Meth vs. Prescription Drugs

To the average person, methamphetamine probably sounds scarier than prescription drugs. With prescription drugs, your doctor is supposed to be managing the dosage, so what could go wrong? Unfortunately, prescription drugs are easier to get than street drugs, and they can be just as dangerous.

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1-when-it-comes-to-drugsPrescription drugs contain highly addictive substances, especially pain relievers. The opioids prescribed for pain following surgery, for instance, are synthesized to mimic opium, one of the most addictive natural substances there is. Opium is the basis for morphine, a powerful pain reliever used during the Civil War that resulted in debilitating addictions in the post-war period.

We tend to believe that when legitimate pharmaceutical companies are producing our drugs, we are safe. Safe is a relative term, though. Pharmaceutical companies may keep us safe from cheap, toxic ingredients, and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) jumps in to create limits on abuse, but what they produce can be just as harmful if it is not used as intended. And prescription drugs can be obtained and taken in doses that far exceed FDA limits.

When it comes to drugs, nothing is truly safe. There are some differences in the types of risks you take with different substances, though, and it is worth learning more about them so you can balance the risks and the intended outcomes.


Methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant that contains various forms of amphetamine “cooked” to make it more potent. Amphetamine is used legally for attention deficit disorders. It speeds up thought processing in the brain, which has a calming effect, allowing for more focus and thought completion.

Methamphetamine is a more concentrated dose of stimulant that causes a high or a rush while also speeding up heart rate and increasing blood pressure and libido. It is illegally produced in makeshift labs for sale on the street. Methamphetamine is a crystal-like powder that can be snorted, smoked or injected.

Street names for methamphetamine include:

  • Meth
  • Crystal
  • Chalk
  • Ice
  • Scooby Snax
  • Garbage
  • Pookie
  • Cookies
  • Christina
  • White Cross
  • Dunk

Methamphetamine works on the neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that carry signals to the brain and central nervous system and throughout the body. Meth enters your bloodstream and heads right to your brain. It interferes with the receptors in the pleasure centers of your brain, releasing extra amounts of feel-good chemicals, specifically dopamine.

By flooding your brain with dopamine, meth creates a euphoric feeling — a high or a rush. With meth, people can easily reach a level of pleasure they cannot attain naturally. It is that extreme pleasure that can create the addiction very quickly. When the high begins to wear off, there is an urge to take more meth because you don’t want that great feeling to end.


Over time, your brain adjusts to the effects of methamphetamine, so it requires more of the substance to reach that same high. The craving for euphoria and the amount of drugs it takes to get there become a vicious cycle until your whole life becomes an endless pursuit of more meth.

Meanwhile, the constant presence of more and more meth in your brain causes your brain to make changes that can become permanent. Your natural ability to produce dopamine and feel pleasure without artificial stimulation deteriorates. Also, the constant racing of your heart begins to damage your physical systems, and your overall health deteriorates.

Side Effects of Methamphetamine Use

The recreational use of amphetamines and methamphetamine is dangerous to your health. Aside from the strong likelihood of developing an addiction, meth addiction symptoms and side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Convulsions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Severe mood swings
  • Violent behavior
  • Irritability

With continued exposure to meth, your body will begin to break down in other ways. Some of the long-term side effects of meth use include:

  • Severe tooth decay
  • Apathy
  • Liver damage
  • Stroke
  • Kidney damage
  • Epilepsy
  • Lung damage
  • Infectious diseases
  • Permanent brain damage
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight loss
  • Heart disease
  • Malnutrition

3-with-continued-exposure-to-methMeth use can lead to death in a number of ways. When using any street drug, the chance of overdose or toxic poisoning is great because there is no regulation on the production of these drugs. You have no way of knowing what ingredients were used and what amount of the active ingredient is present. The FDA isn’t watching.

People using meth are more likely to take other dangerous risks with their health as well. Meth use can lead to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Meth can also interact poorly with regular medications for mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder.

It is difficult to find overdose statistics for methamphetamine alone because it is often used in combination with other drugs. The number of emergency room visits related to methamphetamine in 2011 was 102,961, up from 67,954 in 2007. Approximately 62% of those emergency room visits involved crystal meth and at least one other drug. The total number of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2010 was 38,329.


History and Demographics of Methamphetamine Use

In the early 1990s, methamphetamine use became popular on the west coast. By the end of that decade, it had moved east and become a nationwide trend that grew for about ten years. After a brief lull in popularity, meth use resurged around 2008, with the number of users increasing from 1 million to 1.2 million between 2011 and 2012.

Approximately 1.2 million people used methamphetamine in the U.S. in 2011, and 440,000 reported using meth in the past month. This means approximately 0.4 percent of the population has tried meth and at least 0.2 percent are regular users. In 2012, new meth users were an average age of 19.7 years old, slightly older than in previous years.


The typical meth user is white and just as likely to be male as female. Meth users include college students looking for an advantage through increased alertness, truck drivers trying to remain alert on long hauls and professionals working through their busy season. Many people begin using meth for innocent reasons, not realizing how addictive it can be. There are also a lot of people who think they are stronger than addiction, so it won’t happen to them.

Meth Addiction Treatment

Addiction is a serious disease that can be treated. Like with other addictions, meth addiction treatment is a combination of detoxification, behavioral therapy and re-integration strategies. A number of behavioral therapy modalities are effective in treating meth addiction, including cognitive-behavioral interventions, contingency-management therapy, the Matrix Model and Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR).

There are currently no medications available with proven effectiveness in methamphetamine addiction recovery or that help promote prolonged abstinence. It takes meth a long time to leave the system during detox. Withdrawal symptoms can persist for months or even longer, making it especially difficult to abstain from using the substance. Meth addiction treatment focuses a lot of energy on resisting cravings that can persist for years and teaching strategies to avoid relapse.

Prescription Drug Abuse

When you hear the phrase “prescription drug abuse,” it may be hard to imagine how that could happen. After all, you need a doctor to prescribe these medications, and they’re only going to give you what you need for your current condition. If you choose to take them all at once and get high, you won’t have any left for the pain on the next day, and most doctors, pharmacies and insurance companies limit the number of pills you are allowed to buy in a given period.

Our prescription system is designed to protect people against pharmaceutical companies whose main goal is to sell medicine. The FDA stepped into this equation several decades ago to protect public health. The FDA uses their knowledge to evaluate medicines before they are brought to market. They make it illegal to claim results from medicines that cannot be proven and evaluate the safety of taking these substances, banning them or warning the public accordingly.

6-the-prescription-systemThe prescription system has loopholes, however, that allow people to abuse prescription drugs. Once a doctor writes you a prescription, the responsibility for those pills is on you. The FDA does not come to your house to be sure you are taking them as directed, and no one stops you from giving them to a friend who is also in pain but doesn’t have a doctor to go to.

Most doctors will prescribe a set amount of medication with the understanding that if your symptoms resolve before you finish the prescription, you will stop taking them. The remaining pills should be disposed of according to FDA regulations in your community. No one knows exactly how long your symptoms will last, and you don’t want to have to go back to the doctor each day for another pill.

There are a lot of drugs for which the prescription system works just fine. Antibiotics, for example, require that you take the entire dose, so there are no leftover pills. The side effects of penicillin are also not recreationally noteworthy, therefore there is no street market for them in this country. Pain relievers, however, are highly addictive and marketable. They affect brain chemistry, which is where the high is produced.

Prescribing medication for pain is completely subjective. There are no tests to medically determine your level of pain. A doctor can use their knowledge about your condition and how long pain typically lasts, but they cannot prove you are no longer in pain. The doctor has to rely on anecdotal evidence and their own observations.

Pain relievers are also extremely addictive. Often people begin using them for legitimate reasons but become addicted and cannot give them up. By the time you realize you are addicted, you may have found another source of opioids. Perhaps you turn to a friend who has some left over from an old prescription or another doctor who does not know your medical history but is willing to write you a new prescription based on the pain you report.

Sometimes people addicted to pain killers find other drugs to satisfy their cravings when they run out of refills. Heroin, although illegal, is available in most communities at a much cheaper price than opioids and produces the same high. Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem that only escalates.


Prescription Drug Abuse Side Effects

All drugs have side effects. The body maintains a delicate chemical balance. When you add substances to it — even if they are meant to be curative — there will be a disruption in the balance. What medical science attempts to do is manage the side effects so the outcome outweighs any damage done. It would not be prudent, for example, to use a drug that causes damage to vital organs to cure a cold or one that causes brain damage to resolve an attention deficit disorder.

Since all drugs have side effects, the length of time a drug is taken and the amount of each dose can have serious consequences. Over-the-counter medications are generally considered safe for home administration as long as the dosing guidelines are followed. Aspirin is perfectly safe unless you take a whole handful of pills at one time. In that case, the side effects will be compounded to a dangerous level.

Side effects can also increase when you take a drug for a longer period than is recommended. Opioid pain relievers are generally effective for acute pain. If the pain condition becomes chronic, another means of pain management is suggested since opioids are not recommended for long-term use.

Three types of prescription drugs are commonly abused: pain killers or opioids, stimulants and depressants. The side effects of opioid abuse include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Depressed breathing

The side effects of prescription stimulant abuse include:

  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Organ damage
  • Weight loss
  • Hallucinations

The side effects of depressant abuse include:

  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow brain function
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue

A lot of these side effects are similar to the side effects of methamphetamine abuse.

Prescription Drug Addiction

These three types of prescription drugs — pain killers, stimulants and depressants — cause different effects. Stimulants are used for increased energy and focus, while depressants are used for relaxation and better sleep. All three of these types of drugs have legitimate purposes, but when used for recreation, they can lead to addiction and other serious health issues.

Commonly abused prescription opioids include:

  • Vicodin
  • Darvon
  • Diphenoxylate
  • Fentanyl
  • Opana
  • OxyContin
  • Hydrocodone

Commonly abused prescription stimulants include:

  • Ritalin
  • Adderall
  • Dextroamphetamine
  • Concerta
  • Dexedrine

Commonly abused prescription depressants include:

  • Diazepam
  • Xanax
  • Alprazolam
  • Valium
  • Nembutal

8-young-adults5.9% of young adults ages 18-25 report abusing prescription drugs, and males are generally more likely to abuse drugs than females.

Treatment for prescription drug abuse involves detox and behavioral therapies. Since prescription drug abuse can erode physical health over time, nutrition and exercise are an important part of an effective treatment program. There are in-patient or out-patient treatment options available, and some amount of follow-up care is required to avoid relapse.

Addiction is a highly personal condition. While it is a serious problem, some people find it easier to overcome than others. There is no way of predicting how big a challenge addiction recovery will be for each individual.

Which Is More Dangerous: Meth or Prescription Drugs?

There is no such thing as a good addiction. Addiction is a serious problem that, for some people, becomes a life-long struggle. The best situation when it comes to addiction is avoidance. Staying away from recreational drugs can ensure you are never addicted to one.

But avoiding prescription drugs may not be possible. When faced with the extreme pain of surgery or a serious physical injury, you may not be able to cope without medical intervention. Behavioral disorders such as attention deficit disorder and depression, if left untreated, can be just as devastating as addiction.

There may come a time in your life when you have to rely on prescription medication, so understanding how it works is the best defense against addiction. No matter how freely your doctor writes prescriptions, you should respect the strength of opioid pain relievers and never overindulge. Always follow the directions with any medication and only take it as long as it is needed or recommended.


Despite all good efforts, some people end up developing an addiction, and while methamphetamine and prescription drugs are both dangerous when used improperly, meth might be the most dangerous. Meth stays in your system longer, making it difficult to withdraw from, and it creates an addiction with a higher instance of relapse than other drugs.

Prescription drug addiction is dangerous, partly because a lot of people don’t see it coming. When you buy meth on a street corner, you know you are breaking the law and putting yourself in grave danger. Taking the medicine your doctor prescribed doesn’t look like a bad habit. Helping a friend who twisted his ankle on the tennis court by giving him some leftover Oxycodone seems like a friendly gesture.

People become addicted to prescription medications without even trying. They don’t want to be drug abusers, and they can go a long time supporting their habit without realizing they have a habit. Addiction can happen to anyone — they don’t have to go looking for it.

Someone who thought it would be a good idea to try meth at a party just one time can also become addicted. There is more of a stigma attached to meth addiction than prescription medication addiction, so the meth addict is less likely to ask for help. The longer an addiction goes untreated, the stronger it becomes.

Learn More About Addiction and Treatment

Addiction creates a lot of pain by destroying careers, families and lives. It is hard to take that first step and ask for help. It’s important to recognize that addiction will not resolve itself without treatment. And the best time to get treatment is right away.

10-the-best-time-to-get-treatmentIf you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, no matter what the substance is, you need to reach out to 12 Keys today. As soon as you think there might be a problem, that is the right time to get some help. The sooner you end the drug abuse, the easier recovery will be and the sooner your body and mind can begin to heal.

By calling 12 Keys, you can speak with a compassionate, knowledgeable professional who will answer all your questions without judgement. We are experienced in dealing with all sorts of addiction scenarios and know how to guide you through this difficult time. You will realize when you call us that you are not alone. While your particular situation is unique, we have helped many people with similar problems face their addictions and move past them.

12 Keys provides individualized treatment programs in a comfortable, nurturing setting. Our clients get the one-on-one support they need from professionals who can help them change their lives. We understand anyone entering recovery is embarrassed, alone and scared. Some people believe it may be too late for them, that they may have already done irreparable damage to their health. Others feel they do not have the strength to fight addiction and build a healthy life. At 12 Keys, we know your life can be turned around and you have the strength to overcome your addiction. Call us today and let us show you how.

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