Meth Addiction and Abuse

Methamphetamine addiction is considered one of the most difficult addictions to recover from.

Methamphetamine addiction | Table of Contents

Understanding Meth

Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant produced from a combination of amphetamine and other derivative chemicals. This medication was initially prescribed as a decongestant and as a weight loss aid. Methamphetamine was once readily available throughout the US in the form of tablets and injections, which led to vast exploitation of the products for its stimulating effects. Ultimately causing the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to limit and regulate the medication as a Schedule II controlled substance in 1970. Currently, there is only one prescription methamphetamine drug available in the market today. This medication, known as Desoxyn, helps patients manage obesity and chronic Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Most individuals who are addicted to methamphetamine consume this drug in its illegal forms, such as meth and crystal meth. Meth is a pure, crystalline powder that is bitter, odorless, and soluble in liquids. Although this substance is generally white, it may also be found in yellow, pink, or brown. It is consumed most commonly through smoking, snorting, or injecting. It is also packed into a capsule in some cases and consumed orally.

Crystal meth is either transparent or blue and takes the form of rough crystals, and it’s usually consumed by smoking. In some cases, methamphetamine is mixed with other drugs ranging from antidepressants to prescription opioid medications. Due to drug interactions, these addictive drugs can be extremely harmful as it increases the risk of overdosing. Although both forms vary in their structure, both meth and crystal meth are chemically identical.

The street names for methamphetamines include:

  • Glass
  • Ice
  • Crystal
  • Crank
  • Tweak
  • Redneck cocaine
  • Chalk

Today’s vast majority of meth comes from unauthorized labs and imports. The key ingredient in meth is ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, a stimulant that is present in most over-the-counter cough and cold medications.


How is methamphetamine used?

There are many ways to administer meth. The most popular technique of abusing meth is by smoking it or injecting it into the bloodstream. Most new users snort methamphetamine powder and consume it through a pill form.

Where is methamphetamine made?

Methamphetamine is mainly produced in Mexico, Canada, and the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia (border regions of Burma, Laos, and Thailand). It’s also made in small local labs in the US or in larger facilities in California’s Central Valley. Canadian labs distribute meth to the US and Japan. Methamphetamine in Southeast Asia travels to Taiwan, the Philippines, North Korea, and Australia.

Meth Effects, Abuse, and Addiction

Any illegal use of methamphetamines is considered abuse. Similar to smoking cocaine, meth succeeds in creating a rush when smoked or injected. This method of consumption increases heart rate, blood pressure, and sensation-inducing neurotransmitters in the brain. However, when meth is snorted, it produces a sense of euphoria without a rush. The rush produced by injecting creates a much intense high that can last up to 30 minutes. After the initial surge, addicts tend to experience a constant high that can last anywhere from 8 to 24 hours, depending on their method of consumption. Although Injecting meth produces an intense high compared to smoking or snorting, the impact tends to fade away much faster. Meth users are known to consecutively stay up for several days due to excessive stimulation caused by excessive consumption.

Some of the most common meth effects are:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Talkativeness
  • Alertness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Tremors

Other varied side effects of chronic meth use are:

  • Skin sores and infections from picking
  • Tooth decay (meth mouth)
  • Increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases
  • Damaged veins
  • Higher risk of contracting blood-borne pathogenic diseases such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis
  • Damage in sinus cavities and nasal passages

Meth is a dangerously addictive stimulant that can cause addiction after as little as a single-use in some patients. This is primarily due to the surge of dopamine activated by the drug. Dopamine is a substance that is not only responsible for inducing pleasant sensations, but also for motivation, memory retention, learning, and reward processing. The meth-induced dopamine rush is much greater than the regular level of dopamine naturally induced in the brain, which leads individuals to continue abusing the drug to keep the enhanced feeling of highs.

Continued use of meth often results in the development of tolerance. During this period, an individual will require increasingly high doses to achieve the initial effects as before. The stimulating effects, along with the affordability of the drug, make this a widely abused drug among many. The development of tolerance is often followed closely by drug dependence and withdrawal, which makes it harder for addicts to quit. This combined formation is referred to as an addiction. Meth addiction can result in long-term health consequences that can be classified under physical and psychological categories as prolonged use can significantly damage the brain’s dopamine-producing cells as well as its nerve cells that contain serotonin.

The potential physical effects of chronic methamphetamine use are:

  • Respiratory issues
  • Heart disease
  • Liver failure
  • Arrhythmias
  • Kidney failure
  • Malnutrition
  • Premature aging
  • Congenital disabilities
  • Reproductive problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Sudden cardiac arrest leading to death
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Fatal overdose

The psychological effects of meth use include:

  • Impaired cognition
  • Memory loss
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure)
  • Aggression
  • Psychosis


What are methamphetamine’s effects?

Meth, even in small doses, can increase wakefulness and physical activity and decrease appetite. Methamphetamine can also cause a variety of cardiovascular problems, including rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and increased blood pressure.

