On the streets, methamphetamine, or meth, goes by a number of different names, such as “crystal,” “speed,” and “crank.” It is an illegal drug that is known for its extremely addictive nature and the destructive impact that it has on the user’s body. In addition to the noticeable physical toll of meth, its effects are also damaging to the brain.
Recognizing Meth Addiction
It may be easier to recognize meth addiction than other drugs, such as alcohol, because it has a dramatic impact on a user’s physical and mental conditions. Some of the following are symptoms of chronic meth abuse:
- Extreme weight loss
- Severe dental problems (sometimes called “meth mouth”)
- Intense itching
- Abnormal sleep patterns
- Confusion or clouded mental states
- Violent behavior
There are many other tell-tale signs, both short and long-term. Getting help for addiction to this dangerous drug is crucial.
Get the Treatment You Deserve
As with most substance abuses, meth use affects both the user and those around them. Because this drug has such intense withdrawal symptoms, detoxification is likely the first step in getting on track. Next, it’s important to work with a treatment facility that understands meth, its effects, and its recovery process.
The True Recovery Difference
Unlike most meth treatment centers, True Recovery offers an alternative program that provides customized care. Our professional staff provides addiction counseling and will work with you to find and pursue your passions in life, which is beneficial during and after the recovery process.
We accept private insurance, including most PPO policies with out-of-network substance abuse treatment benefits. Complete our insurance verification form or call today to speak with an admissions counselor.
Despite numerous efforts over the past decade to curtail the manufacture and use of methamphetamine, the plague of addiction to the substance continues to spread across the United States.
While methamphetamine use briefly saw a decline, due to legislative efforts to control the precursor drugs used to illicitly manufacture it, this decline ultimately was short-lived. Methamphetamine is one of the most addictive substances of abuse, and its chronic use leads to permanent damage of the brain and user’s health.
Methamphetamine causes a vast burden to the communities afflicted by it, with one estimate showing that it cost the economy 23 billion dollars in 2005 alone. The number of annual emergency room visits in the United States associated with methamphetamine abuse often times is greater than 100,000 per year.
While the methamphetamine problem currently takes a backseat to the opioid epidemic in the nation’s consciousness, it still presents an ever-growing national problem.
Methamphetamine acts as a powerful central nervous system stimulant that affects several different areas of the body. Methamphetamine works by triggering the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain.
This ultimately results in approximately a 2600% increase in dopamine concentration in the brain, which is the primary reason methamphetamine is extremely addictive. Once methamphetamine has triggered the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, it indirectly blocks the re-uptake of these transmitters, allowing their concentrations to remain much higher than normal for an extended period of time.
Methamphetamine’s chemical structure has a profound impact on its pharmacological profile. The addition of a single methyl group compared to amphetamine causes two key differences that greatly alter its pharmacology.
First, methamphetamine is more lipid-soluble, allowing it to cross the blood-brain barrier more readily, thus leading to the intense “rush” users experience. Second, the methyl group makes methamphetamine more resistant to enzymatic degradation, which accounts for the much longer duration of effect it has when compared to amphetamine.
Short-term Effects of Methamphetamine Use
Methamphetamine’s ability to act as a stimulant to the central nervous system leads to several profound short-term effects. The chief short-term effect of methamphetamine, which is largely responsible for its highly addictive nature, is its ability to drastically increase dopamine concentrations in the brain by triggering its release.
Dopamine is responsible for pleasure in the brain, and thus leads to an intense euphoria in the user.
Methamphetamine acts as a stimulant, triggering several regions of the brain to produce physical and physiological effects similar to the fight-or-flight response. This results in the user experiencing a burst of energy and motivation. This effect also typically has a profound effect on the user’s mood, often eliciting extreme paranoia and consequently reckless behavior.
Methamphetamine, like the majority of other stimulants, has several effects on mental function. Methamphetamine causes the user to have an intense level of concentration and hyper focus far above the normal baseline.
