Methamphetamine, more often known simply as meth, is a highly addictive stimulant and one of the most commonly abused today. Meth abuse is common in the U.S and abroad, with an estimated 1.2 million Americans having used meth in 2012 alone.1 Meth is so addictive due to its close interaction with dopamine production in the brain. Meth remains one of the most deadly recreational drugs found today due to its potency, frequency of being cut with dangerous and toxic additives, negative physiological effects, and how easy it is to build a tolerance to it. Overdoses on meth are relatively common, with meth accounting for 2,724 deaths due to overdose in 2011.2 However, death from meth abuse is more common in its severe sustained damage to the body. Meth exhibits short-term effects similar to but generally stronger than other stimulants including alertness, euphoria, decreased appetite, and mood shifts. Long term abuse of meth can lead to a variety of physiological and mental ailments including infections, body deterioration, cardiovascular problems, and respiratory damage. There are currently no effective pharmaceutical treatments for meth addiction, but many breakthroughs are being made in developing medications that can be used in recovery, and rehabilitation facilities offer extensive resources for recovering from meth addiction in a safe, stable, and comfortable manner.
What is Meth?
Meth is perhaps the most dangerous and addictive stimulant that is available today. Meth holds a reputation for its short-lasting intense feelings of energy and euphoria, its potent addictiveness, its dangerous manufacturing process, and its effect on the body. Stimulants are a class of drugs that include dangerous street drugs like cocaine, common prescription drugs such as Adderall, and even your ordinary cup of coffee. Meth is synthesized in a variety of conditions from small home labs using prescription medication to wide scale manufacturing. Meth first gained popularity during World War II when the Japanese and German armies would frequently utilize meth as a combat enhancement drug due to its ability to remove inhibitions, lower pain threshold, and give energy. Since that time meth has quickly gone from obscurity to one of the most widely abused street drugs today, leading to an epidemic of meth addiction across the country. Deaths from methamphetamine has been on a steady rise, with there being a reported 102,961 emergency room visits and 2,724 deaths linked to methamphetamine abuse in the U.S. in 2011. Deaths from meth can come in the form of overdosing, from damage to the body accumulated with frequent use, or from toxic additives and manufacturing byproducts. Deaths from damage to the liver and kidneys and the cardiovascular system from use of meth are also common. Meth is classified as a Schedule II drug by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), meaning that meth has some accepted medical usage under severe restriction, but is not considered safe for use either due to its high potential for abuse.
How Does Meth Addiction Work?
Meth’s deadly addictiveness can be attributed primarily to its effectiveness at mimicking dopamine in the brain, which allows it to be readily taken up with dopamine, replacing the dopamine within dopamine vesicles with meth instead. This forces the excess dopamine out of the cell, trapping it in the synapse and leading to severe overstimulation of dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is colloquially known as the ‘happiness drug’ due to its purpose in producing feelings of well-being and pleasure when released into the brain. When the body is hurt, the brain produces natural opiates that allow dopamine to be released in the areas of the brain commonly responsible for feelings of pain and stress, which works to reduce overall feelings of pain. However, once dopamine has done its job, it must be taken back out of the synapse to avoid overstimulating the cell. Meth disables this preventative measure in the brain by taking the place of dopamine. Because the brain isn’t capable of handling such frequent binding of dopamine, dopamine receptors become damaged and make it more difficult to feel pleasure, leading users to use more and more meth to chase the fleeting euphoria it once offered them. Meth is particular addictive because, once ingested, it concentrates in the area of the brain known as the reward pathway. These numerous issues compound to create a very strong addiction potential for meth, which becomes more and more difficult to feed the more it is abused. This deadly self-feeding cycle of addiction is at the root of meth’s effectiveness at becoming addictive.
Short and Long Term Effects
Meth can be taken in nearly any form, and is frequently smoked, snorted, injected, and taken in capsules. Onset of effects varies with the method used to take it, ranging from nearly instant onset when smoked to up to 30 minutes when taken orally.
Users report short-term mental effects such as feelings of:
- Increased energy
- Sexual stimulation
- Excessive talking
- Sensory distortion (when used frequently in a short period of time)
- Rapid mood shifts
And physical effects such as:
- Appetite suppression
- Excessive sweating
- Severe dryness of the mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Sleep deprivation
Repeated long-term use of meth leads to physical side effects such as:
- Decay in health of skin, teeth, and hair – Perhaps the most iconic danger of meth is its severe damage to the body. The skin can quickly become covered in sores, blisters, welts, and other damage due to users frequently excessively picking at their skin. Hair and nails are damaged due to chronic malnutrition, and dental health is severely diminished due to dry mouth, teeth grinding, and loss of hygiene. Dental decay is so common and severe that the condition has become known as “meth mouth”.
- Kidney and liver damage – Meth is a toxic substance to the body, and the liver and kidney are unable to properly metabolize and filter meth, leading to their vital function of filtering toxins out of blood too become severely damaged. This can lead to a host of different fatal and nonfatal disorders of the kidneys and liver.
- Anorexia – Because of meth’s effect of extreme appetite suppression, methamphetamine addicts frequently lose unhealthy amounts of weight. This can result in anorexia, as well as a host of illnesses and conditions brought about from malnutrition including muscle atrophy and immune disorders.
- Respiratory damage – The smoke from meth can cause severe damage to the lungs, particularly with meth of lesser purity and quality. Chronic coughing is a common side effect, and can develop into dangerous respiratory ailments such as bronchitis.
- Insomnia – Due to meth’s stimulating effect, a general decay in personal health, as well as frequent interruptions in ordinary circadian activity, meth users often experience worsening sleeping problems that can develop into insomnia.
