Understanding meth addiction
Methamphetamine, known as “crank,” “chalk,” “glass,” “ice,” and “crystal” on the streets is a highly potent central nervous system stimulant that is similar in chemical structure to amphetamines. Meth is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalized powder that dissolves easily in water or alcohol and can be abused orally, intranasally, by injection, or by smoking. Although meth is occasionally prescribed by a physician for limited medicinal usage, the dosages which meth is prescribed are generally much lower than the doses found in the illegal, street version of the drug. Often considered the most dangerous drug in the world due to its high potential for abuse and addiction. Most of the methamphetamines, or crystal meth that is abused in the United States is produced by foreign or domestic super labs, although meth can be easily produced in small clandestine laboratories.
Methamphetamines increase the release and inhibits the reuptake of the neurotransmitter dopamine, often termed “the pleasure chemical” as it is involved in reward, motivation, feelings of pleasure, and gross motor function. The increase in dopamine levels in the brain is a common mechanism of action for many drugs of abuse. The surges of dopamine in the reward center of the brain creates unparalleled euphoria and a rush of pleasure. Chronic abuse of methamphetamines significantly alters the functioning of the brain; brain imaging studies have demonstrated changes in the activity in the dopamine pathways associated with diminished motor skills and impaired verbal learning. New studies have revealed serious structural and functional changes in parts of the brain associated with memory and emotion, which may account for the emotional and cognitive problems associated with chronic meth abuse.
Continued usage of methamphetamines can cause addiction, which is a chronic, relapsing disease typified by uncontrollable drug seeking and use, along with molecular and chemical changes within the brain. Some of these changes last long after a meth addict becomes sober. After long periods of abstinence, it may be possible to reverse some of these neurological changes.
Many individuals who abuse methamphetamines combine it with additional types of drugs. Some people use methamphetamine with other stimulants such as cocaine in order to further increase feelings of grandiosity and pleasure. This combination of uppers can lead very quickly to overdose and cardiovascular complications. Others use meth with central nervous system depressants such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opiates. This combination of a CNS stimulant and CNS depressant can lead to cardiovascular combinations, stroke, and death.
Statistics of meth addiction
In 2008, the United States government reported that about 13 million people over the age of 12 have used meth and over 500,000 of these individuals are regular users. It’s estimated that for every $1,000 in materials for producing meth, $20,000 of methamphetamines are produced.
Many individuals who struggle with methamphetamine addiction also struggle with co-occurring mental disorders. These may include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Antisocial personality disorder
Causes of meth addiction
Researchers do not believe that addiction to drugs such as methamphetamines is the result of one single factor; rather it is the interplaying of several factors comingling. The causes for methamphetamine addiction may include:
Genetic: It’s been well documented that men and women who have a first-degree relative who struggles with addiction are more likely to develop an addiction themselves.
Brain Chemistry: It’s been suggested that certain people are born lacking chemicals in the brain that allow for feelings of happiness and pleasure. These individuals may self-medicate with drugs such as methamphetamine which are known for creating false feelings of pleasure.
Environmental: Men and women who are born into families in which addiction is present may learn that abusing drugs is the proper way to cope with life stresses and negative emotions. This can lead to the development of addiction later in life. Additionally, people who begin to abuse drugs earlier are more apt to develop an addiction than those who wait to experiment with drugs or alcohol.
Psychological: Many people who struggle with addiction are also struggling with co-occurring mental disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder. Methamphetamine is often abused as a way for individuals with undertreated or undiagnosed mental health disorders to self-medicate their symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of meth addiction
The signs and symptoms of methamphetamine abuse will vary upon individual genetic makeup, length of use, and frequency of use and differ from person to person. Common symptoms of methamphetamine abuse include:
- Increased wakefulness
- Increased physical exertion
- Intense euphoria and rush
- Decreased appetite
- Increased respiration rate
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Hyperthermia – increase in core body temperature
- Extreme weight loss
- Meth mouth
- Mood disturbances
- Violent behaviors
- Inability to maintain responsibilities at work, home, or socially
- Social withdrawal
- Extreme paranoia
- Visual hallucinations – meth bugs
- Delusions – feelings of bugs crawling under the skin
- Auditory hallucinations
- Engaging in risky behaviors such as unsafe sex and illegal activities
- Legal consequences
- Strained interpersonal relationships
Effects of meth addiction
Methamphetamine is an incredibly dangerous drug and the effects of using meth for an extended period of time can lead to extremely dire consequences that impact every organ system and every area of an addict’s life. The most common effects of methamphetamine addiction include:
- Social isolation
- Loss of interpersonal relationships
- Loss of gainful employment
- Repetitive motor activity
- “Meth Mouth”
- Infections and abscesses at injection site
- Bloodborne pathogens from dirty needle usage – hepatitis B and C, HIV/AIDS
- Deterioration of mental state
- Deterioration of emotional wellbeing
- Worsening of HIV/AIDS
- Heart attack
- Cardiovascular collapse
- Death by overdose
Withdrawal symptoms of meth addiction
Withdrawal symptoms from methamphetamines will vary from person to person based upon the presence of other illegal drugs, length of abuse, frequency of use, and genetic makeup. While not generally life-threatening, withdrawal from methamphetamines should always occur under the watchful eyes of trained medical personnel. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms from meth include:
- Intense hunger
- Intense cravings for meth
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors