Methamphetamine is a potent stimulant that can create significant physical and psychological problems that can worsen after long-term use. Even with the current opioid epidemic in the U.S., crystal meth remains a significant problem in some parts of the country.
Last year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that more than one percent of American 12th graders have tried meth at some point, and three percent of people between the ages of 18 and 25 have tried it. In the early 2000s, meth started declining in use, but the numbers have since stabilized.
If you or someone you know is using meth, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of a substance use disorder. Meth is a particularly toxic drug with a high risk for addiction. But even though meth addiction is a chronic disease that’s difficult to overcome, it’s possible to get sober with the right treatment. By learning to recognize the signs of addiction, you can get the help you need more quickly, which can help you avoid some of the most severe consequences.
Methamphetamine (aka crystal meth) is a powerful stimulant that was once used as a medicinal substance, but it’s now primarily used as a recreational drug. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of ADHD and obesity, but it has since been replaced by other alternatives. The FDA notes that the drug’s usefulness may not outweigh its potential risks.
Meth works by stimulating the nervous system and influencing some natural chemical processes. Like other stimulants, it primarily affects dopamine, and (to a lesser extent) norepinephrine. These naturally occurring chemicals are closely tied to your mood and motivation.
When they’re released into your nervous system, they can lift your mood and make you feel energized. Excessive amounts of the chemicals are removed and recycled through a process called reuptake.
Meth has a powerful impact on this process. First, it increases the production of these chemicals, then it blocks reuptake. Therefore, large amounts of the chemical are stuck in your system and able to bind to more receptors, which causes profound effects. Meth can cause increased stamina, cognitive and physical euphoria, increased libido, a feeling of empowerment, increased motivation, and an inflated ego.
Meth can also cause a wide variety of adverse reactions, including an abnormal heartbeat, increased blood pressure, dehydration, muscle spasms, increased body temperature, and insomnia. As a meth high wears off, you may also feel anxiety, depression, apathy, and suicidal ideation.
Unlike other drugs, meth addiction can occur if you use the drug a few times in close succession. One of the first signs of meth addiction is a growing tolerance. Meth often encourages compulsive binging. Since highs wear off relatively quickly, users often take frequent hits, which can cause them to quickly build up a chemical dependence.
The first sign of addiction is a growing tolerance. If you notice that your normal dose is starting to become less effective, your brain is getting used to the meth in your system. (Note:
multiple hits cause you to release more dopamine than you can quickly replace, which creates a temporary tolerance.)
Dependence occurs when your brain starts relying on the drug. If you stop using it, you’ll start experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including:
Meth addiction can be treated with medical care and psychotherapy, but it’s important for treatment plans to be individualized. Addiction can come with a variety of underlying causes, so it can be difficult to pinpoint one root. Moreover, addiction can cause a variety of consequences that can complicate treatment if they’re not addressed. So when you first enter treatment, you’ll go through an assessment process that’s designed to determine the best treatment plan for your specific needs. No two treatment plans should be completely identical.
After your initial assessment, you’ll be placed in a level of care that’s ideal for your needs. If you have pressing medical needs that require immediate, intensive care, you may enter a medical detox program. Generally, detox is used for people who go through life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Meth withdrawal isn’t usually fatal, but it can cause symptoms of extreme depression. In many cases, meth withdrawal can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions. Medical detox may also be necessary if you’ve developed a chemical dependence on another drug in addition to meth, especially benzodiazepines or alcohol.
If you have pressing medical or psychological needs, you may go through an inpatient program. This treatment involves 24/7 clinical care, and it helps monitor any ongoing health concerns. Residential programs also give you access to treatment services and housing, and it’s ideal for someone who doesn’t have a healthy home environment.
If you’re able to live independently, you may go to an intensive outpatient program (IOP) that involves up to 12 hours of clinical treatment per day. After you complete IOP, you may progress to outpatient treatment, which involves up to nine hours of treatment per week. This level serves as a crucial step between more intensive levels of care and independent life.
Through addiction treatment, you’ll go through a variety of therapy options, depending on your needs and a treatment plan. You may attend individual, group, or family therapy, and you’ll most likely go through some type of behavioral therapy, which is the most commonly recommended option.
American Society of Addiction Medicine. (n.d.). What is the ASAM Criteria? from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Methamphetamine. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/methamphetamine
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Behavioral Therapies. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-therapies