Crystal meth is known as being a particularly volatile recreational drug that can lead to some severe mental and physical consequences. As a powerful stimulant, it’s capable of causing significant consequences in your body. Meth was first synthesized in the late 19th century, and by World War II, it was used by the Third Riech to increase wakefulness in German troops, but its use was cut back when side effects like violence and a sluggish comedown were noticed.
By the 1950s, meth was used as a prescription diet pill in the United States. And it’s still used to control obesity in some cases today, though it’s now more regulated. In the U.S., meth is a Schedule II drug, which means it’s recognized to have significant abuse potential, but it does have some medical uses.
However, the misuse of this drug can have serious consequences. Crystal meth addiction is notoriously difficult to overcome, especially without help. Long-term use can also create long-lasting negative effects on the brain. However, meth addiction can be treated. Learn more about crystal meth addiction and treatment.
Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, is an illicit drug that’s typically used for recreational purposes. Meth is a central nervous system stimulant, which means it increases activity in your nervous system. Like other stimulants, it can cause increased excitement, arousal, restlessness, a sense of empowerment, and physical and cognitive euphoria. Meth has particularly intense stimulating effects with a powerful sense of euphoria, followed by an uncomfortable comedown. As the drug wears off, a comedown may bring on symptoms like restlessness, anxiety, and general discomfort. When the drug has worn off, you may experience a period of fatigue, drowsiness, and depression.
Meth is in a category of drugs called amphetamines, which are widely used for a variety of medical purposes. Meth itself is sometimes used as an appetite suppressant that can facilitate weight loss. However, because it’s more potent and habit-forming than other amphetamine prescriptions, it’s rarely prescribed. It’s much more commonly used as a recreational drug. As a recreational drug, meth can be smoked, injected, snorted, or swallowed. Different routes of administration will have different effects related to potency and the speed at which you feel effects.
Meth works in the brain by interacting with a naturally occurring chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is tied to reward and positive feelings. Like cocaine and other stimulants, meth is a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, which means that it blocks dopamine transporters from removing excessive dopamine from your system. Unlike cocaine, meth can also increase the release of dopamine, which causes even more of a stimulating build-up.
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Meth’s positive effects and potent sense of euphoria can quickly lead to addiction. Long-term misuse of crystal meth can cause extreme weight loss, anxiety, sleep disorders, and violent behavioral issues. The overstimulating effects can also have some other indirect effects. Meth users often feel itchiness or tingling beneath their skin, which causes them to scratch compulsively. This can lead to scarring and sores all over the body after long-term active addiction. Similarly, meth can cause compulsive teeth grinding, which may lead to infections and dental issues.
A meth high may also encourage binging. The drug causes an immediate, potent euphoria that wears off fairly quickly and leaves uncomfortable comedown symptoms. To continue the high and avoid the comedown, meth users often take several doses back-to-back, which can lead to days of sleeplessness and extreme side effects like stimulant psychosis.
Long-term meth use can also increase your risk for an overdose, which can be fatal. Meth overdoses can cause psychosis, heart attacks, stroke, seizures, and organ failure. If you experience symptoms like chest pains, heart palpitations, or an irregular heartbeat, you may need immediate medical attention.
Crystal meth can have a powerful effect on the dopamine levels in your nervous system. Dopamine is closely tied to the reward system, which is responsible for creating cravings and compulsions to repeat certain activities. Usually, the reward center is responsible for encouraging you to repeat healthy activities that make you feel good by causing a release of feel-good chemicals, like eating a meal you like, or a warm hug from a loved one. It’s important for your brain to motivate you to seek out important things like social bonds and physical sustenance. However, methamphetamine has a much more profound effect on these feel-good chemicals than natural activities.
Your reward center will confuse meth use for these important life-sustaining tasks and create compulsions to use it again and again. However, meth use can become so addicting that anything else feels much less rewarding. In fact, meth can flood the brain with so much dopamine that dopamine receptors become damaged, and dopamine itself becomes less effective. This can cause anhedonia, which is when you can’t feel pleasure through normal means. In some people, only meth use causes a powerful enough response to cause rewarding feelings of pleasure.
For the most part, anhedonia is temporary. Though it may take time for your brain to heal from chronic meth use, with treatment, many people are able to achieve abstinence and long-lasting recovery.
However, meth withdrawal can cause severe psychological symptoms like depression and suicidal thoughts, which may cause people to relapse back into meth use.
As the opioid epidemic continues to draw much of the focus when it comes to drug-based public health issues, meth continues to be a significant problem in many communities. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 1.9 million people 12 or older used meth within a year of the survey. These numbers marked a slight increase from 2016 and a plateau from 2017. The survey also found that 43,000 of methamphetamine users with adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17.
The survey also looked at the prevalence of methamphetamine use disorders and found that 1.1 million met the qualifications for substance use problems involving meth. Around 18,000 of these were adolescents.
Though crystal meth addiction is a serious substance use problem, it’s one that can be treated with the right care and therapies. Addiction is a chronic disease that requires a complex approach to treatment in order to facilitate lasting sobriety. Addiction treatment is usually a multileveled, multidisciplinary process.
That means there are multiple levels of care that address several different needs, including biological, psychological, and social issues. When you begin an addiction treatment program, you’ll go through an important assessment process that’s designed to place you in the level of care that’s appropriate for you. This is also when you’ll create a personalized treatment plan with the help of medical and clinical professionals.
Treatment often starts with medical detox, which is the highest level of care. Detox is an inpatient program with 24-hour medically managed services. Detox is for people that are likely to go through severe withdrawal symptoms or may have other medical conditions than need to be addressed alongside withdrawal.
Meth isn’t known to cause dangerous physical withdrawal symptoms, but it can cause severe psychological symptoms like depression and thoughts of suicide.
The other levels of care include medically monitored or clinically managed inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment. As you progress, you may move on to lower levels of care that allow for more independence.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Types of Treatment Programs. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, May). Methamphetamine. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine
SAMHSA. (2018). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf