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Meth Addiction Treatment

If you use crystal meth in any capacity, it is considered drug abuse. If you wonder if you have an addiction, there’s a good chance you might.

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Signs of crystal meth addiction include an inability to control use of the drug, using crystal meth despite serious consequences in virtually all areas of life, and deteriorating physical health.

Treatment for meth abuse is necessary to effectively stop abusing the drug. Addiction treatment should be considered a long-term endeavor.

An Overview

Methamphetamine is a stimulant medication that has some medicinal uses, but the drug is also produced in private laboratories and is a significant drug of abuse. The drug can be abused in several different manners, including smoking, injecting, or snorting it.

Methamphetamine works similar to other stimulants. When you take it, your brain releases large amounts of several different neurotransmitters. When you stop taking it, these levels of neural transmitters are depleted in your brain.

doctor holding a model brain
The effects of the drug are relatively short lived, and users tend to binge on it. Bingeing on crystal meth can result in significant changes in your brain that can lead to issues with your cognition and emotional control.

Because the methamphetamine manufactured for street use is not pure, you can suffer many different health effects due to the additives and other substances that are combined to make the drug. Long-term use of street meth can result in a wide range of health problems.

Creating Crystal Meth

Methamphetamine (N-methyl-1-phenylpropan-2-amine) is a stimulant that can be used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or the sleep disorder narcolepsy.

Commercially, methamphetamine is marketed as Desoyxn, but the drug is prescribed with caution and listed as a Schedule II controlled substance. Methamphetamine is much better known as a drug of abuse that is manufactured in private laboratories. It is sold on the street as crystal meth, meth, glass, or ice.

making-meth-lab

The manufacturing process will typically involve extracting stimulants from different over-the-counter medicines, combining them with solvents and other products, and then extracting the methamphetamine and refining it. The process involves the use of different potentially toxic substances that are not fully filtered out of the final product.

Because it is a powerful stimulant, methamphetamine can be highly addictive and cause significant health issues. People who abuse it often require intensive treatment.

Figures on Meth Abuse

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports the following figures on meth abuse:

  • In 2016, about 14.5 million people reported some lifetime use of meth. In 2017, this figure was 14.7 million.
  • In 2016, about 1.4 million people reported using meth within the year prior to taking the SAMHSA survey. In 2017, this was 1.6 million.
  • In 2016, about 667,000 people reported using meth within the month prior to taking the SAMHSA survey. In 2017, this was 774,000.

How It Is Abused

The methamphetamine sold on the street (meth) is typically sold as a white powdery substance, or it appears crystalized or as bits of glass (hence the street name glass). People will most often:

  • Smoke the drug.
  • Mix it with water and inject it.
  • Grind it into a powder and snort it.
  • Take it orally. This is the least common way to use the drug.

Mechanism of Action

When you take methamphetamine, the drug works to facilitate the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in your brain. The massive release of these neurotransmitters results in you feeling a significant increase in energy, extreme euphoria, feelings of invincibility, a decrease in appetite, a decreased need for sleep, and potentially hallucinations or delusions.

Stimulant drugs in this class are designed to wakefulness, increase the ability to focus, and boost energy levels. But when these drugs are used medicinally, they are typically used in very small amounts and designed to be used only a few times a day. People who abuse these drugs will typically ingest extremely high amounts.

How Long Effects Last

The length of time that any drug remains in your system depends on many different factors, including the amount of the substance you use, how often you use it, whether you combine it with alcohol or other drugs, and your own genetic makeup and metabolism.

timeline
Even though meth is a very potent stimulant substance, the euphoric effects that it produces are short-lived. People will often binge on the drug, which is referred to as bumping or going on a run. The aftereffects that occur once the person stops using it last significantly longer — often referred to as the comedown or crash.

Meth may be metabolized more slowly than other types of stimulants. The half-life of the drug may be variable (12 to 34 hours). The overall effects of the drug can last between 8 and 24 hours.

Because users tend to binge on the drug and take very high doses, it may be detectable in urine for 2 to 10 days.

Side Effects

Side effects of meth abuse include the following:
  • Hyperactivity
  • Extremely elated mood — almost unrealistically elated in some cases
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Pressured speech (speaking very rapidly and running words together) and extreme talkativeness
  • Problems maintaining focus or attention
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Significantly decreased appetite
  • Heightened body temperature and sweating
  • Increased heart rate and respiration rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Suspiciousness
  • Isolation
  • Hallucinations

Long-Term Effects

In addition to the immediate effects listed above, if you continue to use meth, you may experience some of these long-term issues:

  • Deterioration of teeth, including teeth falling out, rotting teeth, and numerous cavities due to the acidic nature of the drug and any additives used in its manufacture (often referred to as meth mouth)
  • Sores or abscesses on the skin that are often scratched or picked at
  • Constant halitosis (bad breath)
  • Runny nose or constant nosebleeds (due to snorting)
  • Track marks on skin (from injecting the drug)
  • Respiratory issues (from smoking the drug)
  • Burns around the lips or nose (from smoking)
  • Burns on the hands or fingers (from smoking)
  • Grayish skin, dry skin, and/or cracked skin
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Appearing gaunt and undernourished (significant weight loss)
  • Jerky body movements, tics, or exaggerated body movements
  • Mood swings
  • Outbursts of aggression or irritability
  • Alternating periods of heightened energy and longer periods of lethargy, apathy, or depression
  • A decrease in attention to appearance, personal upkeep, and hygiene
  • Paranoia, suspiciousness, or seeing and hearing things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • Complaining that there are bugs crawling all over the body (tactile hallucinations, or meth bugs)

Mood Swings

Tweaking and crashing are signs that you are developing an addiction to meth.

