Patterns of Use

Low intensity users

Low intensity users are not physically or psychologically dependent on meth. They use it casually by snorting or swallowing. They may want the extra stimulation that meth provides so that they can stay awake long enough to finish a job, or they may want the appetite suppression to lose weight. These people appear to function normally. They include people such as truck drivers trying to reach their destination, or workers trying to stay awake to finish their shift.

Binge use

In this phase the user either smokes or injects meth. The binge user is psychologically addicted and experiences euphoric rushes. The following are the cycles of the binge user:

Rush: (5-30 minutes) During this phase, the user's heartbeat races and metabolism, blood pressure and pulse soar. When meth is smoked or injected, it causes the adrenal gland to release epinephrine (adrenaline), which puts the body in the "flight or fight" mode. The physical symptoms are probably from the explosive release of dopamine in the pleasure center of the brain.

High: (4-16 hours) During this phase, the user feels smarter and more argumentative, often interrupting people and finishing their sentences.

Binge: (3-15 days) In this phase, the user maintains the high by smoking or injecting more meth, but generally does not achieve the same high experienced with initial use. During the binge, the user becomes hyperactive both mentally and physically.

Tweaking: This is the most dangerous stage of meth use for users, medical personnel and law enforcement. A "tweaker" may not have slept for 3-15 days and is irritable and paranoid. Tweakers often behave or react violently and if a tweaker is using alcohol or another depressant, his negative feelings and associated dangers intensify. The tweaker craves more meth, but no dosage will help re-create the initial euphoric high. This causes frustration, and leads to unpredictability and potential for violence. A tweaker can appear normal, with clear eyes, concise speech and brisk movements. Closer examination, however, may reveal nystagmus, a quiver in the voice and quick and jerky movements. These physical signs are more difficult to identify if the tweaker is using depressants. Tweakers are often involved in domestic disputes and motor vehicle accidents. They may also be present at “rave parties” and may participate in spur-of-the-moment crimes.

Safety Tips for Approaching a Tweaker

Keep a 7-10 ft. distance. Coming too close can be perceived as threatening.

Do not shine bright lights at him. The tweaker is already paranoid and if blinded by a bright light is likely to become violent

Slow speech and lower your voice. A tweaker already hears sounds at a fast pace and in a high pitch.

Slow your movements. This will decrease the odds that the tweaker will misinterpret your physical actions.

Keep your hands visible. If you place your hands where the tweaker cannot see them, he might feel threatened and could become violent.

Keep the tweaker talking. A tweaker who falls silent can be extremely dangerous. Silence often means that his paranoid thoughts have taken over reality, and anyone present can become part of the tweaker's paranoid delusions.

U.S. Department of Justice (1999)

Crash (1-3 days) The user does not pose a threat to anyone at this stage. He sleeps a great deal, probably as a result of epinephrine depletion.

Normal (2-14 days) The user returns to a state that is slightly deteriorated from the normal state before use.

Withdrawal (30-90 days) Immediate physical symptoms may not be evident, but the user becomes depressed and lethargic. He/she experiences a craving for meth and may feel anxious, tired, and aggressive. The user may become suicidal. Taking meth during withdrawal can stop the unpleasant feelings. Consequently, a high percentage of addicts in treatment return to meth use.

High intensity use

In this phase the user ("speed freak") is primarily focused on taking enough meth to prevent a crash. The user also seeks the elusive perfect rush, similar to the rush experienced when he/she first started smoking or injecting meth. Each successive rush becomes less euphoric, and it takes more meth to "get high." Each high is not quite as high as the one before. During each subsequent binge, the user needs more meth, more often, to get a high that is not as satisfying as the high he wants or remembers. Tolerance has developed. Tolerance is defined as the need for increasingly large doses of a substance in order to produce effects previously achieved by smaller doses.

Instant Feedback:

During the tweaker phase the user becomes lifeless and sleeps a lot.


Narconon. Drug Information Meth. Meth Abuse Pattern.

U.S. Department of Justice(1999). Training and Technical Support for Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement Programs, Washington, D.C.