Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system. It usually comes as a white, bitter powder or pill. Crystal meth is an illegal form of the drug that resembles chunks of glass or bluish-white rocks.
When taken legally under a doctor’s instructions, methamphetamine can be safely used to treat conditions such as narcolepsy, obesity, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, due to its highly addictive nature, the drug is not often prescribed. Crystal meth is an illegal, and extremely dangerous, form of methamphetamine.
Understanding Methamphetamine Abuse
Methamphetamine is sometimes swallowed, snorted, or dissolved in liquid to be injected, but it is most often smoked, usually in a small, glass pipe. Common street names for the drug include chalk, crank, crystal, ice, meth, and speed.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug. It works to speed up the messages between your brain and your body to make you feel more alert and energetic. It also causes the brain to release dopamine, also known as the “feel-good” brain chemical.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Drug Facts publication on methamphetamine explains that “dopamine is involved in body movement, motivation, pleasure, and reward (pleasure from natural behaviors such as eating). [Methamphetamine’s] ability to release high levels of dopamine rapidly in reward areas of the brain produces the ‘rush’ (euphoria) or ‘flash’ that many people experience.”
This feeling causes many people to become addicted from their very first use of methamphetamine.
Signs and Symptoms of Methamphetamine Abuse
Methamphetamine gives the user a rush of good feelings initially, but this mood can shift rapidly into negative and unpleasant feelings. Long-term users of methamphetamine may also experience dysthymia, an affective disorder which features a chronically depressed and/or irritable mood.
- hyperactivity, i.e. too much energy, talking and moving a lot
- not eating
- not sleeping
- high blood pressure
- raised body temperature, sometimes enough to pass out
- rapid breathing
- severe itching
- burns on hands or lips from contact with a hot meth pipe
- sudden shifts in mood, such as from excitement to anger or fear
- thinking and emotional problems
The NIDA also explains that “because the ‘high’ from the drug both starts and fades quickly, people often take repeated doses in a ‘binge and crash”’ pattern. In some cases, people take methamphetamine in a form of binging known as a ‘run,’ giving up food and sleep while continuing to take the drug every few hours for up to several days.”
Dangers of Methamphetamine Abuse
Abuse of methamphetamine can be dangerous in a variety of ways. Sustained use will create a tolerance for the drug, forcing addicts to increase their dosage to experience the same effects.
In addition to the symptoms above, people who use these drugs also have an increased risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis B and C, either through sharing needles with someone who has an infection, or because drug use can lead to unsafe behaviors such as having unprotected sex.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains how long-term methamphetamine use has many other negative consequences, including:
- extreme weight loss
- severe dental problems (“meth mouth”)
- intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching
- sleeping problems
- violent behavior
- paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
- hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real though they aren’t
Continued methamphetamine abuse can cause changes in the brain’s dopamine system that are associated with impaired verbal learning and reduced coordination. Studies have also shown long-term users suffering severe changes to the parts of the brain associated with memory and emotion, which results in an array of profound cognitive and emotional problems.
Some of these changes may be repaired after an addict gets clean and healthy, but some brain damage can be permanent. This is why it is so important for users to seek addiction treatment as soon as possible.
Who Abuses Methamphetamine?
A person of any age, gender, financial status, or ethnicity can become addicted to methamphetamine. For many addicts, all it took was using methamphetamine one time, and they were hooked. Addiction can be psychological, physical and emotional.
When people attempt to stop taking methamphetamine, unpleasant and dangerous withdrawal symptoms can make them vulnerable to abusing again. These symptoms can include:
- severe depression
- intense drug cravings
- trouble sleeping
- frequent anger
- an inability to feel pleasure
Anyone, from any walk of life, can become addicted to methamphetamine. The drug is so addictive that a single dose can turn a user into a drug addict.
Due to the inevitable tolerance that develops with continued abuse, addicts are forced to steadily increase their intake of the drug, which leads to increased side effects and risk of overdose.
Methamphetamine overdose can lead to:
- heart attack
- organ problems, such as kidney failure, caused by overheating
Am I Addicted to Methamphetamine?
If you fear that you are addicted to methamphetamine, ask yourself, and honestly answer, the questions below:
- Do I abuse methamphetamine every day?
- Do I abuse the drug in order to combat feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, depression, etc.?
- Have friends or family members mentioned more than once that they are worried about my drug use?
- Do I become hostile or angry when they do so?
- Do I ever experience side effects or withdrawal symptoms such as those listed above?
- Do I feel like I can’t have fun, be normal, or complete everyday tasks without methamphetamine?
- Am I secretive about my drug use, lying about when I use or how much I take?
- Do I need more and more speed each time I abuse the drug in order to feel its effects?
- Have I experienced any major problems in the last year, such as a breakup, job loss, car accident, family problems, financial problems, or getting arrested as a result of my drug use?
- Despite these problems, do I feel unable to stop using methamphetamine on my own?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be addicted to methamphetamine and in need of professional substance abuse help.
Methamphetamine Addiction Treatment
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that “repeated drug use changes the brain, including parts of the brain that enable you to exert self-control. These and other changes can be seen clearly in brain imaging studies of people with drug addictions.”
This is why addicts require professional help to break the devastating cycle of addiction. The substance abuse specialists at a qualified drug and alcohol treatment center are trained in how to manage addiction and lead addicts safely to recovery.
There are a wide variety of affordable treatment options available, but all of them begin with abstaining from drug use.
Detoxification is the first step to any recovery plan. A person needs clarity of mind and a body free from addictive substances before they can be effectively treated.
While there are no government-approved drugs that can counteract or alleviate the symptoms caused by methamphetamine withdrawal, detoxing in a rehab center under the care of medical professionals will ensure that you detox safely, with as little discomfort as possible.
Whether addicts choose inpatient residential treatment and/or outpatient treatment, all substance abuse recovery plans will include talk therapy.
Individual therapy allows patients to work intensively on issues specific only to them, while group therapy allows them to both support and experience support from other addicts who are struggling with similar challenges. Family therapy is a fundamental tool to ensure individuals encounter the best possible environment at home, for relapse prevention.
Other treatment options include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT teaches patients to retrain their brains with new methods of coping with stress and cravings, and avoiding trigger situations. It has been proven especially effective in the treatment of methamphetamine addiction.
- 12-step meetings: Meetings based on the 12-step program that originated with Alcoholics Anonymous are an invaluable resource to support long term sobriety.
- Treatment for co-occurring conditions: most addicts suffer from undiagnosed mental health issues that underlie and fuel their substance abuse. These co-occurring disorders must be addressed as a part of recovery.
- Nutrition, fitness and recreational therapy: a strong body is just as important as a strong mind when it comes to long-term recovery. The better a person feels, the more prepared they will be to handle life as it comes.