Meth Addiction and Abuse
Methamphetamine is a powerful drug similar to amphetamine, that comes in the form of tablets, powder and crystals (crystal meth). Meth users experience the same ‘high’ as cocaine, but it’s longer-lasting. Meth can be ingested in powder and tablet form or it can be snorted or smoked. Meanwhile, in crystal form, the salt base is removed and it is smoked like crack cocaine.
Methamphetamine was first synthesised in Japan in the 1880s for the treatment of asthma. During World War II, soldiers from Germany, Britain and other countries would take it to stay awake. In medicine, it is used to treat narcolepsy and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but the spread of abuse has led meth to be reclassified as a Class-A drug, due to its dangerous side effects.
Humans are regularly drawn to stimulants. ‘Pick-me-ups’ can make it easier to get through a tough, stressful day, as well as energise you, provide an escape from problems and even create a false reality. South Americans use ‘yerba mate’, whereas the ancient Chinese took ‘ma huang’ and Somalis chew ‘khat’. However, the average person gets a kick from drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes or eating sugary foods.
Each of these pales in comparison when compared to stimulants such as methamphetamines, which works on the brain, nervous system and entire body. The high from this drug lasts from six to 24 hours, longer than cocaine and other illicit drugs. People engage in meth binges for days until they reach a psychotic, twitchy state of paranoia, due to lack of sleep.
Analysing methamphetamine chemistry
Meth works by overloading the brain with huge amounts of dopamine, the neurochemical usually released in small amounts when you feel pleasure. Meth stimulates the central nervous system – a part of the phenethylamine family that includes entactogens, stimulants and hallucinogens.
At room temperature, meth base is colourless, unpredictably volatile and insoluble in water. Illicit meth contains powder, while the common ‘ice’ variety is made from crystalline hydrochloride. When ingested, it causes tachycardia, hypertension and boosts confidence and energy, whilst suppressing fatigue and appetite.
What is the difference between methamphetamine and amphetamine?
All drugs targeted towards stimulating the central nervous system are called amphetamines because they have psychoactive properties and affect the mind. Drugs under this classification by the Centre for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) include dextroamphetamine, amphetamine and methamphetamine. The description of both drugs as CNS stimulants might confuse people to think they are the same, but the abuse and resulting consequences are different.
When administered by a medical professional, amphetamine works as a powerful tool for treatment of ADHS to heighten clarity and as weight loss pills, as they increase metabolism. Meth on the other hand is never prescribed by a medical doctor or therapist, and is mostly associated with crystal meth and recreational drug use.
Meth is amphetamine methylated twice to produce a faster acting, more potent, addictive result in users. The release of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain stimulates the reward centre (in the brain) and encourages the user to go back for the next dose. The key is to understand that both drugs are dangerous when abused, with a high risk of addiction. Amphetamine should only be used if prescribed by a physician.
What is Meth addiction?
Meth is an addictive substance due to the feel-good chemicals and effect it has on the brain. It creates a euphoric rush in users and depletes levels of serotonin and dopamine when the effects wear off, causing you to feel anxious and depressed. To stave off this feeling, you start seeking the next high, which leads to repeated usage.
After a while, the normal dosage won’t be enough to give you the euphoric rush of pleasure, so you’ll need to take higher doses to achieve the desired feeling. Such high doses lead to drug dependence and consequently meth addiction. The high feels so good that most first-time users crave the next one immediately; and once you’ve developed a reliance on meth to function, it hits key receptors in your brain, making you incapable of feeling pleasure without taking meth.
Street slang for Meth addiction
Over the years, meth has been called many names, depending on how it’s ingested. Some of the nicknames for meth include:
- Poor man’s coke
- Redneck cocaine
- LA Glass
- Ice cream
- Go fast
- Scooby Snax
- Cotton Candy
- Rocket fuel
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When meth is combined with other illicit drugs, the name changes to include:
- Biker coffee – meth and coffee
- Shabu – coke and meth
- Party and play – meth and ecstasy
- Mexican speedballs – meth and crack
- The five-way – heroin, Rohypnol, methamphetamine, cocaine, alcohol
When the ingredient is adjusted the name changes to
- Soap dope- meth with pink tint
- Lemon drop – meth with yellowish tint
- Christmas tree meth/holiday meth – meth with green tint
Who is at risk from meth addiction?
One of the reasons meth is so dangerous is because the addiction develops at a dramatic pace. Anyone taking meth is at risk of addiction. However, some are more prone to becoming addicts than others.
Genetics play a role in the way chemical reactions happen in the brain. An individual might take meth once and never again, while someone else can take it once and thereby start a cycle of drug abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that if a family member has been an addict, you too are at risk.
People who live in areas where meth is consumed as a recreational drug, as well as those receiving peer pressure from friends who are addicts, can also contribute. If you have an existing mental condition or you’ve experienced depression in the past, addiction progresses more speedily, with extreme consequences.
How dangerous is meth?
People take meth for its instant high. By smoking, snorting or injecting it, meth bypasses the digestive system and goes straight to the brain to stimulate the euphoric rush. Taking meth like this is even more dangerous to your health. Users who consume meth in this form are more likely to die, because of the dangers of overdosing, tweaking and health-related issues.
Another dangerous effect of meth use is the way it slowly kills the brain’s dopamine receptors and makes it harder for long-time users to feel pleasure without increasing the dosage. Research has shown that brain damage from meth use is sometimes permanent. However, cognitive functions such as learning, attention span and memory should return when you receive treatment for meth addiction.
Furthermore, users develop ‘meth mouth’ that manifests with tooth decay, gum disease and mouth sores. This happens because of poor dental hygiene (common amongst meth users), teeth grinding when high and poor eating habits.
Dangers associated with meth overdose
Meth users feel unstoppable and unconquerable when under the influence. They are super focused and can get a lot accomplished in a short period of time. When the high subsidies, they’re left feeling miserable, drained and depressed. To feel better, they chase the next high and continue a vicious, destructive cycle.
The dangers of overdose are real for any meth user. In fact, first-time users with no experience are considered more at risk because they have not yet built any kind of tolerance, and can easily overdose. Elevated heart rate is a sign of a meth overdose, and it can feel like your heart is about to beat out of your chest. This is followed by extreme anxiety, high blood pressure, cardiac arrest, shock, coma and in extreme cases, death.
Psychological signs and symptoms of methamphetamine use
The horrifying side-effects of meth on young people have made it one of the most addictive drugs to hit the UK’s streets. The psychological side-effects of meth abuse go deeper than those of a physical nature and are one of the main reasons people struggle to quit. Apart from pleasure, dopamine is involved with learning and memory. By flooding the brain with higher levels of dopamine, it slows down cognitive operations, resulting in memory problems and poor motor skills.
Users who go on meth binges may experience psychosis through hallucinations, delusions, irritability, paranoia and intense scratching. Other signs used to diagnose substance abuse include psychological dependence, continued use despite knowing the consequences and obsession with finding the next high.
Physical signs and symptoms of methamphetamine use
Physical signs manifest when a user is dependent or has just started using meth. Most won’t realise the signs until they’re at addiction stage. The addiction component of meth makes it easy to slip from use to abuse and then addiction.
- Symptoms include:
- Significant weight loss
- Meth mouth
- Increased libido
- Susceptible to disease and lower immunity
- Dilated pupils
- Elevated body temperature
- Bad breath
- Dry mouth
- Unpredictable behaviour
- Sores on the face and mouth
- Skin abscess
Easiest way to spot a meth user
If you suspect a family member or loved one is using meth, there are several ways to spot a user. Common signs to look out for include:
- Rapid eye movement
- Scratching at skin
- Weight loss
- Mood swings
- Meth mouth
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid breathing
- Intense physical activity
Trying meth for the first time
When you try meth for the first time, the high depends on the method via which it was consumed. When you inject or smoke, it produces a flash and an intense euphoria or rush of pleasure that has the potential to lead to a binge, continuous use and addiction.
Therefore, one single usage doesn’t make you an addict, but expect to feel short-term effects like decreased appetite, increased physical activity, overheating of the body, increased respiration and irregular heartbeat.
