Meth is a strong stimulant that affects levels of dopamine in the brain. Increased dopamine causes feelings of reward, motivation, and pleasure. Meth also causes high energy and a sense of euphoria. The sudden rush of dopamine caused by meth use makes the drug highly addictive. Repeated use of the drug can lead to dramatic – and sometimes permanent – changes to brain chemistry and structure.
This drug can be taken orally, smoked, snorted, or injected. Smoking and injecting the drug both deliver meth almost instantly to the brain, leading to an immediate “high.” The high quickly wears off, causing some individuals to engage in a binge cycle of drug use, taking the drug over and over as each high wears off. Bingeing on meth is extremely dangerous and can often lead to an overdose. Risk of tolerance and addiction are also increased with binge use.
Who Is Addicted to Meth?
In 2012, NIDA reported that 1.2 million people in the United States had used meth that year – about 0.4 percent of the country’s population. The average age of new users of meth is roughly 20 years old. Those who begin using the drug at this young age often end up with addictions to the strong substance.
Very occasionally, methamphetamines or similar substances may be prescribed by a doctor for certain disorders, such as narcolepsy or ADHD. Because meth is highly addictive, these individuals can sometimes develop physical dependence on the drug, especially if they misuse the medication, taking higher or more frequent doses than prescribed. Misusing prescription amphetamines can easily lead to addiction, and ultimately these individuals may end up purchasing methamphetamine through illicit means to support their habit.
Some people begin using meth after becoming addicted to other prescription medications, such as painkillers or stimulants. Meth is a readily available street drug, and it produces very strong effects. An individual who is addicted to an unavailable prescription medication may switch to meth in order to meet the needs of their addiction. Individuals who first use meth recreationally usually receive the drug from friends or family.
Meth use accounts for 25 percent of emergency room visits involving drugs. A majority of people who enter treatment for meth addiction are white males.
Meth overdose can occur anytime someone uses the drug, and it can be life-threatening. Acute meth overdose occurs when an individual takes a dangerously high dose of the drug, causing serious side effects. Chronic meth overdose describes the ongoing health effects of an individual using meth on a regular basis. Both acute and chronic overdose can have devastating health effects.
Symptoms of acute overdose include:
- Feelings of euphoria
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Chest pain
- Heart attack
- Irregular or stopped heartbeat
- Slow or stopped breathing
- Kidney damage or failure
- Severe stomach pain
Chronic overdose can cause additional negative effects, including:
- Extreme paranoia
- Mood swings
- Missing and rotted teeth
- Repeated infections
- Severe weight loss
- Skin sores
A meth overdose requires immediate medical attention. Individuals need to be monitored for cardiac and respiratory failure, as well as major organ damage. An overdose can lead to coma or death. If you suspect a meth overdose has occurred, call 911 immediately.
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Treatment for Meth Addiction
Crystal meth abuse and addiction are typically treated with behavioral therapy. While addiction to some drugs can be treated with medication, there are no medications currently approved for use in meth addiction rehabilitation.
There are many types of therapy used in treating meth addiction, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Contingency Management, 12-Step programs, the Matrix Model, and various others. These therapies focus on helping the affected individual abstain from drug use while improving functioning in other areas of life, such as social relationships and job performance.
The most effective therapies for meth abuse and addiction are individualized to each person. Effective treatment tends to be holistic, meaning it addresses all areas of the individual’s life.
Supportive services that treat all co-occurring disorders, including other mental illnesses and physical health problems, are important parts of the recovery process.
Addressing other concerns in an individual’s life can help prevent a future relapse by lowering stress levels and providing healthy coping mechanisms.
Many people who are addicted to crystal meth have other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders, or schizophrenia. The National Addiction Technology Transfer Center recommends treating these disorders with behavioral therapy and pharmaceutical interventions as part of the addiction recovery process.
While crystal meth is an incredibly strong drug, there is hope for those who are struggling with addiction to it. With comprehensive care that includes medical detox and therapy, people can effectively lead crystal meth abuse in their past. The key is individualized treatment that addresses all aspects of the person – focusing not just on the addiction but on all other aspects of the person’s life as well.
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