Tweaking is a term used by stimulant abusers, particularly meth abusers, to describe the situation that occurs when the person continues to binge on meth but does not experience euphoria from the binge. Instead, they become more apathetic, irritable, and even psychotic, or they may be depressed and experience significant cravings. They may even begin to experience hallucinations and delusions.

When a user crashes, the effects of the drug have worn off, and they are beginning to go through a type of withdrawal where there is a depletion of the neurotransmitters in the brain that meth increased. They will begin to experience lethargy, appetite increase, depression, irritability, and significant cravings to get more meth. They may become irrational and desperate.

This cycle of tweaking and crashing is a key sign of continued meth abuse.

Other Signs of a Stimulant Use Disorder

A stimulant use disorder is a formal diagnostic term to describe the development of an addiction to stimulant drugs. Any substance use disorder, like a stimulant use disorder, represents a form of mental illness that requires intensive professional intervention. It won’t simply go away on its own.

Stimulant use disorders are diagnosed by clinicians based on behavior, the effects that drug use incurs, and other factors. You cannot formally diagnose yourself, but many people are often aware that they have a problem with drug abuse, even if they attempt to rationalize their abuse of drugs like meth.

Frequently, it is the people around you that recognize your problem and want to help you. However, you may be so wrapped up in what you believe to be the positive effects of your drug abuse that you cannot see the damage it is doing.

Stimulant use disorders are diagnosed when some of the following criteria are met:

  • Your nonmedical use of a stimulant results in significant distress for you and/or impacts your ability to function in important areas of your life.
  • You demonstrate serious issues controlling your use of the stimulant in several different settings.
  • You continue to use the stimulant for nonmedical reasons even though it affects many important areas of your life, including your ability to function, your physical health, and your emotional functioning.
  • You spend a great deal of time using crystal meth, recovering from using it, or trying to find it.
  • You develop significant tolerance to the stimulant as a result of your nonmedical use.
  • You develop withdrawal symptoms when you stop using crystal meth.

There are no medical tests like blood tests or imaging tests that can be used to definitively diagnosis a stimulant use disorder in anyone. Instead, clinicians review behavior, drug use, and reports of close friends and relatives, if available, to determine if you have a formal substance use disorder.

If you are concerned that you might be addicted to crystal meth, your behavior is most likely extreme and you are feeling out of control. Consult with a mental health care clinician or physician to get an official diagnosis. If you enter an addiction treatment program, getting a diagnosis will be one of the early steps of care.

Associated Health Risks

Because the meth you purchase on the street is manufactured by unreliable sources and can have numerous contaminants, there are significant health risks associated with abuse of the drug.

Just a few of these are outlined below:
  • Irreparable damage to teeth
  • Irreversible injury to nasal passages and/or the respiratory system
  • Cardiovascular issues that can be associated with injecting the drug or the effects of high blood pressure, arterial sclerosis, heart disease, and stroke
  • Liver damage
  • Significant alterations in the pathways of the brain or brain damage, resulting in different types of neurological conditions, including seizures, movement disorders, and other issues
  • An increased risk to contract many diseases, including blood-borne diseases due to needle sharing, respiratory diseases, and other infections due to decreased immune system functioning or poor judgment
  • An increased probability to get some type of cancer
  • Significant issues with emotional control, depression, anxiety, and psychosis as a result of physical changes in the brain that occur with long-term abuse
  • An increased potential to overdose on meth, which can be potentially fatal due to an increased risk for cardiac arrest or seizures

Signs of a Meth Overdose

Because you are very likely to binge on the drug and judgment is severely affected when you are under its influence, there is a significant potential for overdose. Signs of an acute meth overdose include the following:

  • Irregular, rapid, or decreased heartbeat
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Increased body temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Stomach pain
  • Extreme agitation
  • Altered mental status, including confusion, suspiciousness or paranoia, and hallucinations
  • A stroke or heart attack

Formal treatment usually involves addressing the symptoms of the overdose. There are no specific medications that can reverse the effects, but giving IV fluids, attempting to control body temperature, addressing behavioral manifestations, and treating other issues, such as cardiac issues, is the typical approach.

An overdose can be fatal, or it can have long-lasting effects that can include significant brain damage or harm to other organs in the body.

Treatment

The first step in treating someone with a stimulant use disorder as a result of crystal meth abuse is to fully assess the person over all domains of functioning — physical, emotional, and social. This assessment allows for the development of a treatment plan to address your meth abuse.

man going through drug treatment
The treatment plan will be based on the principles of effective substance use disorder treatment, but at the same time, it should be personalized to fit your specific needs. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to addiction recovery.

Because you will experience a significant crash (withdrawal), it is important to initially enroll in a physician-assisted medical detox program (withdrawal management program). In such a program, you are supervised by a physician and administered medications and other interventions to decrease cravings for crystal meth and other negative effects associated with withdrawal.

During this initial part of your treatment, you will get involved in therapy. This will often take place in both an individual and group setting. As you progress in recovery, support group participation may become a key part of your daily schedule.

After the medical detox portion of the treatment is successfully completed, you will need to remain in treatment (continuing care). Your treatment will be based on your needs, so again, there isn’t a set timeline for everyone.

Most often, rehab will include continued use of medications as needed, therapy, peer support groups, and other interventions that have been designed to address your specific needs. Treatment needs to be of a sufficient length to ensure better chances of sustained recovery. There is no quick fix.

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