Eating Disorders and Methamphetamine

Contributed by
Reviewed by Kim Dennis, MD, CEDS (SYR) provides helpful information for people who are dealing with substance use issues — and their family members, friends, and co-workers, too. SYR knows that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges faced by those who misuse alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs, or other substances, and they aim to break through the clutter to help people at any stage of recovery.

Methamphetamine has harmed Americans of all walks of life. There is no amount of illicit meth that is safe to use, whether it is taken to lose weight or for any other reason. Further, methamphetamine use can compound the dangerous health effects of an eating disorder — and vice versa.1,2,3

If you or a loved one is experiencing an eating disorder and misusing methamphetamine, know that help is available and treatment works.

What is Methamphetamine?

Illicit methamphetamine is an illegal and highly potent stimulant consisting of a toxic brew of chemicals. “Crystal meth,” a common form of the drug, looks like glass crystals or rocks. It can be crushed and smoked, swallowed, or snorted; it can also be dissolved and injected.2,4

Meth temporarily boosts energy, excitement, and focus while decreasing appetite.2 It floods the reward areas of the brain with dopamine, causing a rapid high that disrupts the areas of the brain responsible for our decision making (our frontal lobes) and behaviors (striatum). This high wears off quickly, and after a dose wears off, the body experiences powerful cravings for more — quickly leading to the development of symptoms associated with a methamphetamine use disorder. To maintain its effects, some people use meth repeatedly for hours or days at a time, losing sleep and nourishment and endangering themselves and others.2

Even short-term use of meth can cause unsafe spikes in blood pressure, body temperature, and heart and breathing rates.2 Long-term use can cause lasting harm, including brain and organ damage, tooth decay, skin sores, anxiety, paranoia, and extreme appetite changes.2,4 People who inject meth put themselves at risk for HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases. And taking too much can lead to a deadly overdose.5 Methamphetamine use can be particularly dangerous if you have a mental health condition, especially bipolar disorder, psychotic disorders and/or eating disorders.

Stopping methamphetamine use can cause intense cravings, along with temporary anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, increased sleep and fatigue, and persisting psychosis. However, treatment works and recovery is possible. 

Link Between Eating Disorders and Stimulant Misuse

Both eating disorders and stimulant use disorder can be serious and even lethal.6,7,8 Substance misuse may lead to an eating disorder, and an eating disorder may also lead to substance misuse. 

People who try risky weight-loss practices may be at greater risk of using methamphetamine, which suppresses appetite.9 

Eating and stimulant use disorders share some common risk factors, such as:7,10,11,12

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Family history of these or other mental illnesses. 
  • Low self-esteem or a susceptibility to social pressures. 
  • Early life adverse experiences and trauma.
  • Genetic predispositions.

Help Prevent an Overdose

Taking too much meth can cause rapid breathing or overheating, which may require medical attention. A more severe overdose could lead to a stroke, a heart attack, or organ problems.13

People who use stimulants with opioids — either intentionally or by taking drugs laced with fentanyl — are also at risk of a harmful or lethal opioid overdose.13 That’s why experts recommend that all people who use illicit drugs carry naloxone. Naloxone, known by brand names like Narcan and RiVive, is an over-the-counter medicine that can stop an opioid overdose and save a life. 

More and more frequently, stimulant pills that are purchased illicitly are contaminated with fentanyl, which can cause a fatal overdose for a person who thought they were just purchasing methamphetamine or prescription stimulants. You can use fentanyl test strips to help determine if fentanyl is present in illicit drugs, including methamphetamine and other stimulants. Local public health agencies can direct you to resources near you.

If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose: 

  • Call 911. 
  • Administer naloxone if it’s available.
  • Keep the person awake and on their side until first responders arrive.

Find Treatment and Start Your Recovery

Recovery from eating disorders and/or substance use disorders is a personal journey, and there’s no single solution that works for everyone.14 

Start by finding a trained health care professional to assess your physical and mental health needs. They then can work with you to create a recovery plan.15  Locate treatment and support near you for eating disorders and substance misuse. Integrated treatment that addresses both conditions at the same time is recommended when possible.1

Learn More


[1] Gregorowski, C., Seedat, S., & Jordaan, G. P. (2013). A clinical approach to the assessment and management of co-morbid eating disorders and substance use disorders. BMC psychiatry, 13, 289.

[2] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2023). Know the risks of meth. SAMHSA. Available at:

[3] Glasner-Edwards, S., Mooney, L. J., Marinelli-Casey, P., Hillhouse, M., Ang, A., & Rawson, R. (2011). Bulimia nervosa among methamphetamine dependent adults: association with outcomes three years after treatment. Eating disorders, 19(3), 259–269.

[4] National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023, March 3). Methamphetamine Drug Facts. National Institutes of Health. Available at:

[5] Department of Justice, & Drug Enforcement Administration. (2021). Counterfeit Pills Fact Sheet. Drug Enforcement Administration. Available at:

[6] American Psychiatric Association. (2023). What are eating disorders? Available at:

[7] Eskander, N., Chakrapani, S., & Ghani, M. R. (2020). The Risk of Substance Use Among Adolescents and Adults With Eating Disorders. Cureus, 12(9), e10309.

[8] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2023). Mental health and substance use disorders. SAMHSA. Available at:

[9] Bruening, A. B., Perez, M., & Ohrt, T. K. (2018). Exploring weight control as motivation for illicit stimulant use. Eating behaviors, 30, 72–75.

[10] National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2003). Food for thought: Substance abuse and eating disorders. Commonwealth Fund & National Institute on Drug Abuse. Available at:

[11] Ressler, A. (2008). Insatiable Hungers: Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse. Social Work Today, (8) 4, 30. Available at:

[12] Munn-Chernoff, M. A., Grant, J. D., Agrawal, A., Sartor, C. E., Werner, K. B., Bucholz, K. K., Madden, P. A., Heath, A. C., & Duncan, A. E. (2015). Genetic overlap between alcohol use disorder and bulimic behaviors in European American and African American women. Drug and alcohol dependence, 153, 335–340.

[13] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention & National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2023). Stimulant guide. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at:

[14] Bahji, A., Mazhar, M. N., Hudson, C. C., Nadkarni, P., MacNeil, B. A., & Hawken, E. (2019). Prevalence of substance use disorder comorbidity among individuals with eating disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry research, 273, 58–66.

[15] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Clients With Substance Use and Eating Disorders. SAMHSA Advisory, (10) 1. Available at: