Meth Addiction, Abuse and Treatment
Table of Contents
According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 1.6 million people (0.6 percent of the population) reported using methamphetamine, or meth, in the past year.1
According to data from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), over 14.7 million people (5.4 percent of the population) have tried methamphetamine at least once.2
An estimated 964,000 people aged 12 or older (about 0.4 percent of the population) had a methamphetamine use disorder in 2017.3
The 2018 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of adolescent drug use and attitudes reported that about 0.5 percent of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders had used meth within the past year.3
Nationwide, overdose deaths from the category of drugs that includes meth increased by 7.5 times between 2007 and 2017. About 15 percent of all drug overdose deaths involved the meth category in 2017, and 50 percent of those deaths also involved an opioid.4
What is Meth?
Methamphetamine acts as a powerful and highly addictive stimulant acting upon the central nervous system. Meth is chemically similar to amphetamine, which is used in the treatment of health conditions such as narcolepsy and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
A glass fragment-like form of this drug is known as crystal meth. This variant also looks like shiny, bluish-white rocks.
At present, the bulk of meth in the United States is produced by criminal organizations based out of Mexico. This highly pure and potent meth is available at low cost because it can be easily produced in small, illegal laboratories, using over-the-counter components including a common ingredient used in cold medications.
Structurally, the methamphetamine molecule is very close to amphetamine, as well as the neurotransmitter dopamine. Despite exhibiting similar behavioral and physiological effects, meth and cocaine have some major basic differences in terms of how they work.
While cocaine is quickly ejected from the body and gets almost entirely metabolized in the body, meth acts for a much longer time, with a larger percentage of the drug being retained in the body too.
Is Meth Addictive?
Methamphetamine is reputed to be a highly addictive substance that induces withdrawal symptoms in people who discontinue it. Typical withdrawal symptoms include:
- Intense craving for the drug
- Severe depression
Where is Meth on the Schedule?
The U.S Drug Enforcement Administration has classified meth as a Schedule II stimulant. Because of this, the drug is legally available only on producing a nonrefillable prescription. Methamphetamine is used in the treatment of health conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Very rarely, it is also prescribed in very low dosages as a short-term component in weight-loss treatments.
The law states that ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products must always be stored behind the counter in pharmacies and retail stores. Store operators are also bound to maintain a log containing information on consumer identification and the quantities of such products that have been purchased.
Is Meth Safe?
Due to its neurotoxic properties, methamphetamine is capable of causing damage to the dopamine and serotonin neurons present in the brain. This drug has been known to irreversibly affect the brain’s ability in terms of memory and emotions.
Apart from its negative impact on physiological health, meth use has been connected to comparatively higher incidences of unprotected sexual intercourse and violent behavior.
The toxicity of methamphetamine significantly increases when used in combination with substances such as cocaine, opiates, or alcohol.
Most of the illegally produced meth is likely to contain toxic additives such as caffeine and talc.
Street Names of Meth
Due to the highly regulated sale of methamphetamine, a thriving black market exists for it. Some of the street names for illegally procured methamphetamine are speed, blue, crystal, meth, ice, chalk, tweak, Tina, Gak, and Uppers.
Special terminology, such as “scattered,” “spun out,” or “tweaking,” are used to describe the various effects and experiences caused by meth. Similarly, there are nicknames like “twisters,” “shabu,” and “fire” that denote substances derived through a combination of meth and other drugs.
Methamphetamine has several street names and nicknames. The list constantly evolves in line with the growing abuse of the drug, because people using the drug keep changing the nicknames to avoid detection by the law enforcement authorities.
Other popular slang terms or nicknames or for meth include:
- Go fast
- Cotton candy
- Go-go juice
- No doze
- White cross
- Rocket fuel
- Scooby snax
Depending upon how meth is consumed, there are various street names and nicknames such as “getting geared up,” “chicken flippin’,” “hot rolling,” “fried,” “foiled,” “speed freak,” “tweaking,” “spun out” and “zooming.”
