Speed, crystal, glass, ice, crank, or meth: Whatever street name you assign methamphetamine, it remains one of the most toxic substances you can put into your body. This highly addictive stimulant hijacks the brain and triggers dependency faster than any other illicit drug. The consequences from its use are life-altering if not fatal.
Methamphetamine does have a legitimate medical use, under a certain formulation, in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity. Still, it is mostly abused recreationally.
While the opioid crisis dominates news headlines, a surge in meth addiction overdose deaths persists, leaving families and communities ravaged in its wake. The fact is, escaping the clutches of meth addiction can be extremely difficult, especially when attempted alone. However, rehabilitation is possible.
What is Meth?
German soldiers used methamphetamine in World War II to decrease fear and induce increased wakefulness. It aided them as they launched invasions against Belgium, Holland, and France.
In the United States, students, truck drivers, and athletes used the stimulant for non-medical purposes when it was legally manufactured in the 1950s. It was not until 1970, when Congress established the Controlled Substances Act, that the production of injectable methamphetamine was restricted.
Now illegally trafficked throughout the world, meth is used almost universally as a recreational drug. When smoked, swallowed, snorted, or injected, it stimulates the central nervous system and imparts feelings of euphoria, increased sexual desire, energy, and excitement. Meth literally rewires the brain by rapidly releasing high levels of dopamine in its reward centers. This action compels you to take meth repeatedly, quickly triggering addiction. Long-term use of crystal meth can profoundly impact your health and well-being. It can inflict permanent damage and cognitive and emotional disorders.
What are the Signs of Addiction?
Methamphetamine addiction has many effects on the mind and body. The signs of addiction will readily become clear to family and friends once dependency sets in. Meth will produce powerful cravings. Those urges morph into compulsive behaviors where obtaining and using meth becomes the center of your life. Here are the are telltale signs of meth addiction that appear after short-term use:
- Unpredictable and compulsive behavior
- Decreased appetite
- Faster breathing
- Bad breath
- Dilated pupils
- Increased wakefulness and physical activity
- Rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
- Increased blood pressure and body temperature
With chronic, long-term meth use, the effects worsen and wreak havoc on your mind and body. Those symptoms include:
- Sleeping problems
- Extreme weight loss
- Severe dental problems (“meth mouth”)
- Intense itching and scratching, causing skin sores to form
- Violent behavior
In addition to these symptoms, there are profound life-altering consequences that come with meth use, such as permanent brain damage. This is when coordination, verbal learning, memory, and emotion become disrupted. Some of these cognitive issues can be reversed after ceasing crystal meth use after a year.
However, the damage to other functions can be irreversible and can deteriorate further over time. Meth use also increases your risk of getting Parkinson’s disease. If you are concerned that you or a loved one is addicted to meth, then addiction treatment is the next step.
What is Involved in Treatment?
It is dangerous and ultimately futile to attempt to quit crystal meth on your own. The likelihood of relapse is considerable. Thus, medically supervised treatment is absolutely crucial.
After taking the necessary step of acknowledging your abuse, it is important that you begin your addiction treatment with medical detoxification. This will ensure the methamphetamine and any other toxins are safely removed from your body. Crystal meth withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.
That’s why medical professionals will monitor you around the clock to ensure that you are safely weaned off of the drug. Once you have completed this phase, a medical team will recommend the best course of action to help you along your journey to recovery. To further treat your addiction, it is necessary to enter an inpatient or residential treatment program.
Studies show that living at a facility and receiving residential treatment is the most effective option in combating addiction, particularly if you are struggling with meth dependency. In a residential treatment program, you will have an individually tailored program that will last from 28-90 days. You will have access to treatment options that can include 12-step programs, holistic therapy, family therapy, individual and group counseling, and relapse prevention education.
If your addiction is considered mild or in the early stages, there is an outpatient treatment option that does not require a stay at a treatment center. What you will receive are structured sessions that you will attend three to five times a week or more, depending on your situation. There are alumni and 12-step programs that can help you connect to a larger community that cares about your recovery.
It is strongly recommended that you consider aftercare services to focus on your recovery and lessen the chance of relapse. You should also consider follow-up care and therapy to help you manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS), which can occur long after meth dependence has passed.
How Dangerous is Meth?
The litany of health complications that result from meth use can reverberate long after you have stopped using. In fact, meth is so dangerous that first-time users can experience irreversible, if not fatal, consequences like seizures, convulsions, and brain bleed. Overdose can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or organ damage.
The harm methamphetamine causes to the brain cannot be overstated. It profoundly affects the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, so much so that it will prevent you from experiencing other pleasures. The only gratification you can experience is exclusively derived from ingesting more meth. This fortifies the addiction. When meth users experience a comedown, they usually experience profound depression, anxiety, and other withdrawal symptoms.
Long-term users can also develop psychosis and experience frightening auditory and visual hallucinations. Many meth users will believe they have bugs crawling underneath their skin, for example. This usually causes them to scratch and pick at their skin until they have sores. They also develop “meth mouth,” which is tooth decay so severe that the teeth fall out or completely crumble away.
Meth is a stimulant that affects the dopamine levels in the brain and the rate at which dopamine is removed and recycled. Because of the way meth affects the brain, the withdrawal symptoms involve intense psychological effects more than physical ones.
Withdrawal might cause some physical discomfort, but the most serious effects are depression and anxiety. Still, since your body was used to the stimulating effects of meth, you may feel some intense fatigue symptoms when you first quit the drug.
If you engaged in meth binges that lasted for a few days at a time, your fatigue might be even worse.
Other Symptoms Can Include:
- Drug cravings
- Suicidal thoughts
- General discomfort
The most common symptom is a strong urge or impulse to use meth. These symptoms may last longer than your acute withdrawal phase and beyond detox. It’s likely that you will need addiction treatment to help address these cravings and prevent relapse. Unfortunately, psychological symptoms are more likely to linger.
Though meth withdrawal isn’t usually life-threatening, it can cause some potentially dangerous symptoms. Meth use and withdrawal can cause psychosis in some situations. Psychotic symptoms represent a serious mental health problem that often needs treatment to address effectively. Depression is common in meth withdrawal, but it can become severe in some cases. Meth both stops dopamine reuptake and increases the amount of dopamine in your system.
This floods your dopamine receptors to the point where they can become damaged. This can lead to a condition called anhedonia, which is when you can’t feel pleasure. This can lead to deep depression and suicidal thoughts and actions.
According to one Australian study, suicide is a significant cause of death among meth users. If you stop using meth and start experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important to speak to a professional as soon as possible.
Meth Overdose Symptoms
Meth can cause a dangerous and life-threatening overdose if it’s used in high doses. Meth users often go on binges that involve taking dose after dose in close succession. This can cause addiction, psychosis, and other harmful symptoms, but it can also lead to an overdose.
Overdose is usually caused by heart-related complications because meth increases your heart rate and blood pressure.
Signs Can Include:
- Chest pain
- Heart arrhythmias
- Difficulty breathing
- Psychotic symptoms
- Hyperthermia (feeling hot)
Meth Abuse Statistics
- More than 1.2 million people reported using methamphetamine in 2012.
- There were 3,728 deaths from methamphetamine overdose in 2014, more than double the number from 2010.
- 61% of people treated for methamphetamine addiction relapse within one year.
- Psychostimulants like meth caused the deaths of around 10,333 people in 2017.