What are methamphetamine’s long term effects?

Long-term meth use can lead to addiction, as in the case with many drugs, but it can also cause individuals to exhibit symptoms such as memory loss, depression, anhedonia, psychosis, aggression, impaired cognition as well as seizures, stroke, fatal overdose, and kidney failure.

How widespread is methamphetamine consumption?

In 2009, over one million Americans confirmed that they had consumed methamphetamine at least once a year prior to the survey. By the time they graduate from high school, more than two percent of American students say that they used methamphetamine. The United Nations reports that there are 14 million consumers of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) worldwide, more than half of whom reside in East and Southeast Asia.

Most Common Drug Combinations

Polydrug use is a dangerous method of meth consumption. Methamphetamine is often mixed with other powerful substances to help increase the intensity of the drug’s effect.

The effects produced from these combinations may vary depending on the substance used, the method of administration, and the amount consumed.

Some of the most common mixtures and its sobering consequences include:

  • Alcohol: Meth’s stimulant effects weaken the alcohol’s sedative effects that can cause an individual to consume more alcohol. Symptoms such as high blood pressure, depression, hallucinations, chronic liver damage, cancer, and sudden death could result from this combined consumption.
  • Morphine: Often referred to as speedball, this mixture produces a much-elevated high than either drug when consumed on its own. Speedball will often cause walking difficulties as well as slow reflexes among users. This lethal combination of opioids and meth can also increase the possibility of an overdose.
  • Xanax: Anxiety is a prevalent adverse side effect of meth. Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication used to manage these negative feelings are often combined during meth consumption. The effects of these highly addictive drugs often lead to heart problems. As the meth accelerates the heart rate, the Xanax slows it down. This can lead to heart arrhythmias, which could result in fatal heart failure.

The Statistics of Meth Abuse

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH): discovered that 1.6 million people (0.6 percent of the population) reported using methamphetamine in 2017. Among those who consumed the drug, an estimated 964,000 people (about 0.4% of the population) were affected by methamphetamine use disorder. The report indicates significant impairments among addicts, including medical issues, disability, and failure to meet work, school, or home commitments due to their drug use.

Monitoring the Future (MTF): A substance use study conducted in 2018 found that approximately 0.5% of adolescents from grades 8, 10, and 12 had taken methamphetamine.

RAND Corporation’s 2009 report: Beyond its destructive effects on individual wellbeing, the abuse of methamphetamine affects entire communities, sparking new waves of violence, poverty, child neglect or abuse, and other societal problems. The 2009 report noted that the misuse of methamphetamine caused the country nearly $23.4 billion in 2005.

How to Recognize a Meth Addiction?

The primary indication of meth addiction is a drastic loss of interest in life aspects that were once important to the individual. Hobbies, relationships, and job aspirations may no longer be a priority or of interest to an addict. Although many addicts Initially try to conceal their substance abuse, they may not be able to do so over time as methamphetamine tends to chemically change the way a user thinks and behaves.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) states that if an individual meets more than two of the following conditions within 12 months, that patient can be formally diagnosed as having a meth use disorder:

  • Overdosing or driving under the influence
  • Disregard for professional, academic, or personal obligations
  • Social or interpersonal problems resulting from meth use
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit meth
  • Development of tolerance
  • Prolonged use of higher quantities of meth
  • Repeated failures to regulate or discontinue use entirely
  • Spending a great deal of time abusing meth
  • Experience physical or psychological difficulties due to meth use
  • Giving up activities to use or get meth
  • Continuously experiencing drug cravings

Comprehending Meth withdrawal

The effects of meth withdrawal are crippling and unpleasant and may encourage the user to take more of the substance to combat the withdrawal symptoms. This can lead to a downward spiral of repeated meth abuse, and as a result, reinforce a cycle of addiction.

Meth withdrawal symptoms may vary from person to person. The extent of the adverse effects depends on several variables, including the length of time the person consumed meth, the quantity of meth used, how often they used it, method of consumption, and whether they engaged in polydrug abuse. Usually, those who inject meth may undergo a slower, more painful withdrawal process than others.

Signs and symptoms of meth withdrawal could include:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Red, itchy eyes
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Loss of motivation
  • Tremor
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Stomach ache
  • Anxiety
  • Severe depression
  • Dehydration


What are the symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal?

Methamphetamine withdrawal can cause increased levels of agitation, nausea, insomnia, tremors, fever, dehydration, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Can methamphetamine addiction be treated successfully?

It is possible for a methamphetamine addict to effectively recover from meth addiction.

Meth Withdrawal Timeline

The specific time frame for withdrawal may vary between individuals. However, the acute withdrawal phase typically peaks after around day two or three after the last use and generally begins to alleviate within a week. Although psychological symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, drug cravings, sleep disturbances, and depression can last over multiple weeks, some symptoms can last for several months to a year.