Terms are Everchanging
Police officers need to track the constantly changing terminology to sniff out drug use in their respective neighborhoods. It is also advisable for parents of teenagers to keep their ears open to such slang to identify possible drug usage by their children before it’s too late.
How is Meth Used?
Methamphetamine is available in different forms, making it easy to abuse in many different ways. Some people ingest meth by swallowing it in pill form or by dissolving the powder in water or alcohol and then injecting it into the body through the veins
When it is smoked or injected into the body, methamphetamine instantly enters the bloodstream and rapidly makes its way to the brain, leading to an intense sensation or rush. This feeling lasts merely a few minutes but it is described as being very exciting and pleasurable.
Snorting or ingestion is used by some people looking for a euphoric sensation or high instead of the rush. Usually, the effects of methamphetamine are felt within 3 to 5 minutes after snorting, whereas the effects begin to set 15 to 20 minutes after meth is orally ingested.
Types of Binging
Since the high derived from methamphetamine use begins and recedes rapidly, people often repeat the doses in a pattern known as “binge and crash.” The “binge and crash” pattern involves following up with further dosages before the previous dosage’s concentration level in the blood drops significantly.
This is done to maintain its pleasurable effects over a long period. Another form of binging is known as a “run,” where the person gives up food and sleep in favor of constantly consuming the drug every few hours, over several days.
Health Effects of Meth Use
Even small dosages of meth can lead to the same effects that taking stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine have on the body. The short-term effects of the drug include:
Increased levels of wakefulness and physical activity
Faster rate of breathing
Rapidly beating heart or irregular heartbeat
Increased blod pressure levels and body temperature
The long-term negative effects of meth use include:
- Extreme weight loss
- Acute dental problems (“meth mouth”)
- Intense itching and scratching, leading to skin sores
- Irreversible changes in brain structure and functioning
- Loss of memory
- Violent behavior
A greater risk of contracting hepatitis B, C, and HIV are among the long-term implications for people injecting meth because these diseases are transferred through contact with blood or other bodily fluids that can cling on to equipment used for injecting the drug. Methamphetamine is also known to negatively affect judgment and ability to make decisions, resulting in risky behaviors, such as indulging in unprotected sex, which in turn increases the threat from infections.
Moreover, prolonged use or abuse of methamphetamine causes changes to the brain’s dopamine system, which in turn reduces coordination and impairs verbal learning abilities. In people who use meth over an extended time, long-term, severe changes affect regions of the brain that are associated with emotion and memory. This is likely the reason behind the host of emotional and cognitive problems that surface after long-term meth use.
While some of the adverse impacts on the brain may subside in a year or two after stopping the use of the drug, the possibility of some irreversible damage cannot be ruled out. In a few cases, there is also an increased risk of developing Parkinsonism.
Is it Possible Overdose on Meth?
Yes, a person could suffer an overdose on methamphetamine. Typically, an overdose happens when the drug is consumed in quantities above the prescribed or recommended dosages. This leads to a toxic reaction that can cause dangerous symptoms or even death.
How to Stop Meth Use
It’s very difficult to stop meth use without help. Due to its highly addictive nature and painful withdrawal symptoms, attempting meth detox at home is not advisable and could even be dangerous. Symptoms such as depression, suicidal thoughts and acute cravings often lead to relapse in those recovering from methamphetamine use disorder. It is important to seek out professional help by reaching out to a doctor or joining a rehab center that offers supervised medical detoxes.
Along with professional support for achieving methamphetamine detox, there are several simple ways to improve the chances of recovery:
- Setting up a support system comprising of friends and family to help with sobriety after completing the crystal meth treatment
- Getting rid of any reminders of meth usage, such as pipes, syringes, needles, etc.
- Deleting the contact details of the substance dealer and anyone else that may tempt future use
- Identifying and addressing the factors that caused the addiction
- Obtaining appropriate dental care
- Seeking out professional help rather than attempting to stop meth use alone
Although methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person, there are a few common symptoms that are noticed in people suffering from withdrawal.
Anxiety: Anxious feelings are very common in people experiencing meth withdrawal.
Fatigue and Sleepiness: Meth consumption causes hyperactivity and reduces the need to sleep. The opposite happens during withdrawal, particularly in the first week of detox. People recovering from meth addiction tend to be inactive and tired and often report experiencing vivid dreams for about a week into the initial stages of withdrawal.
Depression: A tendency towards depression and low moods is associated with methamphetamine withdrawal. This symptom usually lasts for up to three weeks after the onset of withdrawal, and after that tends to subside. However, depression may linger on in some people for more time after they discontinue meth.
Psychosis: Psychosis, or experiencing hallucinations, is also one of the likely symptoms of meth withdrawal. It means that the individual sees, hears, and feels imaginary things. It’s also possible to experience delusions, with imaginary ideas and thoughts. Incidentally, these symptoms are also experienced while using methamphetamine.
Meth Cravings: A strong desire or craving for methamphetamine usually accompanies people who are going through the withdrawal process.
Increased Appetite: During withdrawal, it’s common to begin to feel very hungry and desire lots of starchy or sugary foods. This symptom can stay for up to three weeks after the onset of withdrawal.
If the withdrawal symptoms are severe, it’s crucial to seek medical help as soon as possible and inform the doctor about the methamphetamine problem.
What is Withdrawal from Meth Like?
To successfully recover from methamphetamine dependence, it is important to understand the withdrawal symptoms and their timeline. This helps to handle better the problems associated with withdrawal.
To begin with, meth withdrawal, under medical supervision, is a process that usually lasts for up to three weeks. The duration of detox can vary from individual to individual as it depends upon a number of factors such as duration and severity of substance abuse, physical and mental make-up of the patient, and so on.
The most acute effects of meth withdrawal generally occur during the first few days of detox. While most of the symptoms steadily recede within one or two weeks, certain withdrawal effects can last for many weeks after the drug use has stopped.
The First Two Days: The Crash
In the first two days after stopping meth use, a crash (also known as a comedown) is experienced. This happens because the body is exhausted due to the depletion of energy. In this phase of meth withdrawal, typical symptoms that are experienced include tiredness, excessive sleep and heightened appetite.
One Week to Ten Days: Depression and Unease
The first week of detox is likely to see the patient experience sensations such as unease, paranoia, or fatigue. Some people even have suicidal thoughts and are insensitive to pleasurable feelings. Fortunately, such symptoms begin to disappear towards the end of the first week to ten days after withdrawal begins. In extreme cases, these symptoms may last for up to two weeks in some people.
Two to Three weeks: Persistent Symptoms
During this phase, which takes place between the second and third weeks after meth use is stopped, the body experiences lingering symptoms. Known as the subacute withdrawal stage, the typical symptoms in this phase involve problems linked to sleep and appetite. A condition known as bradycardia (or slow heart rate), also manifests during this phase of withdrawal.
Treatment for Methamphetamine Use Disorder
While some medications have been found to be effective in treating some types of substance use disorders, no government-approved medications are currently available to offset the effects of meth in particular.
Fortunately, meth misuse is a condition that can be prevented, while behavioral therapies can be applied effectively in treating addiction to the drug.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Some of the most effective behavioral treatments presently available for meth addiction include cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management interventions.
For instance, the Matrix Model is a comprehensive behavioral treatment, spread over 16 weeks, that clubs together behavioral therapy, individual counseling, family education, 12-step support, drug testing, and promotion of non-drug-related activities. This approach has been found effective in significantly reducing meth misuse.
Similarly, contingency management interventions provide tangible incentives to patients as an encouragement to engage in treatment and abstain from drug usage. Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR), is an incentive-based method that has proved effective in promoting meth abstinence.
Meanwhile, researchers are working on developing medical solutions such as vaccines and other new treatments for meth abuse. The good news is that people can and have recovered from methamphetamine use disorder.
- Chomchai C, Chomchai S. Global patterns of methamphetamine use. Curr Opin Psychiatry 2015;28:269-74.