Tweaking on Meth: What Does It Mean and What Are the Signs?

Methamphetamine (also known as ice, glass, tina, crank, or speed) is a highly addictive central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It works by raising the levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine present in the brain, causing the user to feel intense euphoria. However,  this excess of energy may eventually turn into feelings of anxiety and depression that last for hours as the brain recovers from the overproduction of these chemicals. Because of this, meth use can lead to erratic, irrational behavior, known colloquially as tweaking. 

What Is Tweaking?

tweaking

“Tweaking” is a slang term for the compulsive, disorganized behavior that methamphetamine users exhibit, particularly after large doses or long periods of repeated dosing. Tweaking can refer to the nervous, repeated physical motions that meth users engage in or to the unpredictable mood swings and violent outbursts that accompany meth usage.

This can take the shape of destructive behaviors, confusing or irrational patterns of speech, or sudden outbursts of anger and violence that can last for days after last using methamphetamine. They’re caused by the large amounts of dopamine released by meth usage and are similar to those observed in patients with Parkinson’s or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

And while meth creates a state of euphoria, its effects are much more sinister. Meth is neurotoxic, meaning it causes permanent damage to the dopamine-producing neurons in the brain and leading to long-term changes in personality. In this way, the short-lived euphoria can lead to depression and other mental health issues later.

As you might imagine, all of this creates noticeable behavioral changes. In fact, it’s difficult not to notice when somebody is tweaking. The psychological effects and mental toll of methamphetamine usage leads to changes in their demeanor and day-to-day routine. These new behaviors can seem alarming to those close to the user, who may begin to wonder what’s causing these newfound changes. Let’s take a closer look at some of these changes you may notice in your loved one who uses meth.

How Can I Tell if a Loved One is Using Meth?

1. Strange or Destructive New Tics and Habits

People under the influence of methamphetamine often experience “punding,” a compulsive need to perform repetitive, mechanical activities, such as organizing things in arbitrary orders or repeatedly trying to disassemble or reassemble objects. These activities feel comforting, and without them methamphetamine users feel anxious and uncomfortable. In some cases, this irritability may transition into violence if someone forces them to stop.

This can take the form of physical tics, like being unable to stop pacing or bouncing their legs, or destructive behaviors such as tearing out hair, scratching themselves until they bleed, or trying to take apart electronics or large pieces of furniture. 

2. Changes in Eating Habits

Because meth eliminates feelings of hunger, meth users often experience severe weight loss, though some may actually begin putting on weight due to binge-eating after periods of meth use. Chronic users frequently lose their appetite, even when not under the influence of methamphetamine. Unusual changes in the eating habits of a loved one, such as not eating for days at a time or being unable to keep food down, may be signs that they are under the influence of methamphetamine.

3. Dramatic Mood Swings or Unusual Periods of Depression

tweaking symptoms

Meth causes users to experience drastic mood swings, going from happy and positive one moment to anxious or angry the next. Usually these are brought on by intense feelings of paranoia and anxiety, leading to delusions of persecution or danger. They might blame those around them for these feelings or become convinced that others mean them harm. For this reason, meth users will often lash out at people close to them. 

After the intense high, users experience long-lasting depressions. They may stop engaging in normal activities such as washing themselves, cleaning, or socializing with friends. If somebody close to you seems to often cycle between mood swings and depression, it could mean that they are tweaking. 

How Can I Help Somebody Who is Using Meth?

Meth is an incredibly addictive drug that is difficult to stop using alone, with as many as 61% of meth users who attempt to quit “cold turkey” relapsing within one year. Methamphetamine users often resist attempts to get them help. Often, they become emotional or angry and believe that others are trying to stop them for selfish reasons.

Studies have found that the approach that works most often in overcoming meth addiction is therapy that combines group reinforcement with future contingency planning, allowing meth users to plan their brighter future in an environment that supports them. Addiction recovery centers can provide this for individuals who are struggling to overcome an addiction, but who continually relapse or fail to follow through with their recovery goals. 

At the Vance Johnson Recovery Center, we provide regular schedules, caring staff available around the clock, and a variety of personal and social therapies customized for every individual, helping them to develop the personal skills and support system they need to change their life for the better. Our highly trained addiction recovery specialists work with those who suffer from drug abuse to help them develop plans to prevent relapse and stay in long-term recovery.

Do you have questions about our treatment center or our programming? You can call our admissions specialists at 1-772-210-3869, or you can fill out our confidential contact form. At the Vance Johnson Recovery Center, we want to help your loved one just as much as you do.

About the author

Located in dynamic Las Vegas, Nevada, the Vance Johnson Recovery Center (VJRC) a 44-bed facility is run by a skilled multi-disciplinary team of medical and behavioral health professionals that includes nurses, counselors, and doctors, along with complementary and alternative medicine specialists to provide our clients with a transformational experience that encompasses mind, body, and spirit. Our approach is holistic and grounded in research and evidenced-based best practices that help people develop the awareness and skills required to achieve and sustain recovery.

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