Is Meth an Opioid?

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Methamphetamine (meth, crystal meth) is not an opioid. It’s a synthetic stimulant used for its euphoric and energizing effects. Although it is most often found as an illicit drug, it is occasionally prescribed to treat ADHD and obesity in those who don’t respond to less potent medications. Meth can be confused with opioids because both are powerful, addictive substances that can produce feelings of well-being. However, opioids work differently in the body, are used primarily for their function as effective pain relievers, and have sedating rather than stimulating effects.

In the United States, meth use continues to be a public health threat and a serious social problem despite being overshadowed by the opioid epidemic. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to meth, opioids, other drugs, or alcohol, you are urged to seek professional help before this condition worsens. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that, although incurable, can be treated using evidence-based therapies and a comprehensive approach to mental and physical wellness. Contact Guardian Recovery today to learn more about our multiple levels of care and determine what programs might be most appropriate for you or a loved one.

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What Is Meth?

Meth is a highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system (CNS), typically found as a white, odorless, and bitter-tasting crystalline powder or rock-like substance. It can be ingested in several ways, including by smoking, snorting, and injecting. It produces a powerful rush or “high,” followed by a prolonged state of increased activity, talkativeness, and alertness. However, it also has many negative side effects, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, anxiety, and paranoia. Long-term meth use can lead to addiction and mental and physical health conditions.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are in a class of drugs that includes both prescription painkillers and illegal drugs such as heroin. These drugs work by binding to specific receptors in the brain and body, reducing pain and creating feelings of euphoria. Opioids are often used to manage severe pain, such as that caused by surgery, injury, or chronic conditions like cancer, but they can also be misused and lead to addiction, overdose, and death. Common examples of prescription opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl. Opioids are a broad term that includes naturally-occurring opiates as well as partially and fully synthetic (man-made) substances.

Opiates

Natural opioids, also called opiates, are alkaloids culled from the opium poppy that are not chemically altered. For pain relief, the most commonly administered and prescribed medications include morphine and codeine. Others include thebaine, papaverine, and noscapine, which are not typically used for this purpose because they are not particularly effective analgesics. However, thebaine is important as a precursor for synthesizing prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, while papaverine is sometimes used for other medical purposes. (1)

Semi-Synthetic Opioids

Semi-synthetic opioids are derived from naturally occurring opiates, such as morphine, but have been chemically modified to create new compounds with different properties.

Examples of Synthetic Opioids Include:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet).
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab).
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid).
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex).
  • Heroin.

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids are a class of opioids that are entirely synthetic, meaning they are not derived from naturally occurring opiates like morphine or codeine.

Examples of Synthetic Opioids Include:

  • Fentanyl.
  • Tramadol.
  • Methadone.
  • Meperidine (Demerol).
  • Tapentadol (Nucynta).

What Are Endogenous Opioids?

Endogenous opioids are peptide neurotransmitters produced naturally by the body and function as the body’s own pain relief system. Endogenous opioids work by attaching to specific receptors in the nervous system, reducing pain and stress, and inducing feelings of pleasure and well-being. (2)

Examples of Endogenous Opioids Include:

  • Endorphins—Produced by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, these chemicals are involved in pain relief, mood regulation, and the brain’s reward system.
  • Enkephalins—Produced by nerve cells throughout the body, these chemicals are involved in pain relief, stress response, and regulation of blood pressure and heart rate.

Dynorphins—Produced by nerve cells throughout the body, these chemicals are involved in pain perception, stress response, and mood and behavior regulation.

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Primary Differences Between Meth & Opioids

Meth and opioids are two different types of drugs that uniquely affect the brain and body. While both substances come with the potential for dependence and are associated with many serious short- and long-term health effects, there are significant differences between them.

Common Health Risks

Both meth and opioids come with serious health risks, but many of these differ. For example, meth use has been most often associated with heart problems, seizures, and other health issues. Conversely, opioids can lead to respiratory depression, overdose, brain damage, and death. Opioid misuse is much more likely to lead to death than an overdose on meth, but drug intoxication involving both of these substances would likely be an even more dangerous combination.