Why is meth so addictive?
As stated earlier, addiction depends on several factors that sometimes go beyond the substance itself. Those with a psychiatric illness, history of drug abuse and impulsivity are at greater risk for addiction.
On its own, meth is addictive because it activates reward centres in the brain through the influx of higher levels of dopamine and serotonin. The feel-good rush you experience is so powerful and long-lasting that when you feel the crash, manifested by depression and feeling miserable, you want another dose to achieve the same high.
Repeated usage builds tolerance, which requires a higher dosage to feel the effects of meth use. With each increased dose, you build dependence for the drug, which leads to addiction. At the stage of addiction, you’re fully aware of the harm meth does to your body and mind, yet are incapable of quitting, because your body now relies on drugs to perform basic functions and feel any kind of pleasure.
Teen meth addiction
While adults who are more exposed know the risk of meth addiction and how it ruins lives, many teens may not be fully aware of the danger. Drug abuse has severe consequences in young people. Research shows some teens develop Alzheimer-like symptoms and severe brain damage.
Teenagers exhibit the same signs as adults, but their brains are still growing, so the psychological effects are more pronounced. They also expose themselves to the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C and may entice their friends to join them in substance abuse. If you suspect your teenager is abusing meth, it is time to seek help.
Seven undeniable signs your teen is abusing meth
In the past, meth was the drug of choice for poor people or low-income earners seeking the next ‘high’, but teenagers have since been caught in its grip. Meth is highly addictive and there are several signs parents should look out for:
Meth Mouth: When teenagers take meth, it causes the mouth to dry out, because there is no saliva to clean the teeth. Meth users sometimes tweak for days without bathing or brushing their teeth, which leads to tooth decay. You’ll also notice lip burns caused by smoking through a metal pipe or hot glass.
Weight loss: Meth is a stimulant that speeds up the CNS and was used in the past to help people diet. Meth users lose weight fast. They have no appetite or interest in food.
Memory loss: Meth is made from chemicals and toxic substances that distort normal brain functions. Young people who start using as early as 15-16 years old may experience memory loss.
Tweaking: The cycle of abuse is common among meth users. Teenagers can go up to a week without sleep, surviving on meth until they’re unable to use more or simply run out of supply. The drug doesn’t provide the same high after some time, which leads to increased dosage and more frequent usage. When teens are tweaking, their voice quivers, they become violent and their body jerks uncontrollably.
Low mental function: Meth affects the brain. Teens using meth have trouble concentrating, doing homework or remembering things.
Lack of interest to socialise: Meth users lose interest in crowds, friends, family gatherings and social functions.
Mood swings: The mood shifts when they’re under the influence or agitated, because they need the next high.
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Meth use and psychosis
Meth users who engage in long drug binges often experience meth-induced psychosis where they suffer delusions, aggressive behaviour and paranoia. According to the American Psychiatric Associate, psychosis happens when you experience delusions and hallucinations.
Hallucination distorts your sense of reality, seeing and hearing things that aren’t there. Meanwhile, tactile hallucinations make you feel like there’s something under your skin. There’s also gustatory hallucinations that are false perceptions of taste. You might be convinced that someone has poisoned your food. Some meth users smell things that are unpleasant, such as a rotting brain.
Meth delusions (which are another part of psychosis) are false personal beliefs. These include:
- Persecution – fear of being harmed or believing someone is out to get you
- Somatic-where the patient believes their body is changing
- Control- thinking someone is brainwashing you
- Grandeur – believing you’re more special than others
Co-occurring disorders in meth abuse
People who have drug dependence and a mental health disorder are at greater risk of addiction and severe withdrawal symptoms. Co-occurring disorder is diagnosed when a meth user has substance abuse disorder and mental health disorder simultaneously. Alcoholism is another substance abuse where people are prone for coinciding behaviours.
Examples of mental disorders that co-occur with meth use include:
- Bipolar disorders
- Anxiety disorder
Most of the co-occurring disorders manifest during active addiction and others during withdrawal. During active addiction, you’ll be unable to sleep and will experience hypomania.
