Are you worried that your loved one could be addicted to methamphetamine? Understanding methamphetamine, the signs of addiction, and the stages of use is the first step to determining what action you should take and figuring out how to help.
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine is best known by its shortened form: meth. Some slang terms include crystal, crystal meth, speed, ice, glass, and chalk, among others. Meth looks like a white (occasionally yellowy) powder; it is odorless and typically bitter to the taste.
Meth is typically inhaled through the nose (snorted), smoked in a manner similar to crack cocaine, or injected. These methods of delivery transport the drug to the nervous system quickly, producing an almost immediate sense of euphoria. Meth can also be taken orally as a pill or dissolved in water or alcohol.
This drug is particularly toxic. Composed of pseudoephedrine and a variety of toxic ingredients (lye and drain cleaner, among other things), meth is one of the most addictive substances in existence.
Why Do People Use Methamphetamine?
Meth has been prescribed very rarely to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, among other things. However, its use as a prescription is incredibly rare due to its high addictive property and potential for abuse. In the U.S., meth is a Schedule II drug, which means it can only be legally distributed as a non-refillable prescription.
Since it’s known for causing rapid weight loss, some people might try taking meth to induce weight loss. Although the weight loss is initially intense, it tapers off after about six weeks. Users tend to regain their lost weight when they stop using meth. Meth is rarely prescribed by doctors for weight loss.
The principal reason most people use meth, however, is because it produces a high that can last for over 12 hours (up to 16 in some cases). It is also a powerful stimulant. Taking meth causes users to feel euphoric, confident, and energetic-though only temporarily, leading to repeated binging and crashing.
There are different levels of meth abusers:
- Low-intensity abusers often snort meth or take it orally. They aren’t yet binge users, but are often on the verge of becoming so. They might believe they need a stimulant to finish a hard job or task, to become less depressed, to stay focused, or to lose weight.
- Binge abusers often inject meth. The rush and high they experience is incredibly addictive.
- High-intensity abusers are true addicts whose lives revolve around preventing crashes and achieving a rush and a better high. The more often they use the drug, the less intense their rush is, which means they must constantly increase the dosage to achieve a similar sensation.
What Are the Stages of Methamphetamine Use?
1. The Rush/Flash. This is the initial sensation a person feels after using meth. A user’s heartbeat and metabolism speed up, and their blood pressure rises. Meth’s rush stage lasts up to half an hour.
2. The High. The user often feels aggressive, argumentative, and/or violent, and can become delusional and experience hallucinations. A high can last from four to sixteen hours.
3. The Binge. When the user wants to maintain his or her high, they often resort to using meth in an uncontrolled fashion. This stage can last between three and fifteen days. For binge meth users, each rush becomes smaller and each high is shorter, until finally the rush and high disappear altogether.
4. Tweaking. At the end of their binge, the meth user can’t get rid of the sensation of needing the drug but can’t use the drug to achieve a high. With meth, this can result in days of delusions and hallucination, including intense itching that makers the user feel bugs are crawling under his or her skin.
The meth user likely can’t sleep during this time and exists instead in a state of complete psychosis. This phase can last for several days.
5. The Crash. In this phase, a binge user’s body finally shuts down. Most users will sleep for one to three days.< /p>
6. The Hangover. As with an alcohol-induced hangover, a meth hangover results in exhaustion and dehydration-though obviously to a much more dangerous and painful degree. The user will often feel starved, thirsty, and mentally, physically, and emotionally drained.
Many people will resort to taking more meth as a result of meth hangovers, feeling that the only way to relieve their pain is to take more meth and experience another high.
7. Withdrawal. This can occur between 30 and 90 days after a user’s last hit. Withdrawals cause depression, energy loss, reduced pleasure, and an intense craving for the drug.
Meth withdrawal is particularly intense since the drug is highly addictive. As a result, meth relapses are fairly common: 93% of users in traditional therapy become addicted to meth again.
What Are Methamphetamine‘s Side Effects?
Short-Term Side Effects
- Increased blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature
- Pupil dilation
- Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting
- Erratic and/or violent behavior
- Appetite loss, disturbed sleep
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
Some doses of meth can cause convulsions and seizures resulting in death.
Long-Term Side Effects
- Constant high blood pressure can lead to damaged blood vessels in the heart and brain, resulting in strokes, heart attacks, and eve
- Kidney, lung, and liver damage
- Tooth loss and decay
Meth causes permanent molecular and chemical changes in the brain: the constant dopamine changes lead to impaired motor skills and learning abilities, as well as cognitive and emotional issues in some users.
This chronic damage to the brain also leads to obsessive behavior, poor judgment, memory loss, learning disorders, and uncontrollable movement.
What Are Some Warning Signs of Methamphetamine Abuse?
- Rapid weight loss and obvious physical changes such as tooth loss or decay and hair loss
- Obsessive scratching or picking at skin and hair
- Excessive sweating (not related to physical activity or heat)
- Dilated pupils
- Erratic movements, incessant talking, twitching, exaggerated mannerism, facial tics
- Doing repetitive tasks for no reason
- An abrupt change in attitude
- Evidence of psychotic behavior, hallucinations, paranoia
- Burns or needle marks
- Constantly asking to borrow money or resorting to stealing
Note that these warning signs can be evidence of other forms of drug use as well.
How Can You Help?
Meth addiction is a serious problem that affects at least 1.2 million Americans. Even though the statistics about recovery can be alarming, there are a variety of resources to help your loved one who may be suffering from addiction.
You can call different services for help, such as the National Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator (1-800-662-HELP). This is a creation of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Their locator has over 11,000 treatment programs or facilities including outpatient programs, inpatient programs, and residential treatment centers. All of their programs are held to national standards and must be approved by the State Alcohol and Drug Abuse authority.