Long-term use of meth also carries several mental side effects including:
- Severe addiction – Because of meth’s addictiveness, both mental and physical addiction are developed very quickly, leading to a complete dependency on the drug.
- Paranoia – While paranoia is primarily a short-term effect of meth usage while high, frequent abuse of meth can lead to long term paranoia. This can come from the neurological damage sustained while using meth, from sleep deprivation, or from general decay in physical and mental health.
- Anxiety – Anxiety is a frequent symptom of drug abuse in general, and is common in meth abuse due to internal factors from the psychological and physical effect of the drug itself, as well as external factors such as pressure family, friends, and work that may all be affected by addiction. This can compound and develop into chronic paranoia.
Other risks posed by meth abuse include:
- HIV and hepatitis – Particularly when injected, meth users are at a severely elevated risk of HIV and hepatitis B and C infections. Sharing needles, reusing needles, and even staying in environments where injection is frequent can all lead to HIV. Because meth weakens immune response as well as impairs cell functioning, both HIV and Hepatitis infections are allowed to progress much more rapidly than in a healthy individual. In addition, the frequent open sores in the skin and gums of meth users increases the risk of all blood-borne illnesses, including HIV and hepatitis.
- Risk of overdose – Meth overdose is a sometimes understated but dangerously frequent occurrence. Because meth tolerance is so volatile, and potency can differ between different batches, it is very easy to misjudge the amount you can handle and overdose. Death by heart failure is common, and survival rates of overdoses are low.
- Additives – Meth purchased on the street is often cut with additives to maximize profits, including many dangerous and toxic additives. Meth is often created through the use of cheap toxic additives such as gasoline and deadly drugs such as the livestock de-wormer Levamisole.
- Pregnancy – Meth can lead to a wide variety of difficulties with pregnancy. This includes issues in the mother such as migraines and seizures as well as both fatal and nonfatal birth defects, premature birth, membrane ruptures, stillbirths, Sudden Infant Death
Syndrome, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, and various other dangerous abnormalities.
Meth withdrawal is notoriously difficult to go through, and includes symptoms such as:
- Respiratory failure
- Heart palpitations
- Tremors, muscle aches and cramps
Methods of Treatment
Unfortunately there are currently no accepted forms of pharmaceutical treatment for meth addiction that are accepted by the FDA for use in the United States. However, research into potential treatments for stimulant addiction and particularly methamphetamine has been an important field in recent times. One potential drug being researched for meth addiction, called Ibudilast, has shown promise in its effect on the neuroinflammatory response of glial cells which can effectively slow down the effect of methamphetamine on the brain. Other treatments under research include drugs aimed at utilizing the immune response of the addict to combat and effectively neutralize meth before it can fully take effect in the brain.
Other forms of treatment for beer addiction come in the form of psychological and behavioral therapies. These treatments focus on the behaviors and habits that led to addiction in the first place in an attempt to remove the root of addiction. Amongst these forms of treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most common, and is growing in support from the scientific and clinical communities all the time. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sees substance abuse such as beer addict as a symptom of a greater psychological issue, and not a cause in and of itself. By utilizing reflective and analytic techniques, an addict is better able to understand what led them to addiction in the first place, change bad habits, and avoid behaviors that may trigger cravings. The twelve-step program is also available as a longestablished method of treating drug and alcohol addiction. The twelve-step program works as a gradual method of guiding principles and pragmatic steps that can be taken to go from the depths of addiction and unhealthy habits to sobriety. These twelve steps are aimed at effectively recovering from compulsive and addictive behaviors, and addressing mental and behavioral problems that led to addiction in the first place. These twelve steps include both internal and external actions aimed at making amends for past mistakes, accepting responsibility for the actions that led to addiction, and moving forward to establish healthy habits and a positive mindset.
There are two main types of rehabilitation: inpatient and outpatient. Inpatient rehabilitation refers to programs that require patients to check themselves into a facility where they will undergo all rehabilitation treatment. Although inpatient rehabilitation requires a greater level of commitment, the facilities, environment, and support offered by these facilities are conducive to a stable and effective recovery. Inpatient facilities generally offer services such as psychiatrists, counselors, group therapy, and all of the living facilities necessary for a comfortable stay. The extensive support offered by these facilities, combined with an environment that is focused on self-improvement and wellness is a great combination for providing the motivation to push through the difficulties of withdrawal and to establish good healthy habits to prevent relapsing once you leave. This form of rehabilitation is effective for those who would benefit from a stricter more scheduled recovery in which the outside distractions and temptations of life won’t get in the way of focusing on recovery.
Outpatient rehabilitation is based on the principle of spending only part of your time in recovery programs while offering you the freedom to continue daily living on your own. Generally these programs will require ten to twelve hours of commitment per week spent in a treatment facility participating in similar activities to those done in an inpatient facility such as group therapy, counseling, and even detox. While this does offer easier access to drugs, some may find being able to maintain their normal daily schedule more beneficial. This form of rehabilitation is effective for those who require more freedom and contact with friends and family.
Both forms of rehabilitation are effective solutions at combatting meth addiction, and there is a variety of different types of both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation to suit the personal needs of each individual.
- National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). “What Is the Scope of Methamphetamine Abuse in the United States?” NIDA, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Sept. 2013, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-scopemethamphetamine-abuse-in-united-states.
- Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC. “Methamphetamine History and Statistics.” DrugAbuse.com, DrugAbuse, 29 Jan. 2016, drugabuse.com/library/methamphetamine-history-and-statistics/.