Along with concentration and focus, methamphetamine also increases the user’s response to alertness and alarm conditions. Finally, methamphetamine greatly diminishes the user’s need or ability to sleep, often times leading to severe insomnia during binge periods.
Methamphetamine, as a strong central nervous system stimulant, also causes several physical short-term effects. Methamphetamine causes the heart rate to increase, along with an increase in blood pressure caused by vasoconstriction. Methamphetamine also has a strong effect on appetite. Users typically experience severe appetite suppression.
Types of Methamphetamine and Use
Methamphetamine exists in three main forms. First, methamphetamine is available legally under the brand name Desoxyn in tablet form. Medicinal methamphetamine is only prescribed under last resort circumstances, however, and its illicit sale on the street is extremely uncommon. The overwhelming majority of methamphetamine abused comes from illicitly produced forms.
Illicit methamphetamine sold on the street can be separated into two distinct types. The first, known as powder methamphetamine, is a white, odorless, and bitter-tasting powder. Powder methamphetamine can be ingested orally, snorted, smoked, or injected. Powder methamphetamine typically is quite impure, containing many leftover and unwanted products from its illicit manufacture.
The other form of methamphetamine is popularly known as crystal meth or ice. The name derives from its clear, glass-like appearance. Crystal methamphetamine represents a much purer form of methamphetamine and is typically smoked or injected.
Methamphetamine Duration of Effect, Half-Life, and Elimination Time from the Body
The effects of methamphetamine abuse typically last for a duration of approximately eight hours when a single dose has been used. While the onset of effect varies depending on the route of use, the duration remains relatively similar.
The half-life of methamphetamine is about ten hours, regardless of the route of administration. In other words, it takes about ten hours for half of the dose of methamphetamine to be removed from the body.
Methamphetamine can typically be detected in urine approximately 60-87 hours after a single dose has been used. The amount of time methamphetamine can be detected in urine after repeated use, however, is typically much greater. Repeated methamphetamine use can often be detected in urine up to an entire week after the last dose.
While methamphetamine overdose is rarely fatal, it very often leads to a medical emergency that accounts for an alarming percentage of emergency room visits in the United States each year. In 2011 alone, for example, 102,961 reported emergency room visits were due to methamphetamine abuse.
The typical signs of a methamphetamine overdose include severe chest pain, hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, and dyspnea. Methamphetamine also can cause serious psychosis, including hallucinations, paranoia, and violent behavior.
Methamphetamine Tolerance and Addiction
Repeated methamphetamine use leads to methamphetamine tolerance developing very rapidly in chronic users. Tolerance to a drug refers to the phenomenon where increasing amounts of drug need to be taken in order for the same effects as previously experienced to be achieved.
Tolerance arises from the brain’s natural reaction to the chronic use of a substance, which is to counter the use by causing adaptive and structural changes to minimize its effect.
Chronic methamphetamine use leads to long-term adaptive changes to the brain that ultimately result in methamphetamine addiction. Repeated methamphetamine abuse causes the overexpression of a transcription factor known as delta-FosB, which in turn causes a drastic change in gene expression.
The changes in genetic expression caused by delta-FosB account for several of the hallmarks of addiction, such as compulsion, behavioral responses, and reinforcement of drug-seeking behavior.
Methamphetamine Withdrawal Syndrome
Chronic methamphetamine abuse and subsequent dependence leads to a specific withdrawal syndrome when use ceases. This withdrawal syndrome is caused by the adaptive changes the body has made in response to counter repeated methamphetamine abuse. The severity of methamphetamine withdrawal accounts for a large portion of what makes the drug so addictive.
The initial onset of methamphetamine withdrawal begins within twenty-four hours of the previous dose, and is broken down into two distinct phases. The first phase is typically referred to as the “crash” phase. This name references one of the most common symptoms of the initial withdrawal phase, which is an increase in fatigue and sleep in users. The initial phase also typically results in the return of appetite in the users. The symptoms of the initial crash phase usually last for one week.
