Methamphetamine addiction is the result of a highly addictive and powerful substance being used illegally across the world. In the United States, approximately 1.2 million people reported using methamphetamine illegally in the last year. The average age of new methamphetamine users is 19.7 years old (2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health). The drug has devastating effects on the body and brain that are long-lasting and potentially fatal.
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that impacts the central nervous system. Medical use includes treating sleep disorders, obesity, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II drug in the United States. Illegal use of meth falls under names such as speed, meth, ice, crystal, and crank. Methamphetamine is a white, odorless, crystalline powder that can be smoked, snorted, swallowed and injected.
Methamphetamine is thought to increase the release of the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for many functions in humans, including movement, memory, pleasure reward, attention, mood, and learning. In small doses, methamphetamine can increase alertness, productivity, physical activity and decrease appetite. Larger, often illegal, doses of methamphetamine release more dopamine in the brain leading to feelings of euphoria, energy and increased attention. Unfortunately, high doses of methamphetamine also result in serious side effects, including death.
An Attack on the Body and Mind
Recreational users of methamphetamine need larger and larger doses to maintain their “high.” Repeated and prolonged use of methamphetamine has catastrophic physical effects on the body. Among these side effects are:
Dermatological – Methamphetamine causes blood vessels to constrict, cutting off the steady flow of blood to the body. Heavy use leads to the destruction of these tissues and blood vessels, causing the skin to become prone to damage while also inhibiting the ability to repair itself. Acne is common, and some abusers suffer from formication which is the hallucination of bugs crawling beneath the skin, resulting in sores from obsessive skin-picking.
Dental – Known as “meth mouth,” this condition causes severe damage to the teeth as well as tooth loss. Methamphetamine causes salivary glands to dry out which allows acids in the mouth to eat away at tooth enamel. Reports attribute the decay to the corrosive effects of the chemicals found in the drug, “dry mouth,” increased consumption of sugary food and drinks, compulsive teeth grinding and general neglect of regular brushing and flossing.
Cognitive and Psychological – Methamphetamine releases surges of dopamine in the brain. However, repeated and prolonged use can destroy the wiring in the brain’s pleasure centers, eventually making it impossible to feel pleasure. Other cognitive damage includes impairment in memory, judgment and motor coordination. Changes to brain chemistry can also lead to psychological conditions like paranoia, insomnia, anxiety, extreme aggression, delusions, hallucinations, and depression.
While some of the damage done to the body and brain is repairable, some take years to heal and some effects will be lifelong. Consequences of methamphetamine abuse increase with prolonged use. Therefore, seeking treatment for methamphetamine addiction sooner rather than later results in the best outcomes.
Depending on the degree of dependence, some users will experience withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing methamphetamine. Symptoms include anxiety, depression, fatigue, lack of motivation and sleepiness. However, symptoms of withdrawal are manageable and acute. To date, the most effective form of treatment for methamphetamine addiction is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and contingency-management interventions. Many inpatient treatment facilities offer a comprehensive plan for the individual. The best inpatient centers will understand meth addiction and how best to treat it. Well-equipped centers should provide users with the ability to safely detox from methamphetamine as well as provide ongoing medical care. Additionally, inpatient centers have a knowledgeable staff on site that is available to users, allowing them to heal in an environment wholly dedicated to their recovery.