Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant drug which induces a sense of euphoria and heightened energy when it is smoked, injected, snorted or consumed. This highly addictive drug is commonly abused on the streets and has significantly grown in popularity over the past ten years. Today, clandestine meth labs can be found in rural towns and major cities throughout the United States as well as around the world. The National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System tracks the number of meth labs and dump sites that are discovered in each state, and while the high numbers are alarming, what’s more alarming is the fact that many meth labs go unnoticed and are never recorded in this register-methamphetamine abuse is a growing problem of grave concern throughout the world.
What is Methamphetamine?
First produced in a laboratory by a German chemist, methamphetamine was thought to have a valid use as a bronchial inhibitor that would help open airways in patients who were having trouble breathing. It was later believed that the drug could be used as a treatment of obesity in patients who did not respond well to other medications or treatment. Unfortunately, drug use surged in the 1950s and 1960s which led to frequent injection use of methamphetamine and the subsequent outlawing of the drug as part of the U.S. Drug Abuse and Regulation Control Act of 1970.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “methamphetamine is commonly known as “speed,” “meth,” and “chalk.” It is also sometimes called ice, glass or crystal due to the shape, color and texture of the drug which resembles shards of glass when it has been crushed up. In its purest form, methamphetamine is an odorless and colorless substance but when in some cases it can be pink, yellow or cloudy in color due to changes in the method in which it is produced in the laboratory. The chemical structure of the drug resembles the chemical structure of amphetamine, but don’t take this similarity as a measure of safety-methamphetamine effects the central nervous system much more prominently and more quickly than amphetamine and, therefore, is highly dangerous.
How is Meth Abused?
The crystalline powdery substance is easily dissolved in liquids such as alcohol or water. Some prefer to consume methamphetamine orally by eating the drug or mixing it with alcohol and drinking it. The taste is rather bitter and this defrays some people from consuming crystal meth by mouth—a slowed response and reduced overall effects are also responsible for a general desire to avoid oral consumption although the drug is often found Molly or similar substance and is thus consumed orally without regard.
Most of the time, crystal meth is either:
- Snorted through the nasal passages
- Smoked in a glass pipe
- Injected using a hypodermic needle
Each of these methods of use can produce almost immediate euphoria that will last up to 6 hours depending on the potency of the drug and various other factors.
How Prevalent is Meth Abuse?
According to the National Institute on Health, an estimated 13 million people regularly abuse methamphetamine. These numbers are significantly higher than the estimated 4.9 million users that were reported in the 1996 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Although the drug was traditionally considered a choice for white males who were blue-collar workers, methamphetamine abuse has diversified into other populations and is now widespread amongst various demographic groups.
While the majority of treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse or addiction are located in the southeast and the extreme western U.S., Midwestern states have also seen a significant rise in the use of this dangerous drug and the subsequent need for treatment. Today, treatment admissions throughout the United States, especially in Hawaii and in rural areas, often report methamphetamine as the primary concern and need for help.
Effects of Methamphetamine
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, crystal meth can have the following effects on the user:
- Heightened sense of strength
- Increased physical activity, talkativeness and energy
- Unpredictable behaviors, outbursts and mood
- Paranoia, anxiety and delusions
- Seizures, heart attack, stroke
- Premature birth in pregnant women
- Damage to the teeth, cracked or broken teeth, rotting and bad breath
- Sudden death, death from overdose
- Sleeplessness, insomnia and inability to fall asleep
- Clenching of the jaw, twitching and erratic muscle response
- Shaking and tremors
- Sores and infections on the skin from picking
- Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
Methamphetamine often causes the user to repeat tasks over and over again and may lead to such repetition even after the drug is no longer being used. The term, “tweaker,” is often used to describe people who are high on crystal meth because they tend to act irrationally. Paranoia and irritability are very common in people who regularly take methamphetamine; such symptoms are exasperated when a user stays up for days or even weeks at a time using the drug over and over again. In fact, this drug has been known to cause people to stay awake for up to 15 days or more—just a lack of sleep alone can be responsible for paranoia and psychotic episodes resulting from the use of meth.
Signs of Meth Abuse
In addition to the above signs that methamphetamine is being used, you may notice the following signs in someone you know who is abusing this drug:
- Poor hygiene
- Pasty skin or poor complexion
- Sores, lesions or infections on the body
- Bad breath and damage to the teeth
- Insomnia and very distinct changes in sleep patterns
- Anxiety and paranoia that are otherwise uncommon or uncalled for
- Violent behavior
- Psychotic behavior
Treating Meth Addiction
According to Harvard Health, “like all drug abuse, methamphetamine addiction is difficult to treat.” This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to treat or that a user shouldn’t attempt to get help—it just means that there will be a strong need for commitment in order to evoke a strong and stable recovery. Fortunately, while there are not medications that can provide effective relief from the addiction, there are a number of therapeutic options which have been found to effectively help the user overcome the addiction and get their life back on track. Standard substance abuse treatment options such as education and support, behavioral therapy and guidance, medical intervention and care, have been found to be highly effective in treating meth addiction too.
The Oregon Health and Science University recognizes that methamphetamine use affects various elements of the human body including the thought processes and the brain’s response to emotions. As such, most of the treatment philosophy behind methamphetamine addiction recovery methods is focused on helping the user to rewire his or her brain to respond differently to stressors that may otherwise trigger further drug use. Also called relapse prevention therapy, this method of treatment has been proven effective in helping users to stabilize and in preventing them from falling victim to later relapse. Abstinence is key to recovery-but it’s also one of the most challenging aspects of the healing process for most patients.
Who Needs Treatment
According to Brown University, you should consider seeking help for meth addiction if:
- You are using the drug more frequently than you would like to or than you once did
- You are taking more methamphetamine to produce similar results or any results
- You have suffered from consequences as a result of your drug use and the consequences have not been enough to entice you to quit
- You feel sick or otherwise “off” when you are not using crystal meth
- You are erratic or unpredictable when you are using
- You want to quit but don’t know how
- Your family or friends have voiced concern over your drug use
- You cannot imagine life without it
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