The second phase of methamphetamine withdrawal typically brings on more severe symptoms. The sleep disturbances and fatigue usually continue to persist. Severe dysphoria and lack of motivation are common. The user will also typically be highly irritable, anxious, and experience depression. At this point in the withdrawal, drug obsession and craving will become intense. This typically makes this period of the withdrawal syndrome the most dangerous for relapsing.
Post-acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) and Methamphetamine
Once the initial methamphetamine withdrawal syndrome has passed, a subsequent syndrome with a defined set of symptoms tends to follow, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
While these symptoms typically are not as severe as the initial withdrawal period, they usually persist for much longer periods of time and thus provide a major hurdle for achieving long-term sobriety. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome typically begins after the first few weeks and can last several months.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome occurs due to the adaptive changes to the central nervous system that occurs in response to chronic methamphetamine abuse. These changes, unfortunately, require extended periods of abstinence time to fully heal.
A common example of this phenomenon is the difficulty many people in early sobriety experience, of feeling happiness during activities the brain normally would reward for, such as a nice meal. This is the result of overstimulation of the brain’s reward system by chronic drug use.
The symptoms of methamphetamine post-acute withdrawal syndrome include the continued presence of symptoms characteristic of the initial withdrawal phase, such as sleep disturbances, depression, and craving.
One review found that deficits in executive control functions that result from methamphetamine abuse persisted long after abuse of the drug had ceased. These symptoms and their severity tend to vary from person to person.
Long-term Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse
Methamphetamine addiction leads to several long-term detrimental health effects, some of which are permanent. Methamphetamine is a neurotoxic substance, which means it actually is a toxic substance to the brain.
Methamphetamine damages both dopamine and serotonin receptors, while also damaging neurons in certain regions of the brain. This damage to receptors is similar to Parkinson’s Disease, for which methamphetamine actually increases the risks of developing three-fold.
Methamphetamine use is associated with a severe decline in oral hygiene, a phenomenon known as methmouth. This includes damage to the gums and tooth decay or loss. While the correlation between methamphetamine and poor oral health is strong, it is thought that methmouth occurs indirectly from methamphetamine use.
Users will typically have high sugar diets and poor oral hygiene practices during binges. Methamphetamine also causes dry mouth plus tooth grinding (from being a stimulant), both of which also contribute to methmouth.
Methamphetamine also is associated with the breakdown and loss of skeletal muscle tissue, a process known as rhabdomyolysis. Methamphetamine triggers the release of norepinephrine in very high concentrations.
Norepinephrine, in turn, enhances the thermogenesis (or breakdown for heat) of skeletal muscle, ultimately resulting in the loss of skeletal muscle in chronic users.
Methamphetamine also has profound effects on the mental health of chronic users. Methamphetamine abuse can cause psychosis in users, with one study indicating that up to 40% of methamphetamine addicts suffer from methamphetamine psychosis. These symptoms can include paranoia, violence, delusions, and agitation.
In some users, methamphetamine psychosis can persist after chronic use has stopped, and often mirrors other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
Treatment for Methamphetamine Addiction
As of 2018, there is no pharmacotherapy (such as methadone for heroin addiction, for example) to treat methamphetamine addiction. The changes in which methamphetamine abuse causes to the brain results in a severe psychological dependence on the drug in chronic users that leads to a high rate of relapse.
Admittance to a professional detox facility in which medical professionals can manage some of the symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal greatly increases the likelihood of successfully completing the initial detox phase.
Following the initial stay at detox with an extended stay at an inpatient treatment greatly increases the chances of achieving long-term sobriety. It is during the first month that the depression and craving associated with methamphetamine withdrawal is at its worst, and inpatient treatment can provide the best option for surviving this time period sober.
During an inpatient treatment stay, the user can also learn a new way of life and begin integration into a recovery program (such as Narcotics Anonymous or Crystal Anonymous) which provide the greatest odds for those addicted to methamphetamine to achieve long-term sobriety.