Methamphetamine Addiction

Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction

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Meth (Methamphetamine) is a powerful and intense synthetic stimulant that is used to reach a quick “high” (an intense euphoric reaction to a drug). It is not considered to be physically addictive, but it is exceptionally psychologically addictive and withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, fatigue, severe depression, psychosis, and intense drug cravings. When injected or smoked, the meth immediately produces a rush of dopamine (dopamine controls the brain’s pleasure and reward centers), which is released in the brain and causes an intense high or “flash.” The effects are short-lived, only a few minutes, but it is considered to be tremendously pleasurable. Because of the short-term effects, many people often abuse this drug repeatedly in a binge and crash pattern and sometimes will even give up food and sleep while continuously taking the drug every few hours.

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Approximately 1.6 million individuals reported using methamphetamine in the past year in 2017 and the average age of a new user in 2016 was 23 years old. An estimated 964,000 people aged 12 or older had a methamphetamine use disorder in 2017 and about 15 percent of all drug overdoses involved methamphetamine compared to 50 percent of overdose deaths that involved opioids. After being a widely popular pharmaceutical drug on the market, methamphetamine became classified as a schedule II drug under the Controlled Substance Act in 1971 and addiction declined but in the 1980s meth addiction increased once again as meth became a popular street drug. The key ingredients in meth are the stimulants ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, which is often found in over the counter cold medicines. These ingredients are “cooked in a lab or a remote home and made into a consumable pill, powder, or glass fragment. Meth labs are notoriously dangerous and very illegal because the byproducts of the drug’s creation process are extremely toxic and combustible. Meth is very popular in remote and rural areas.

What does methamphetamine look like?

It is a white, bitter-tasting, odorless crystalline powder that dissolves easily in alcohol or water. It can also be yellow, brown or pink in color. Crystal methamphetamine is a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny blue rocks and is often referred to as ice. This crystal or rock form is usually smoked. Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug produced in underground laboratories, basements, kitchens or anywhere that has a stove a few household ingredients. Some of the standard elements that compose meth include drain cleaner, antifreeze, rat poison, battery acid, and kerosene. In some cases, methamphetamine is cut with prescription medications, ranging from antidepressants to laxatives. Common street names for methamphetamine include blue, crystal, ice, meth, and speed and can be smoked, swallowed in pill form, snorted, or injected in powder form after being dissolved in water.

How long does methamphetamine stay in your body?

Methamphetamine usually takes about 2-10 days to leave the body, depending on the individual’s age, body weight, how much drug the individual has used, and the functioning of their liver and kidneys. Urine can detect methamphetamine for up to 72 hours, blood tests can detect methamphetamine for up to 48 hours, saliva tests can detect the drug one to two days after last use, and hair tests can detect the drug for up to three months.

Why is meth so dangerous?

Meth is three times as powerful as cocaine and is among the most difficult drugs to permanently quit Methamphetamines are not only dangerous due to their addictive properties, but they are exceptionally dangerous because of their ingredients. When this mixture of poisons in methamphetamine is consumed, it attacks and begins to destroy the brain and central nervous system. These toxic ingredients also affect a person’s dental structure. It produces what is called “meth mouth.” Meth mouth is the deterioration of an abuser’s teeth and gums, and the roots decompose from the inside out. This dangerous drug has several other nicknames such as speed, chalk, redneck cocaine, ice, crystal, crank, meth, speed, and glass. Due to the fact that it is a stimulant, meth provides potent effects, all of which can be extremely appealing to users, such as:

  • Heightened energy
  • Increased alertness
  • Improved concentration
  • Amplified confidence

Signs and symptoms of methamphetamine abuse

Meth abuse does not create a physical dependency, but it quickly develops into a vicious psychological addiction. The quick and intense euphoric feelings that are felt and the changes in the brain lead the abuser to have a mental dependency on meth. There are signs that are exhibited when a person is high on methamphetamines. Methamphetamine is known to be extremely addictive because of the intense euphoric high it produces and as a result, it can be very difficult to get clean from meth. These are some examples of the signs:

  • Euphoria
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Aggressive and violent behavior
  • Severe dental problems
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Dilation of pupils
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Nausea
 

Another consequence of using meth is the onset of obsessive behaviors. People may begin to participate in repetitive activities and behaviors for prolonged periods of time as a result of meth destroying the brain’s inhibitory control.

Paranoia and aggression also often result from meth use, as does the onset of hallucinations and delusions, including feeling things such as having bugs crawling under their skin and hearing voices that are not really there.

Meth use can directly impair a person’s frontal lobe, which is the area of the brain responsible for:

  • Controlling impulses
  • Understanding the consequences of one’s behavior
  • Governing sound judgment

As a result of the long-lasting cognitive impairment that meth users experience, their ability to learn new things becomes clouded, and performing basic verbal and motor skills can suddenly become difficult.

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What is the difference between amphetamine and methamphetamine?

Amphetamines are a group of stimulant drugs that affect the central nervous system by having psychoactive properties. Methamphetamine is a class of amphetamines that are often abused in illicit forms, commonly known as crystal meth. Structurally similar to amphetamines, methamphetamine is much more potent, last longer and results in a higher potential of abuse. Methamphetamine is also made from harmful household ingredients potentially resulting in worsening side effects compared to amphetamines.

Amphetamines are often prescribed from stimulant effects and are now used for individuals with obesity, narcolepsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Common brands of prescription amphetamines include Adderall, Desoxyn, Dexedrine, and DextroStat. When an individual without ADHD or a sleep disorder abuses amphetamines, the drug can produce euphoria and a highly energized state. Adderall is often abused among college and high school students as a potent study drug, enabling students to stay up all night and cram before a big exam.

Methamphetamine and other drugs

Oftentimes individuals will mix methamphetamines with other substances such as alcohol, opiates, Xanax, Suboxone, Viagra, and ecstasy.

  • Methamphetamine and alcohol: The stimulant effects of methamphetamines can often mask the sedative effects of alcohol, which can lead an individual to drink more than they would typically consume.
  • Methamphetamine and opioids: Individuals often mix meth and opioids for the polydrug combination known as “speedball”. Morphine is one of the most common opioids used for this combination. A speedball can have serious side effects and will often cause the user to have problems walking, as well as decreased response times, which can increase the risk of self-injury.
  • Methamphetamine and Xanax: Anxiety is a well-known side effect from methamphetamine abuse and Xanax is often used to combat this feeling however when Xanax and meth are mixed, cardiac complications can often occur.
  • Methamphetamine and Viagra: Viagra and methamphetamine are both associated with risky sexual behavior and this combination can increase sexual promiscuity leading to higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases especially among gay men.

How to quit methamphetamine

The most effective treatment approaches for individuals who abuse methamphetamines are behavioral and psychotherapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, family education, 12-step programs, and contingency management interventions. Contingency management interventions provide tangible incentives in exchange for actively engaging in treatment and abstaining from methamphetamine use. Cognitive behavioral therapy specifically concentrates on patterns of abnormal thinking and distorted beliefs that are the underlying causes of irrational emotions and thought patterns that can lead to mental illness. This key concept for this type of therapy approach lies within the idea that thoughts and feelings are directly related to behavior and therefore gaining control of one’s thoughts and emotions can better dictate their behavior. Unlike opioid, alcohol and benzodiazepine addiction, there are no medications that have been deemed safe and effective for the treatment of methamphetamine addiction.