The short-term side effects of meth abuse
Meth adversely affects the brain, neurotransmitters and major organs of the body. Even young ones in the womb of pregnant meth users are not spared and some carry the scars into adulthood.
Short-term effects of meth abuse include:
- Zero appetite for food
- Feeling of intense pleasure and euphoria
- Increased blood pressure
- Panic and paranoia
- Erratic/violent behaviour
- Seizures and convulsions
- Increased wakefulness
The long-term side effects of meth abuse
The major long-term effect of meth usage is addiction. Chronic abusers may experience the following effects:
- Mood disturbances
- Significant anxiety
- Psychotic symptoms that lasts for month and, sometimes years, such as auditory and visual hallucination
- Brain damage
- Risk of infectious disease such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C
- Destruction of nose tissues
- Damage to lung, liver and kidney
- Permanent damage to blood vessels of brain and heart
Meth usage and the central nervous system
Meth is a neurotoxic stimulant that damages brain cells. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, meth is a highly addictive substance with far-reaching psychoactive effects. Meth is made with toxic substances like battery acid, antifreeze and drain cleaner. It is highly volatile, combustible to manufacture and dangerous to consume.
Continued meth use leads to neuronal death in areas like the striatum, hippocampus, cerebellum, subcortical structures, frontal and prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex. Meth use prevents CNS from regenerating, while chronic use leads to brain damage caused by neuronal death.
How methamphetamine affects people’s lives
The first time you use meth, you’re classed a low-intensity abuser, because you snort or swallow it for the extra stimulation that helps you complete homework, a job assignment or even lose weight. When you enjoy the high and rush of dopamine, you move to the next stage. Injecting meth is considered binging, as the intensity is elevated more so than when it is smoked. At this stage, you’re firmly in the cycle of drug abuse and one step closer to high-intensity meth abuse.
At the final stage of meth abuse, ‘speed freaks’ focus on continued drug use to prevent the crash from a drug high. With tweaking, each high is less than the previous and you need increased amounts to feel the desired effect. With each dose, you’re headed towards the dangerous loop of addiction.
Meth treatment options
The two main treatment options for drug rehabilitation and meth treatment are therapy and pharmacology. There is no approved medication for meth treatment, but the combination of counselling, therapy and medical detox helps rehabilitate meth addicts.
Detox is completed under medical supervision to ensure a patient is comfortable and safe during the process. Aftercare treatment will consist of group counselling, individual therapy sessions and other CBT based programmes to help achieve sobriety.
Medications that may help your meth addiction recovery efforts
While there is no pharmacology therapy with renowned efficacy, some drugs have shown promise in managing symptoms and curbing dependency and craving. They include:
- Dopamine d2 partial agonists
- Gaba agents
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
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Meth rehab treatment process
Intake and assessment: At this stage, a medical professional determines if the rehab centre is a good fit for your meth addiction. They consider factors like age, sex, abuse history, disorders and other details.
Detox: After intake, you start the detox process where your body is cleansed of meth.
Rehabilitation: The work of helping you recover from meth addiction happens in rehab. You’ll work with counsellors and therapists to overcome your addiction.
Recovery and aftercare: A therapist works with you to uncover factors that led you to drug abuse and teaches you to develop positive thoughts and behaviours that helps you to stay sober post-rehab.
Meth detox treatment process
Meth detox is the first step to recovery. Under the supervision of medical professionals, your detox lasts three to seven days, depending on your length of use. Long-term users might experience psychosis and acute withdrawal symptoms. During detox, a medical doctor prescribes medication to treat insomnia, muscle relaxants and intravenous fluids to help with dehydration and muscle spasms.
Withdrawal symptoms to expect during detox include fatigue, depression, aggressiveness, anxiety and irritability. Some recovering addicts sleep for hours or days during detox, because they are completely exhausted from the crash.
How can people get treatment for methamphetamine addiction?
The first step is to call Addiction Helper, where a counsellor will speak to you in confidence about your recovery needs and the best available treatment options. Next, you’ll be directed to a rehab centre to continue your detox and recovery.
Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.