Methamphetamine is a potent amphetamine-related stimulant that is a Schedule II drug per the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). When a substance is listed as Schedule II, it is considered to have an important medical use, so it is allowed as a prescription substance with intensive oversight from doctors and pharmacists. It was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication under the brand name Desoxyn. As of 2010, a generic version has been approved, too.
Although meth may be used for limited purposes as a prescription medication, it is more infamous as an addictive street drug, usually found as crystal meth but sometimes found in other forms like powder. It is potent, addictive, and dangerous.
People who abuse this drug quickly develop cravings for it, leading to cycles of abuse called binges, in which the rapid high ends quickly and prompts the person to take more meth to feel good. Additional doses do not trigger the same happy, energetic euphoria. This leads to frustration and unstable behavior, causing the person abusing meth to “tweak,” a condition characterized by paranoia and psychotic behaviors that may last for three to 15 days.
Because the brain releases surges of dopamine, it is also possible for a person to build up a tolerance to the drug’s euphoric effects. Quickly, people who regularly use meth will find that they need to continually ingest the drug to feel normal.
Tolerance to a substance, like meth, heroin, or alcohol, occurs when the brain becomes used to the presence of the original dose and no longer responds to it by releasing the same level of neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine. The dose then feels less effective because the same kind of high is not achieved. To get the same high, caused by the same release of neurotransmitters, the person feels the need to take more of the drug. This creates a cycle of increasing rates of abuse commonly associated with addiction.
Someone who develops tolerance to a drug does not necessarily have an addiction. Many people develop tolerance when consistently taking a prescription medication as ordered, and they must take more of it with a doctor’s permission or change medications. However, without the oversight of a medical professional, tolerance is often more associated with harmful substance abuse and addiction.
Meth releases large amounts of dopamine that can, in people who abuse meth chronically, lead to various symptoms such as:
These are symptoms similar to those seen with schizophrenia or related psychotic disorders, so people who struggle with consistent, high-dose meth abuse due to tolerance may be at risk of developing drug-induced psychosis.
A person who struggles with meth abuse leading to physical tolerance may not realize how much of the drug they are taking, or they may not realize how rapidly they have become tolerant to its original effects and started taking more of the substance. A doctor, counselor, or addiction specialist will have to diagnose this condition, which often develops alongside addiction in people who abuse meth.
If someone you care about exhibits extreme changes in behavior, especially being overly energetic, anxious, or violent; if they suddenly change eating, sleeping, or hygiene habits; or if they can’t meet work or school obligations, they may be struggling with a drug problem. Because they are in the throes of the addiction, they may not realize how serious their physical tolerance to and dependence on meth has become. Denial is a major sign of addiction, so you may need to encourage them to seek help.
Once your loved one has decided to get help, you must find an evidence-based detox and rehabilitation program that understands how to work with individuals who struggle with meth addiction. Working with a detox program to manage withdrawal symptoms and end the body’s physical dependence on meth ensures safety throughout the process.
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No specific medications can be used to taper off meth dependence during detox, but a doctor can manage symptoms like pain or anxiety with small, monitored doses of other medications. Once detox is complete, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — particularly a 16-week comprehensive approach called the Matrix Model — appears to work best to change behaviors around stimulant addiction.
Meth addiction and tolerance do not only mean you should take a break from the substance; they mean you need to overcome harmful compulsive behaviors to get healthy again.
Meth abuse is one of the more harmful forms of substance abuse, leading to lasting physical harm from infections and tooth decay as well as changes to the structure of the brain. Without quick help to stop taking meth, some of these changes can become permanent. These changes may affect various areas of functioning such as:
Brain health may also be impacted because of the damage done by chronic meth abuse, changing how certain cells respond to the presence of infections and damaged or dead neurons. Without help from these cells, the brain becomes unhealthy and cannot function well.
Abstinence from meth abuse can reverse a lot of the damage, but it takes a long time. Scientific research has shown that an average of two years is required for most brain function to return. This timeline may feel frustrating but staying away from drugs or alcohol that can damage the brain for a sustained period is crucial to regaining a normal life.
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