Medical Use

One of the most common medical uses for methamphetamine (Desoxyn) is the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as it can be effective in managing symptoms in some individuals. (3) Methamphetamine has also been used as a short-term treatment for obesity, as it can suppress appetite and promote weight loss, but this is generally discouraged due to its potential for dependence and serious health risks. Uncommonly, it may be used to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy.

Effects & Side Effects

Meth use increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the body, leading to feelings of euphoria, increased energy, and alertness. Opioids, on the other hand, attach to opioid receptors in the body, reducing pain and producing feelings of relaxation and sedation.

Meth Side Effects Include:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Dental deterioration.
  • Skin sores.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Elevated blood pressure.
  • Tremors.
  • Insomnia.
  • Anxiety.
  • Paranoia.
  • Psychosis, including delusions and hallucinations.

Opioid Side Effects Include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Drowsiness and sedation.
  • Constipation.
  • Itching.
  • Confusion.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Increased pain sensitivity.

Chemical Composition

Methamphetamine is a stimulant chemically similar to amphetamine, and its composition remains constant regardless of whether it’s found illicitly or as a prescription medication.

  • Chemical Formula—C10H15N or C10H15N.HCl (indicating salt form) (4)
  • IUPAC Name—(S)-N-methyl-1-phenylpropan-2-amine or (S)-N-methyl-1-phenylpropan-2-amine hydrochloride

Illicit meth can be manufactured using a variety of chemicals and methods, including ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, red phosphorus, hydrochloric acid, and lithium or sodium metal. Meth purchased on the street can also contain other drugs, including opioids such as fentanyl.

Chemical Formulas of Common Opioids Include: (5)

  • Morphine—C17H19NO3
  • Hydrocodone—C18H21NO3
  • Oxycodone—C18H21NO4
  • Heroin (Diamorphine)—C17H21NO2
  • Fentanyl—C22H28N2O, C21H26N2O, C23H30N2O

Illicit opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, can contain various fillers, contaminants, and adulterants, including talcum powder, baking soda, and other drugs.

Addictive Potential

It is difficult to say if meth or opioids are more addictive, mainly because opioids are an entire class of substances that encompass many prescription and illicit drugs with a wide range of potencies. For example, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, so its potential for addiction would likely be extremely high, compared to morphine itself, which is low by comparison.

There are also many factors that contribute to the addictive potential of all substances, including the administration method, which can include smoking, snorting, injecting, and oral ingestion. However, nearly anyone can expect that the misuse of meth or any opioids can lead to chemical and, very likely, emotional dependence, which can develop into full-blown addiction and compulsive drug use despite negative consequences.

Among stimulants, meth is considered to be one of the most potent, and this can affect its potential for addiction. Its effects are also particularly long-lasting, which can make it easier and less expensive to use over an extended period in many situations, thereby contributing to chronic misuse and dependence.

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Overcoming active drug addiction is a long-term process that requires commitment, patience, and ongoing support. Working with addiction specialists who can develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your individual needs and goals is vital for preventing relapse and promoting long-lasting recovery. Regardless of whether you or a loved one are misusing meth, opioids, or other drugs, comprehensive treatment is available that can address the underlying causes of addiction and provide you with the tools you need to foster a new life without the use of addictive substances.

We encourage you to reach out to Guardian Recovery today for a free, no-obligation assessment and health insurance benefits check. You can speak to a skilled, empathetic Treatment Advisor who can explain our streamlined admissions process and therapeutic services, including medical detox, behavioral therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and more. Freedom from substance use is possible—contact us to get started on your recovery journey today.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1953-01-01_3_page005.html (2)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826828/ (3)https://www.goodrx.com/methamphetamine/what-is (4)https://www.worldofmolecules.com/drugs/methamphetamine.htm (5)https://www.catalogueofopioids.net/the-catalogue

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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