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Learn about meth addiction and substance abuse
Methamphetamine (also known as meth, crystal, or ice) is an extremely addictive drug that can be swallowed, smoked, injected, or snorted. It comes in the form of a white or yellowish powder, crystals, or a pill, and has been labeled a Schedule II drug by the United States DEA. Often called the most dangerous drug in the world, meth’s effects can last for varying lengths of time depending on the amount that a person uses. Often, users “binge” on meth, or use a great deal in a short period of time, which can lead to hours upon hours where a person goes without eating, sleeping, or resting. The effects of meth are caused by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can induce the pleasurable rush associated with this drug. The ability of meth to quickly release dopamine in the pleasure and reward center of the brain can lead a casual user to quickly become addicted to these pleasurable sensations.
However, with proper support, rehab, detox, and treatment programs, individuals who are addicted to meth can learn the skills needed to kick the habit and lead a normal, happy, and sober life.
Meth addiction statistics
In 2008, the United States government reported that approximately 13 million people over the age of 12 have used methamphetamine. Nearly 600,000 of those people are regular “tweakers” (or meth users).
Causes and risk factors for meth addiction
An addiction to methamphetamines and other drugs is not believed to be the result of a single risk factor; rather, it is the complex interplay of genetic, physical, and environmental risk factors working together. These include:
Genetic: The development of an addiction to methamphetamine may be attributed to genetic factors. Variations in the different types of genes can increase or decrease one’s level of risk or resistance to developing an addiction to any kind of substance, and meth is no exception.
Physical: When people use meth, their brain experiences a surge of dopamine, which leads to an intense sense of pleasure and a prolonged sense of euphoria. The longer a person uses meth, the greater the level of destruction to their dopamine receptors. As a result, the brain has difficulty feeling sensations of pleasure, which explains why chronic meth users develop the need to increase the amount of the drug that they intake.
Environmental: The environment in which a person lives can have an impact on whether they begin to use methamphetamine. People who live in areas that have a high population of meth abuse are at greater risk for experimentation with the drug. Similarly, if people have a tumultuous home life or experience a lot of family and relationship discord, they may be more likely to develop an addiction to methamphetamine as a means of escaping from the reality of their daily lives. People may also use meth as a way to self-medicate if they are suffering from symptoms of other illnesses, including medical and/or mental illnesses.
- Family history of drug use
- Family history of crime
- Using other substances
- Pre-existing mental illness
- Peer pressure
- Location in which a person lives (meth abuse is more prominent in some areas of the country than in others)
Signs and symptoms of meth addiction
It’s important to note that not every person who uses methamphetamine will exhibit the same signs and symptoms. The signs and symptoms of meth abuse will vary based upon individual genetic makeup, presence of other drugs in the system, co-occurring mental health disorders, and length of addiction. Typical signs and symptoms that a person using meth may possibly exhibit include, but are not limited to:
- Chaotic behavior
- Physical aggression
- Sudden bouts of hyperactivity
- Social withdrawal
- Criminal activity
- Engaging in repetitive activities (such as disassembling and reassembling things for no apparent reason)
- Incessant talking
- Excessive sweating
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in physical appearance
- Increase in body temperature
- Involuntary muscle contractions
- Uncontrollable twitching
- Facial tics
- Unusual or foul body odor
- Loss of memory
- Difficulty learning
- Poor judgment
- Extreme mood swings
- Severe depression
- Loss of interest in things one used to be interested in
Effects of meth addiction
The effects of meth abuse will vary from person to person depending on the extent and length of abuse. The following are examples of effects that can occur from abusing meth:
- Social isolation
- Broken relationships
- Job loss
- Long-lasting cognitive impairment
- Significant changes in appearance, including:
- Rotting teeth
- Poor hygiene
- Graying skin
- Open sores on the skin
- Dramatic weight loss
- Hair loss
People who inject the drug also put themselves at risk for contracting diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. And tragically, extensive meth abuse can result in death.
Effects of withdrawal and overdose
When people who are addicted to methamphetamine stop using the drug, the levels of dopamine in their brain decrease, leaving them at risk for suffering from various physiological withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms can include:
- Substantial weight gain
- Hypersomnia (increased need for sleep)
- Increased depression
- Suicidal ideation
- Loss of energy
- Loss of ability to experience pleasure
- Complete physical exhaustion
- Intensified cravings
It is reported that, due to the fact that withdrawal from meth can be difficult and painful, approximately 93% of people who participate in treatment will end up using the drug again.
When people use the drug in large amounts, side effects may become so severe that it leads to an overdose. Some signs that a person may be experiencing an overdose of meth can include:
- Chest pain
- Heart attack
- Difficulty breathing
- Kidney failure
- Severe stomach pain
- The stopping of one’s heart
- Falling into a coma
If a person experiences these symptoms, they should be treated immediately by a medical professional. A methamphetamine overdose can be fatal.
Meth addiction and co-occurring disorders
It is not uncommon for someone who is struggling with an addiction to meth to also suffer from other forms of mental illness. Some examples of co-occurring, comorbid mental disorders that have been linked to meth use include:
- Abuse of other drugs or alcohol
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder