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Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as meth, is a stimulant drug that is abused for its euphoric, energy-creating effects. Meth is a highly addictive drug and meth addiction becomes the harsh reality for many people who try it. In addition to addiction, meth has some very serious negative side effects and is associated with violence and crime.
Treatment for meth addiction is possible, though long-term treatment is often necessary to help a person achieve long-term recovery. The effects of meth on the brain cause damage that can take up to two years to repair, which is a main reason behind the need for treatment, and the need for long-term care.
How is Meth Abused?
Methamphetamine is found either in a powder form or a rock form. Either of these can also be processed into a liquid for the purposes of injection. The high that people get will be partially determined by the method that they use, especially the length of the high and its intensity. The initial intense rush lasts anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes while the other effects can persist for up to 12 hours.
Meth can be abused in four main ways:
- Taken orally
Each of these different ways also has different long-term effects. Injection, for example, puts people at a greater risk for blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. Smoking it, on the other hand, comes with a greater risk for respiratory infection.
Street Names for Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine street names are names that are used to mask drug use for people who sell it and/or abuse it. Street names tend to change often, but these are some of the most common ones:
- Crystal meth
- Redneck cocaine
- Tick tick
Effects of Methamphetamine
Meth is a stimulant and a very powerful amphetamine. As such, its effects are powerful and stimulating. According to the University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research, meth mimics the effects of dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that affect mood and movement. It causes a release of these neurotransmitters, which is responsible for the ‘rush’ of meth. After the rush wears off, users still feel alert and on edge for up to 12 hours.
Once the meth effects wear off the user’s brain is depleted of dopamine. This causes negative psychological symptoms and is often associated with severely depressive symptoms. This cycle of extreme highs and lows gets people hooked very quickly on meth.
Short-term Effects of Meth
These short-term effects are effects that users experience when under the influence of methamphetamine:
- Rush of euphoria, surge of energy
- Increased physical activity
- Increased blood pressure, breathing rate
- Dangerously elevated body temperature
- Irregular heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
- Paranoia, irritability
- Unpredictable behavior
- Performing repetitive, meaningless tasks
- Dilated pupils
- Heavy sweating
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Dry mouth
- Uncontrollable jaw clenching
- Seizures, sudden death
Long-term Effects of Meth
The long-term effects of meth are effects that may carry with people for a long time. The potential for being affected by these consequences increases with more chronic, frequent use of methamphetamine.
- Mood disturbances
- Violent behavior
- Psychosis, paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions
- Homicidal or suicidal thoughts
- Damaged nerve cells in the brain
- High blood pressure
- Weakened immune system
- Cracked teeth, other dental hygiene issues
- Sores or skin infections (often caused by delusion of having bugs crawling on skin)
- Stroke, heart disease, lung or kidney diseases
Consequences of Meth Abuse and Addiction
Meth abuse can lead to all of these long-term effects, and puts you at risk for many other health complications and issues. Meth abuse often leads to meth addiction, which is a chronic, relapsing condition. Once addicted, meth users are unable to control their use, use meth despite experiencing negative consequences because of it, and display compulsive drug-seeking behavior. At this point it is hard to keep a job, maintain relationships, good personal hygiene, finances, and more. According to the North Carolina Department of Justice and other sources, it is not uncommon for people who are addicted to meth to commit crimes to get it.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, chronic meth use is associated with chemical and molecular changes in the brain that lead to reduced motor skills and impaired verbal learning. Emotional, cognitive, impulse-control, and decision-making areas of the brain are often compromised, and it can take years for them to heal.
Meth use often causes severe dental degeneration, also called ‘meth mouth’. As well, meth abuse and addiction raise the risk of contracting diseases like HIV and hepatitis C, mainly when the drug is injected.
Meth Addiction Signs and Symptoms
If you believe that someone you love is abusing methamphetamine and/or may be addicted there are some signs that may help you confirm if your suspicions are true. It is important to keep in mind that many people who abuse drugs, including meth, sometimes do several different drugs at once, are very good at hiding their use, or will not show certain symptoms. However, these signs of meth addiction do provide a good guideline for knowing what to look for. According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, meth addiction symptoms can be seen in behavioral, physical, and psychological characteristics.
Behavioral Signs of Meth Addiction:
- Violent or psychotic behavior
- Lack of attention to personal hygiene
- Drop in attendance or performance in work or at school
- Loss of interest in extracurricular activities, previously enjoyed interests
- Unexplained need for money, financial loss
- Sudden changes in friendships, favorite hang outs, or hobbies
- Silent, withdrawn, engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
- Getting into trouble often
- Having periods of prolonged wakefulness followed by periods of sleeping a lot
Physical Symptoms of Meth Addiction:
- Pale, unhealthy complexion
- Cracked teeth, degenerating oral hygiene
- Body sores
- Frequent nosebleeds (if snorting meth)
- Loss of weight due to loss of appetite
- Seizures without history of epilepsy
- Bad breath
- Unstable coordination
Psychological Meth Addiction Signs:
- Irritable and moody, sudden mood changes, angry outbursts or laughing at nothing
- Periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation
- Inability to focus
- Appearing fearful, withdrawn, or anxious for no apparent reason
Meth withdrawal is both a symptom of addiction, and something that fuels it. Withdrawal is a condition that occurs when your body is dependent on a substance and abruptly stops getting it. So, if you are regularly doing methamphetamine and try to stop, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are uncomfortable, and are alleviated by using meth. Therefore, withdrawal often leads to continued drug use and the persistence of addiction.
Meth withdrawal symptoms are largely psychological, though some physical symptoms may occur as well. The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing describes the following symptoms:
- Lethargy and excessive tiredness
- Feelings of intense depression
- Psychotic symptoms
- Poor concentration and memory
- Aches and pains
- Drug cravings
According to a study in the US National Library of Medicine, the depressive meth withdrawal symptoms generally last for about a week, but drug cravings usually last for about two weeks at a high intensity. After two weeks they often continue at a reduced level for until about five weeks after stopping use of the drug.
Meth Addiction Treatment
Meth addiction can be treated and achieving long-term recovery is possible. At this point in time there are no pharmacological treatments, and treatment is largely based on counseling. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes the Matrix Model and the Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR) method as both having shown to be effective in helping people overcome meth addiction.
The Matrix Model is a 16-week intensive intervention that involves both group and individual therapy. It incorporates many therapeutic methods including cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, couples and family therapy, individual therapy, 12-step facilitation, and social support. It helps people in early recovery, with relapse prevention, and with the development of a drug-free lifestyle.
The Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR) Approach, as it sounds, relies primarily on the use of incentives to promote behaviors consistent with abstinence from drug use. Incentives such as coupons or vouchers are rewarded to patients for meeting goals, such as one month without methamphetamine. These goals are re-evaluated throughout treatment, and they are verified through drug testing.
Treatment for meth addiction can take place in a few different settings including:
- Outpatient treatment centers
- Inpatient/residential treatment centers
- Support groups
- Sober living facilities
These facilities vary in the treatment they offer, though most meth treatment programs involve at least some elements of the above described treatments. What kind of treatment center is optimal for which patient depends on various factors including:
- Past drug use
- Existing support system
- Employment situation and family life
- Existence of co-occurring disorders, such as mental health or medical conditions
- Whether or not they have completed treatment previously
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to meth, it is important that you seek help. The effects of meth addiction are progressive, and the longer you wait to get help the more at risk you are for greater consequences.