The first 48 hours

This phase is known as the crash. Former users may experience a rapid decline in energy, mental performance, nausea, abdominal cramping, and vomiting during the first 24 – 48 hours.

Days 3 to 10

This is when withdrawal symptoms usually begin to peak. Patients will experience intense depression, anxiety, and extreme exhaustion as the body attempts to adapt without meth. Some patients may also experience muscle aches and shaking, as well as intense meth cravings.

Days 14 to 20

At the end of the second week, most physical symptoms begin to subside, but intense drug cravings may persist. Continuous fatigue and depression are common throughout this period.

After the first month

The worst withdrawal symptoms begin to decline. The remaining effects will disappear over time. However, some psychological symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, can continue over several months until they diminish.

Meth Detox Phase: What to Expect

Detox centers provide their patients with a safe and comfortable environment as they undergo treatment. During this process, patients initially undergo a physical and psychological examination to help determine the right treatment plan for them. This helps doctors better understand the medical care and attention each patient requires. Once a treatment plan is decided upon, patients will undergo the detoxification process under the watchful eyes of medical professionals at the treatment center.

Immediately after evaluations, patients undergo their personalized detox plan. There are currently no specific drugs designed to ease the withdrawal of methamphetamine. However, some can be used to help relieve the intensity of certain symptoms.

A few medications generally used during meth detoxification may include:

  • Bupropion – This medication is generally used to help people stop smoking tobacco. However, this drug has also been shown to be very useful in minimizing drug cravings.
  • Modafinil – This drug’s gentle stimulant properties are generally used in the treatment of narcolepsy and ADHD. However, they can also be used to help alleviate cravings and troublesome sleep patterns connected with meth withdrawal.
  • Fluoxetine – This medication may also benefit those in rehabilitation by helping patients manage symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety.

Currently, further research is being done to identify additional treatment options that could help facilitate the withdrawal process for meth users.

Meth Abuse Treatment and Recovery

Recovery for meth addiction requires a structured treatment plan consisting of detoxification, counseling, and rehabilitation. While detox removes the physical presence of meth from the body, counseling can resolve the psychological harm caused by substance abuse as well as educate patients on overcoming relapses and preserving long-term sobriety. Patients with a severe addiction to meth will require inpatient treatment soon after detoxification. Meth is one of the toughest addictions to tackle. Thus, those who wish to quit must seek help from a specialized treatment center to achieve permanent recovery.

Inpatient Care or Outpatient Care

Choosing to enroll in an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program depends on many subjective factors. Meth rehabilitation is especially challenging because of the substance’s dangerously addictive nature and the person’s underlying psychological causes for drug addiction.

An inpatient treatment facility is an ideal option for patients with severe, long-term meth addiction. Inpatient rehabs provide patients housing facilities with around the clock supervision. These rehabs also create an environment void of all distractions and temptations to help patients focus solely on their recovery. These programs typically last around 30 to 90 days, depending on the needs of each patient.

An outpatient rehabilitation facility may be the best option for patients suffering from mild dependencies towards meth. As outpatient programs are part-time, they enable patients to continue with treatment while taking care of responsibilities and obligations at work, school, and home. This program usually requires patients to attend therapy for 10 to 12 hours per week at the nearest treatment center for detoxification and therapy. Outpatient treatment facilities are also a vital option for those who complete inpatient treatment programs as they provide additional support and treatment as patients gradually enter the outside world of temptations.

Therapy and Continuation of Recovery

After the completion of the detox program, it is essential that patients receive individual and group therapy. Counselors help patients recognize the underlying causes behind their substance addiction and provide the moral support required to resolve them. Counseling helps patients control their urge to use meth during stressful times or boredom and to recognize the cognitive and behavioral patterns that contributed to drug abuse in the first place.

Although there are many therapeutic treatment strategies available for recovering patients, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most popular. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been assessed as one that is highly effective in treating meth addiction and other contributing factors such as depression and severe anxiety disorders.

Another successful therapy for meth addiction recovery is Narrative therapy. Narrative therapy highlights the importance of personal life experiences to help users in recovery remember how their life stories have influenced their substance abuse and how they can change their perceptions and habits to lead a meth-free life. Counselors help patients embrace new, positive, and healthy lifestyle changes to achieve a long-lasting recovery.

Post-Rehab Aftercare and Support Programs

Continuing with aftercare treatment following rehabilitation is vital in preserving sobriety. Hence enrolling in a support group is one of the best aftercare approaches. Narcotics Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous are two of the most prominent support groups that many meth addicts enroll for. Such support groups provide patients with a sense of community as well as a safe and secure environment void of all judgments.

Both of these initiatives are 12-step programs that help participants heal from addiction by taking a personal inventory of their daily lives and encouraging and assisting others by sharing personal stories. These programs are free and helpful to anyone who is working to overcome meth addiction.

SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) treatment programs, which combine the mutual support philosophy and 12-step treatment with CBT’s principles, is an alternative model that has also been proven to help meth addicts remain sober.

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