What Is Meth?
Methamphetamine is a strong, highly addictive Schedule II stimulant drug. Methamphetamine use affects the central nervous system by flooding your neurotransmitters with the brain’s reward chemical, dopamine.
Crystal meth is highly addictive, dangerous, and has no medical use. Crystal meth is taken by smoking, snorting, swallowing, or injecting the drug.
Prescription Methamphetamine VS Crystal Meth
Methamphetamine was originally developed in the 20th century from the drug amphetamine and was used to help WWII soldiers stay awake. Later, methamphetamine was prescribed for depression and weight loss.
Currently, there is only one methamphetamine medication (Desoxyn®) approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is used to treat attention deficit issues such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). This medication is rarely prescribed.
Most meth out on the street today is a result of illegal crystal meth production. Crystal meth is made illegally in clandestine laboratories, or “meth labs.” The production of crystal meth is dangerous due to the chemicals involved in the process, which sometimes result in large explosions.
Methamphetamine Side Effects
Using prescription methamphetamine medication does pose some risks. These risks increase significantly with methamphetamine abuse.
Abusing meth, including crystal meth, can cause the following short-term effects:
- Anxiety or paranoia
- Compulsive scratching
- Weight loss
- Increased wakefulness
- Raised body temperature
- High blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
Prolonged meth abuse can also cause long-term effects like substance use disorder and addiction, as well as the following long-term issues:
- Liver damage
- Memory loss
- Acne or sores
- Extreme weight loss
- Rotted teeth (meth mouth)
- Nerve damage
- Decreased immunity
- Violent behavior
- Psychosis (including hallucinations, mood swings, paranoia, aggression, and delusions)
- Increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis through risky behavior
- Long-term mental illness or permanent damage to the brain
Researchers are currently examining the possible relationship between methamphetamine and serotonin, which may explain why some meth users experience such severe aggression and psychosis.
Long-term mental health effects from prolonged meth use are quite common, and some individuals may never recover from the lasting damage to their brains. That is why it is so important to seek treatment for meth addiction as soon as possible.
Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction
Methamphetamine and crystal meth are highly addictive. When misused, meth gives the user a euphoric feeling as dopamine levels spike in the brain. This high is what makes methamphetamine users so prone to developing drug addiction rather quickly.
Drug users may also combine meth with other drugs, but not all addicts are aware that their crystal meth contains other substances. According to data collected by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), opioids (particularly fentanyl) are getting mixed into meth and other drugs without the user’s knowledge. As a result, opioid overdose deaths have increased significantly since 2016.
Because meth use takes such a significant toll on the body, a user should seek help for addiction as soon as possible.
Symptoms of a meth overdose can include:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Violent behavior
- Kidney failure (urinating less, urine is very dark)
A methamphetamine overdose can also cause potentially deadly health complications like heart attack, stroke, or organ failure. Even if the victim survives the overdose they can still face permanent physical consequences afterward, such as loss of coordination and muscle function after a stroke.
First responders and emergency department physicians aim to treat the conditions caused by the overdose.
Overdose treatment can include various methods, including:
- Monitoring vital organs
- Administering activated charcoal to flush the system
- X-rays and blood tests
- Administering fluids or oxygen
A meth overdose can happen even if the person hasn’t taken a large dose because meth builds up in your system over time. And because crystal meth production varies, someone can accidentally overdose even if they’ve had meth before.
If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose from meth, call 911 immediately.
Meth withdrawals occur when the body eliminates the drug from its system, also known as detox.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Strong cravings for the drug
- Severe depression
- Psychosis (can last up to a year)
Detoxing from meth can be unpleasant and even dangerous without medical support. Addicts are strongly encouraged to seek professional treatment when stopping their meth use.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports over 93,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2020. Since 2015, the number of drug overdoses involving methamphetamine has tripled.
In 2017, roughly 15% of all drug overdose deaths were meth-related–and 50% of those deaths also involved a synthetic opioid (such as fentanyl).
The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicates that about 1.6 million Americans used meth within the past year; 774,000 people claimed to have used meth within the past month.
In September 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a public safety warning due to a sharp increase in counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and meth, resulting in more overdoses and deaths.
According to research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the use of methamphetamine is most prevalent among middle-aged white people.
Methamphetamine Addiction Treatment
Meth addiction is a treatable disorder, and there are several treatment options for people who are ready to quit. Choosing the right treatment program for you will depend on your length and level of substance abuse. You can work with a doctor or other health care provider to determine which type of treatment is going to be the best for you and your recovery.
There are both inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities for meth addiction recovery, and most programs will include strong mental health support. There are currently no approved medications to assist with methamphetamine addiction but research in this area is ongoing.
Methamphetamine Treatment Centers
There are multiple treatment center options available for those who wish to quit their addiction to methamphetamine.
A live-in facility where the addict can safely detox under medical supervision. Staff monitors vitals and performs drug testing. The patient receives counseling and mental health support throughout the program.
Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
The patient visits a hospital/treatment center during the week where staff monitors vitals, performs drug tests, and provides therapy. Patients can leave the facility to attend work, visit with family, etc.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
Ideal for minor addiction or to maintain sobriety down the road. Patient visits a facility a few times a week to receive drug testing and individual counseling to maintain their abstinence from methamphetamine.
You can talk with our doctor or other health care professional to determine which program is the best place for you to start your journey to recovery.
Psychological Support for Methamphetamine Addiction
The most effective treatment for methamphetamine addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy.
Psychiatry plays a big role in recovery from meth addiction because methamphetamine actually alters the way your brain works. Most programs will utilize behavioral therapy to cope with stress and avoid turning back to methamphetamine use.
There are two main mental health approaches used for meth addiction treatment:
- Contingency Management Intervention: A reward-based system where the addict receives incentives to remain sober. Rewards could be anything from vouchers to cash incentives.
- The Matrix Model: 16-week program that includes behavioral therapy, 12-step program guidance, drug testing, counseling, and encouragement towards drug-free activity. Includes education for family and loved ones.
Loved Ones of Meth Addicts Need Support Too
Watching a loved one struggle with an addiction to methamphetamine can have a serious impact on your mental health. The physical toll that meth use can take on the addict’s body can be severe, and as a family member or loved one this can be traumatic. It may also place the responsibility of caring for an addict who has suffered long-term or permanent health problems as a result of their addiction.
But just as recovery from meth addiction is possible, support for loved ones of meth addicts is also available. There are local groups such as AA and NA that welcome friends or family to provide them with support. And in today’s internet-based society, there are a host of online support groups, forums, and communities to help you process what you have experienced and might be feeling.
Remember that methadone addiction is a treatable disorder and sometimes the best thing you can do for an addict is provide them with factual information about their drug use and the help that is available to them.
Frequently Asked Questions About Meth Addiction
What is the difference between amphetamine and methamphetamine?
Amphetamine is a stimulant designed to speed up the brain’s communication. It is often used to treat ADHD (Adderall) and is sometimes prescribed for narcolepsy or weight loss.
Methamphetamine was originally derived from amphetamine and used to keep soldiers awake during WWII. While methamphetamine does have one FDA-approved prescription form, most methamphetamine today is illegally produced and distributed.
What are the side effects of meth addiction?
Addiction to meth can include moderate to severe and even permanent side effects, ranging from increased blood pressure, high body temperatures, dizziness, and fatigue to extreme weight loss rotted teeth, heart attack, stroke, homicidal or suicidal thoughts or behaviors, organ failure, psychosis, delusions, seizures, and death.
How are methamphetamine addicts treated?
Meth not only affects the body physically, but it can also alter the brain’s natural chemicals even after an addict stops using. The most effective treatment for meth addiction recovery is behavioral therapy, focusing on abstaining from meth use even when triggered by stress.