Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant often abused for the euphoric “high” it provides.
Some signs of abuse include frequent paranoia, agitation, sweating, insomnia, skin changes, weight loss, and more.
What Is Meth?
Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant that produces effects in users similar to cocaine and prescription stimulants like methylphenidate (Ritalin).
Pharmaceutical grade methamphetamine is approved for use in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or obesity under the trade name Desoxyn, but it is rarely prescribed because the drug has a high potential for abuse and safer alternatives are available.
The drug is most commonly used recreationally and is sold as a pill, powder, or crystal “rock”. It can be swallowed, snorted, injected, or smoked.
Signs and Symptoms
Like other stimulant drugs, methamphetamine acts by raising levels of several neurotransmitters in the brain including dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. By increasing the activity of these neurotransmitters in the brain, methamphetamine can deliver a powerful, temporary boost to energy and mood. Short-term effects of methamphetamine use can include the following:
- Increased energy and mania.
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate.
- Increased body temperature, sometimes to dangerous levels.
- Heavy sweating.
- Loss of appetite.
- Tremors and jaw clenching.
- Obsessive focus with performing repetitive actions.
Effects of Meth Abuse
Brain damage observed in experimental animals and long-term methamphetamine abusers resembles that seen in patients with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
- Damage to brain cells (neurotoxicity).
- Paranoia, anxiety, and insomnia.
- Deterioration of teeth (meth mouth).
- Sores and infections on the skin.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Liver, lung, and kidney damage.
- Birth defects when used by women during pregnancy.
- Hallucinations and psychosis due to sleep deprivation.
Some types of brain damage observed in both an experimental animal population as well as long-term methamphetamine abusers resembles that seen in patients with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
In long-term users, paranoia and anxiety caused by methamphetamine becomes more intense and can persist even when not taking the drug.
In addition to symptoms caused by the drug itself, methamphetamine users are also at increased risk of blood-borne diseases like hepatitis B and C and HIV. This is because abusers who inject methamphetamine often share needles. Even those who do not inject meth may still be at increased risk, because of engaging in unsafe sex while high. The National Institute on Drug Abuse also reports that methamphetamine may speed up the progression of HIV/AIDS and worsen symptoms of the disease.
In some cases, dangerous, life-threatening side effects may occur from methamphetamine use including seizures and sudden death.The damage of meth goes way beyond the short-term effects.
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Meth Abuse Treatment
There are currently no medications available to treat methamphetamine dependence, so treatment consists of behavioral therapies. Some of these include contingency management interventions, which offer incentives to stop taking the drug and remain abstinent, and the Matrix Model—a combination of behavioral therapy, education, counseling, drug testing, and peer support.
These behavioral therapies are available through either inpatient or outpatient treatment facilities.
Inpatient drug rehabilitation programs provide patients with a safe, controlled environment, counseling, and medical supervision for a period that typically spans at least 4 weeks.
For patients with important responsibilities at home or work and a strong system of support among friends and family, treatment through an outpatient program may be appropriate. These provide many of the same facilities and therapies as inpatient treatment centers, but patients attend sessions for only a few hours a day while continuing to work during the day and returning home at night.
After completing a drug treatment program, most people in recovery will require continued support in order to make a successful transition to a happy and productive life. There are several support options that are widely available.
Inpatient and outpatient treatment centers often provide aftercare support for individuals who have completed treatment. The support varies depending on the facility but can consist of further counseling and support groups to discuss the challenges of life after treatment.
Sober living facilities allow recovering people to become accustomed to greater independence while living in a community of other sober people. Peer support groups, including Narcotics Anonymous and LifeRing, provide low or no-cost nonprofessional support and a sense of community, and these groups can be very helpful in maintaining long-term abstinence from drugs.
Methamphetamine has a long history. It was given to soldiers during World War II to help them stay alert during long nights at the front. Methamphetamine first appeared as a recreational drug in the 1960s, and its use rose dramatically in the 1980s and peaked in the 1990s.
One big factor in meth’s continued popularity is the ease of access since it can be created in informal household laboratories from commonly available chemicals and cold medicines. Some key statistics on the use of methamphetamine include:
- According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and Health (NSDUH) in 2013, over 12 million people in the US over the age of 12 have used methamphetamine recreationally at some point in their lives.
- The Drug Awareness Warning Network (DAWN) reported that there were over 100,000 emergency room visits due to methamphetamine use in 2011.
- The Drug Enforcement Administration seized over 4,000 kg (8,800 lbs) of methamphetamine in 2013.
Teen Meth Abuse
What does meth look and smell like?
You may be concerned that your teen is using meth, but aren’t sure what to look for. It comes in several forms, including pills, powder, and crystals.
The smell can vary, but typically gives off the odor of the substances of which it composed, often paint thinner, ammonia, and ether.
Like other age groups, the popularity of methamphetamine among adolescents has declined since reaching a peak in the late 1990s. In 1999, Monitoring the Future, a national survey of teen drug use by researchers at the University of Michigan, found that 4.6% of 10th graders and 4.7% of 12th graders reported using methamphetamine in the past year. These rates declined to 0.8% and 1.0% for 10th and 12th graders in 2014.
This steep decline in teen meth use corresponded with an increase in how risky young people think it is to use methamphetamine. In 1999, only 51.2% of high school seniors thought using crystal methamphetamine (ice) once or twice was very risky.
This illustrates that education and awareness are huge prevention factors for teen methamphetamine use. Ongoing talks between parents and children about substance abuse and the dangers of meth can go a long way toward the prevention of teen drug abuse.
Resources, Articles and More Information
For more information, please see the following articles:
- The Effects of Crystal Meth Use
- How to Help a Crystal Meth Addict
- Methamphetamine History and Statistics