repeated meth use short-circuits the brain’s reward system and a person can lose their ability to experience pleasure.

Made from chemicals such as drain cleaner, hydrochloric acid and anhydrous ammonia, meth is extremely toxic. Recent studies have shown meth causes more damage to the brain than alcohol, heroin or cocaine. Meth use may also cause:

Health Effects:

  • Acne or sores
  • Tooth decay
  • Hair loss
  • Severe weight loss
  • Self-inflicted wounds from removing hallucinatory "crank bugs"
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney and lung disorders
  • Putrid body odor
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Death

Behavior Effects

  • Hallucinations
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Psychotic behavior

Meth users suffer the same addiction cycle and withdrawal reactions as those suffered by crack cocaine users. Although meth's relapse rate of 92% is worse than cocaine, addiction is a treatable, chronic illness.






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