Meth addiction is dangerous not only because of the physical and emotional problems it causes for abusers, but because psychotic episodes may occur for years after discontinuing use. Addiction to methamphetamines is not just for drugged-out street users. Due to its appetite suppressing properties, young women are using it more and more for weight loss or simply because they enjoy the rush or high they get.
What Is Meth?
Methamphetamines are a stimulant that can be made in large labs; however, much of what is used in the United States is made in small home labs with over-the-counter ingredients. Meth is a white, odorless powder that users can smoke, snort, ingest by mouth, or inject. It is a more potent stimulant drug than amphetamine because more gets into the brain; this leads to a stronger high. It also has longer lasting effects on the central nervous system.
Approximately 13 million people 12 years of age and older have abused meth during their lifetime. If you think that someone you know is using meth, look for some of the symptoms of abuse.
Effects of Meth Addiction
Meth is addicting because it causes the release of dopamine in the pleasure center of the brain. This leads to euphoria. But once the dopamine has been used up, the user may become depressed. This leads to repeat use and addiction because the highs are so high and the lows are so horrible.
Of the different ways to abuse meth, smoking and injection create the most immediate effects, but snorting or swallowing creates a more euphoric high. Other immediate effects include the following:
- Increased wakefulness
- Decreased appetite
- Increased physical activity
- Increased self-confidence
- Increased metabolism
- Heightened sense of sexuality
- High body temperature
- Stomach cramps
The heart and lungs are also affected by short-term meth use. There may be some decreased lung capacity; the heart rate and blood pressure increases and may be somewhat irregular. These changes can lead to the risk of overdose with muscle breakdown, dehydration, convulsions, stroke, and heart attack.
Long Term Effects
Because tolerance to meth is built quickly, addicts must begin using more and more of it to achieve the high. This can lead to meth addiction. Chronic and long term use can lead to a number of negative conditions:
- "Meth mouth" (teeth rotting from inside out)
- Repetitive behavior
- Full blown toxic psychosis
- Irregular heartbeat
- "Crank bugs" (feeling of insects crawling under skin)
- Blood vessel damage in brain, leading to stroke
- Damage to dopamine-producing and serotonin-containing cells
Long-term use may also lead to use of other drugs. Abusers may turn to depressant drugs like alcohol or barbiturates to help them sleep. Injection of meth also increases the risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis. Personal relationships fall apart during meth addiction as well.
Chronic meth use also changes the way the brain functions. Changes in the dopamine functioning in the brain may lead to difficulties with motor skills and verbal learning. There also may be changes in the parts of the brain associated with emotion and memory. Some long-term users may develop symptoms that resemble Parkinson's disease. While some of these chronic changes may reverse after several years of not using meth, some changes may be permanent.
Binge and Crash Patterns
Some chronic users will occasionally go on a "run." A run is a binge that can last for days, where the abuser does not sleep or eat, but uses meth every few hours. The binge only ends when the addict runs out of drugs or becomes so disoriented that she/he can no longer function well enough to administer the drug. Binge users also experience a "crash" where the body has to replenish itself and shuts down; this means days of sleep.
Chronic users may also experience what is known as "tweaking"; this can occur at the end of a binge when nothing will improve the bad feelings - including taking more meth. Since this is an uncomfortable state, the abuser often needs something to take the edge off like alcohol or heroin. This stage can be very dangerous for the addict because his or her behavior becomes unstable.
Meth withdrawal has fewer physical effects than some other drug withdrawals. However, due to the psychological and neurological changes that occur with drug use, some psychotic symptoms occur for years after treatment. It may take 30-90 days for the abuser to fully realize that they are in withdrawal.
Common withdrawal symptoms include the following:
- Drug cravings
Many abusers start eating much more and may actually gain a significant amount of weight at first as their metabolism slows down. Dealing psychologically with withdrawal can be difficult as well. The effects that crystal meth has on the dopamine in the brain may make it hard for the recovering addict to feel pleasure about anything. This sense of depression causes many to start using again to get some sense of normalcy back in their lives. This makes it important to get help when kicking this habit.
Methamphetamine addiction can be successfully treated with a lot of hard work and medical help. This can be a very difficult habit to treat alone.
One of the best treatments for meth addiction is cognitive behavior therapy, which changes the way an addict thinks and behaves. An example is the Matrix Model that uses group and individual therapy, 12-step supports, and family education to reduce meth abuse. Others may use contingency management interventions where incentives are given for undergoing treatment.
There are no specific medications that help with meth withdrawal or that decrease the urge to use. However scientists are looking at available medications to see if they have any effects. For example, a recent study with bupropion showed that the medication lowers the high and decreases the cravings. For persons with depression, prescription anti-depressants may help with the problem. More research is underway to find medications that may help with treatment.
People trying to overcome meth addiction can also use groups as additional supports. The group Narconon offers resources to help overcome meth addiction. Another organization that uses the 12 step method of recovery is Crystal Meth Anonymous. An Internet search or a discussion with a physician or therapist can point out other local support groups.
Overcoming Meth Addiction
Meth use and addiction can destroy lives and livelihoods. The physical and psychological ramifications from chronic meth use can last for many years. However, with support and therapy, many people can and do recover.