They are gaunt, prone to pick at sores on their pockmarked faces, and their behavior is erratic. Over time, their IQ will deteriorate, and some will have bouts of psychosis. This isn’t all that methamphetamine can do. It will also rot teeth and cause those who use this dangerous stimulant to have their health deteriorate quickly.
While the opioid crisis has captured much of the national consciousness, methamphetamine has returned like a thief in the night.
And the drug, which lawmakers fought with success two decades earlier – is more popular, plentiful and lethal than ever.
In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims deaths related to stimulants — mostly meth — are not only on the rise but killing more people in the United States than when it was a national problem everyone was talking about. Consider these statistics. The number of overdose deaths due to psycho-stimulant abuse – a drug category that includes prescription and illegal stimulants – jumped nearly 30 percent last year. Now compare that to 2017, when 7,663 people died from a stimulant overdose, up from 5,992 in 2016.
The numbers continue to be a cause for alarm. Overall, some 16 million Americans above age 18 are using prescription stimulants. About 400,000 of these are thought to be abusers. Surveys on drug use also show that stimulant use is, in some cases, outpacing opioid consumption.
In 2016, for example, an estimated 2.3 million people started using opioids to get high for the first time, while 2.6 million people started using stimulant drugs for the same purpose. In 2016, an estimated 3.8 million people said they used opioids to get high within a one-month time frame, while 4.3 million said the same about stimulants.
By giving the body a boost, these types of drugs do what they say. In other words, they stimulate the body by providing individuals with more energy and, in some cases, the ability to focus and complete complicated tasks. This makes stimulants extremely attractive and often abused by academics, young professionals, and overachieving parents as much as by those who are interested in these drugs as a recreational activity.
The pharmaceutical industry first introduced amphetamines to the public in the 1950s for use as a diet drug or antidepressant. Today, stimulants range from caffeine and nicotine to illicit drugs like methamphetamine, crystal meth, cocaine and crack cocaine to prescription medications for ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), such as Adderall and Ritalin.
Doctors have, in the past, prescribed stimulants to treat conditions ranging from obesity to asthma and their use has gone through cycles. In the early 1980s and early 1990s, for instance, crack cocaine abuse surged. By the turn of the century, meth poured out of domestic labs like those found in the hit television series “Breaking Bad.” Today, apart from narcolepsy and ADHD conditions, stimulants are prescribed far less frequently because of the heightened awareness about their potential for abuse.
Any use of illicit stimulant drugs like cocaine or crystal meth can be deadly. Because of a propensity for paranoia and poor decision-making, law authorities link violent crime closely to the use of illegal stimulants.
On the other hand, about 5 million Americans illegally use prescription stimulants. The majority are adults seeking to boost their concentration and mental stamina over extended periods. Some researchers have disputed the effects of prescription stimulants on the body. Contrary to public perceptions, they conclude that cognitive improvement is minimal and often inconsistent. The use of prescription stimulants does lead to a host of other issues.
What are the Stimulant Withdrawal Symptoms?
Withdrawal symptoms from stimulants produce completely opposite effects from the primary reasons for its use. Instead of a boost to the body and heightened awareness, the stoppage of stimulants may provoke suicidal thoughts, anxiety, fatigue, and low energy as well as uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms including:
- Uneasiness including anxiousness, irritability
- Exhaustion or lethargy
- Vivid, unpleasant dreams
- Trouble sleeping
- Change in appetite
- Low desire for sex and recreational activities
For these reasons, people often choose to seek out more stimulants and continue abusive drug use. But stimulant abuse can contribute to elevated breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, thus creating the potential for a cardiac emergency. However, withdrawal is rarely life-threatening. It can present several physical challenges including:
- Disheveled appearance
- Slowed reflexes and dexterity
- Poor eye contact
- Pockmarked and pale skin
What are the Stages of the Stimulant Withdrawal Timeline?
Withdrawal – when the body is deprived of a drug, and the brain begins to function on its own without the assistance of a stimulant – will depend on several factors including the typical dosage and length of dependency. Many of the symptoms of withdrawal will emerge in a few hours after use has stopped and continue for several days. A timeline can be broken down into the following stages:
Anxiousness, sadness, agitation, and depression along with intense cravings may set in immediately after ceasing use.
The abuser will experience mental and physical exhaustion, trouble sleeping, and a more intense state of depression.
About 12 hours into withdrawal, symptoms including cravings for the stimulant will continue to increase and go on for days or weeks.
The type of stimulant that is abused will matter. The side effects of cocaine, for instance, can be expected to diminish after a few hours, but methamphetamines may progress over a greater period.
Why Should I Detox?
Don’t worry. Yes, stimulant withdrawal is not, for the most part, life-threatening. However, the probability of depression and the extension of those feelings could lead to suicidal thoughts. These feelings can be bearable to some, yet dangerous to others. For this reason, a treatment plan that includes detox at an inpatient facility under the care of trained medical professionals is usually a good idea.
Not only can these caregivers provide antidepressants, sedatives, and anti-anxiety medicines to help patients cope with withdrawal symptoms, they can also offer encouragement and support to combat cravings and resist relapse in a quiet and comfortable environment.
What is the Next Treatment Step?
Although detox from illicit drugs like meth and cocaine or prescription stimulants including Ritalin and Adderall is the first step on a path toward independence and a healthier, more productive lifestyle, there is more to achieving sustained sobriety than you may think.
Serious-minded patients committed to recovery should consider inpatient rehabilitation that offers one-on-one counseling, both cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy, educational workshops, and more. When the threat of relapse has significantly subsided, and you have proven that you can live on your own, you may want to continue outpatient treatment services.