Methamphetamine, meth, or crystal meth, are all names for N-methyl-1-phenylpropan-2-amine, the same potent stimulant that is typically smoked, but also injected, snorted, and swallowed across the country.
Meth is a Schedule II drug, meaning it is tightly controlled due to its high potential for abuse and addiction. Meth’s effects can take hours to wear off.
An extensive NIDA survey found that in the short period between 2015 and 2019, meth abuse increased by 43%, and frequent meth abuse increased by 66%. Concurrently, overdose deaths related to psychostimulants (primarily meth) increased from 5,716 to 23,837 in the similar period of 2015-2020.
Recognizing the Signs of Meth Addiction
Recognizing the signs of addiction early and accessing treatment is the best line of defense against this shattering condition. If you are a user or if you are concerned a loved one may be using meth, keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Reduced appetite or unexplained weight loss
- Dilated pupils
- Swings of excitement and high energy
- Rapid eye movement
- Focus and/or memory problems
- Changes to sleep patterns, especially lack of sleep
- Unstable emotional patterns
- Changes in sex drive
- Irritability and aggression
Meth abuse is highly stigmatized in the US, and it is unlikely that a recent user will disclose their developing habit with you. Telltale non-symptomatic signs of an addiction include social withdrawal, loss of interest in hobbies, unexplained financial loss, and usage paraphernalia such as glass pipes.
The most common side effect of long-term abuse or frequent bingeing is the development of physiological dependence. Physiological dependence means the state of the brain once it has adjusted to the effects of a substance, and has begun to require it for normal regulation of bodily systems.
When meth is used, it causes a huge amount of dopamine to be released. It can take a long time for the dopamine in your body to replenish and to reach normal levels again. This is often why you will feel an urge to take more meth to feel ‘normal’. This is also when you may experience strong cravings to use meth again. If you continue to use meth regularly, your brain will struggle to cope with so much stimulation. Gradually over time, the brain shuts down many of its dopamine transmitters and receivers.
You may also find that you need to consume higher quantities of meth to get the original rush that you felt, which is referred to as tolerance and generally accompanies meth dependance.
Symptoms of Meth Abuse
There are a range of physical and psychological symptoms of meth abuse to look out for.
Knowing the symptoms of meth abuse could help you support someone that you know to seek treatment for meth addiction. Common symptoms of meth abuse include :
- Malnutrition and weight loss
- Muscle atrophy
- Premature aging
- Respiratory issues
- Acne or sores
- Brain damage
- Kidney and liver failure
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Sudden cardiac failure
- Rotting teeth and gum disease
- Lowered immunity/susceptibility to infectious disease
- Increased libido
- Intense scratching
- increased energy
Diagnosing Meth Addiction
To receive a diagnosis of SUD, you must demonstrate two of the criteria within a 12-month period:
- Consuming meth in larger quantities or for longer than you should
- Trying to or expressing intent to reduce consumption of meth without managing to
- Spending a lot of time consuming, sourcing or recovering from meth
- Craving meth
- Not completing what you are expected to at work, home, or school because of meth use
- Continuing to consume meth, despite social, emotional, or personal issues it is causing
- Not engaging in hobbies or recreational activities as a result of meth use
- Using meth repeatedly, although you know the dangers
- Using meth, even when you are aware that a psychological problem has been caused or exacerbated by meth
- Experiencing increased tolerance to meth, so you need to consume more to feel the effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which are relieved by taking more meth
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Treating the Symptoms of Meth Abuse and Addiction
The first step in meth addiction treatment is detoxification. Detox describes the period and treatment associated with the body’s adjustment to no longer having meth in the system. As meth is a highly addictive drug and withdrawal symptoms can be painful, relapse is common. Undergoing professional detox in an inpatient setting involves compassionate support, as well as the possibility of pharmaceutical interventions that can alleviate symptoms.
Many treatment modalities are available to individuals struggling with meth abuse, and these methods can be adapted to each client’s case, including:
- CBT: structured therapy that develops coping strategies and parses the negative thought patterns that lead to self-destructive use
- One-to-one and group therapy: One-to-one counseling has a greater potential to become deep, personalized, and adaptive to the individual’s needs. Group therapy can offer wider perspectives and supportive group input.