Methamphetamine Addiction: Signs and Treatment

  Source: Methamphetamine is a highly-addictive drug that is both dangerous and debilitating for its users. Yet, it remains prevalent around the world. In the United States, methamphetamine misuse and meth-related overdose deaths are increasing despite extensive efforts to curb the illicit trade.

How Common is Meth Addiction?

According to the 2020 National Survey of Drug Use and Health by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 2.6 million people aged 12 or older were reported to have used methamphetamine in the past year. The report showed that an estimated 1.5 million people suffered from methamphetamine addiction or methamphetamine use disorder. In addition, the CDC estimated that 23,837 people died from psychostimulant overdoses that year, primarily from meth misuse. Most disturbingly, our youth are showing evidence of meth misuse. According to a 2020 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 0.5 percent of 8th graders, 0.3 percent of 10th graders, and 1.4 of 12th graders reported using methamphetamine in the last 30 days.

Why is Meth So Addictive?

Dopamine is a chemical that is produced in our brains. It is an essential neurotransmitter for the reward center of the brain. Aside from creating the feeling of pleasure, dopamine plays a role in regulating several other body functions such as mood, motivation, behavior, attention, and arousal. The brain produces dopamine when we participate in enjoyable activities that benefit our survival such as sex, exercise, eating, and socializing. When a person uses methamphetamine, the drug hijacks the brain’s neurotransmitter system and produces the feeling of reward despite providing no benefits. The initial surge of dopamine brings a rush of euphoria and pleasure and creates a strong sense of well-being for the user. However, the effects only last for a short time, leading users to continue using the drug in order to experience the same powerful sensations. Repeated use of meth causes the brain to stop releasing dopamine on its own. The only way to recreate the feeling of euphoria is to take the methamphetamine. Over time, users also develop a tolerance to the drug, resulting in them having to take stronger and more frequent doses to achieve the desired high.

Short-Term Effects of Meth

It can be difficult to determine if a first-time or infrequent user is taking methamphetamines. Most of the short-term effects of meth subside in several hours while others can persist for over a day. Note that some seemingly positive effects add to the addictive qualities of the drug. The short-term effects of meth include:
  • Increased physical activity
  • Increased sexual arousal
  • Erratic behavior
  • Violent behavior
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Increased body temperature and excessive sweating
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Fidgeting or twitching
  • Insomnia
  • Jaw clenching
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Long-Term Effects of Meth

As users increase the strength and frequency of their meth doses, they put themselves at risk of an overdose. Symptoms of meth overdose include hyperthermia (abnormally high body temperature), dangerously high blood pressure, seizures, stroke, and heart attack. Overdosing on meth can often be fatal. In addition, long-term misuse of methamphetamines can damage the brain, leading to impaired cognitive abilities and poor emotional regulation. Some long-term psychological effects of meth misuse include memory loss, anxiety, aggression, confusion, delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and psychosis. At the same time, meth misuse results in a variety of long-term physical effects. These include weight loss and anorexia, rotten teeth (‘meth mouth’), skin infections and sores from intensely itchy skin, lung and heart disease, and liver and kidney damage. In addition, risk-taking behavior associated with meth use increases the probability of contracting hepatitis B and C as well as HIV.

Treatment for Meth Addiction

At present, there are no FDA-approved medications to treat methamphetamine use disorder. However, behavioral therapies have proven effective. The two main methods of behavioral therapy for meth users are cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management interventions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps patients to identify the situations that trigger their meth use. CBT allows patients to create productive instead of destructive behavior patterns. Patients learn how to communicate, manage stressors, and handle tough situations without turning to drugs. Contingency management interventions offer motivational incentives to patients who can stay drug-free. When patients successfully pass a set length of time without using meth, they are rewarded with coupons or vouchers. This encourages patients and increases treatment compliance. Certain facilities offering meth addiction treatment Columbus feature individualized treatment plans that combine several approaches such as counseling, psychotherapy, support groups, and supplementary medication to ensure that patients are well-equipped to control their cravings and behavior. The fleeting benefits that methamphetamines produce are not worth the risk of addiction. The long-term effects of meth misuse and addiction can cause serious permanent physiological and psychological damage. Meth addicts can lose their families, their careers, and their lives. Methamphetamine is a severe problem in the US. Therefore, we must be educated and vigilant about possible signs of meth misuse. Individuals suffering from methamphetamine use disorder should seek treatment by contacting a doctor, a treatment facility, or an anonymous helpline.  

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