Meth Addiction: A Growing Epidemic
Using methamphetamine has numerous effects on all aspects of a person’s life and the lives of the people around the addict. The drug causes short term and long term damage that is often irreversible. The problem of meth addiction continues to grow the United States. According to a NIDA survey, it is estimated that more than 14 million people have tried methamphetamine at some point in their lives. The effects of methamphetamine can be seen in almost every walk of life. As more people fall victim to this highly addictive drug, it becomes increasingly important to understand the effects of methamphetamine addiction. All of this is part of the growing epidemic of opioid abuse.
The Short Term Meth Side Effects
People that use the drug are typically seeking an immediate and long-lasting high. This is one the main reasons for which the drug has gained notoriety. When the substance is smoked, the vapor moves quickly from the lungs into the user’s bloodstream—where it then travels rapidly to the brain. The drug acts as a powerful stimulant throughout the brain and body and there is an almost instant euphoria, followed by an increase in energy and alertness. These are effects that can last for up to 12 hours. Other crystal meth side effects include:
- An intense, initial “rush” that may persist for 30 minutes.
- Higher motivation to accomplish goals.
- Confidence/feelings of improved intellect and ability to solve problems.
Not surprisingly, the desirable effects quickly give way to the undesirable effects of the substance. For example, even short-term use can elicit erratic and even violent behavior when taken in large doses. [contact-form-7 id=”27″ title=”Contact form 1″]
The Long Term Effects of Meth
The long-term methamphetamine abuse has many negative consequences, chief among them being addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use and accompanied by functional and molecular changes in the brain. Users of meth are highly susceptible to relapse. As is the case with many drugs, tolerance to methamphetamine’s pleasurable effects develops when it is used repeatedly. Abusers often find themselves needing to take higher doses of the drug, take it more frequently, or change how they take it in an effort to get the desired effect. Chronic methamphetamine abusers may develop difficulty feeling any pleasure from any other activity other than use of the drug, fueling further abuse. Withdrawal from methamphetamine occurs when a chronic abuser stops taking the drug; symptoms of withdrawal include depression, anxiety, fatigue, and an intense craving for the drug. In addition to being addicted to methamphetamine, chronic abusers may exhibit symptoms that can include significant anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behavior. They also may display a number of psychotic features, including paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects creeping under the skin). Psychotic meth side effects can sometimes last for months or years after a person has quit abusing methamphetamine, and stress has been shown to precipitate spontaneous recurrence of methamphetamine psychosis in formerly psychotic methamphetamine abusers. Long-term effects of meth may include:
- Psychosis, including:
- repetitive motor activity
- Changes in brain structure and function
- Deficits in thinking and motor skills
- Increased distractibility
- Memory loss
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Mood disturbances
- Severe dental problems
- Weight loss
Changes in the Brain
These meth side effects and other problems reflect the profound changes to the brain caused by abuse of methamphetamine. Neuroimaging studies have demonstrated alterations in the activity of the dopamine system that are associated with reduced motor speed and impaired verbal learning. Studies in chronic methamphetamine abusers have also revealed severe structural and in many cases, functional changes in areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory. This could account for many of the emotional and cognitive problems observed in chronic methamphetamine abusers. Methamphetamine abuse also has been shown to have negative effects on non-neural brain cells called “microglia.” It is known that these cells support brain health by defending the brain against infectious agents and removing damaged neurons. Too much activity of the microglial cells, however, can assault healthy neurons. A study using brain imaging found more than double the levels of microglial cells in former methamphetamine abusers compared to people with no history of methamphetamine abuse, which could explain some of the neurotoxic effects of methamphetamine. Some of the neurobiological effects of chronic methamphetamine abuse appear to be at least partially reversible. A study has shown that abstinence from methamphetamine resulted in less excess microglial activation over time, and abusers who had remained free of the substance for two years exhibited microglial activation levels similar to the study’s control subjects. Another neuroimaging study showed neuronal recovery in some brain regions following prolonged abstinence. This recovery was associated with improved performance on motor and verbal memory tests. But function in other brain regions did not recover even after 14 months of abstinence, indicating that some methamphetamineinduced changes are indeed very long lasting. Moreover, methamphetamine use can increase one’s risk of stroke, which can cause irreversible damage to the brain. A recent study even showed higher incidence of Parkinson’s disease among past users of methamphetamine. [contact-form-7 id=”27″ title=”Contact form 1″]
In addition to these neurological and behavioral consequences from methamphetamine abuse, long-term users might also suffer physical effects, including weight loss, severe tooth decay and tooth loss (“meth mouth”), and lesions on the skin. The dental problems may be caused by a combination of poor nutrition and dental hygiene as well as dry mouth and teeth grinding caused by the drug. Skin sores are the result of picking and scratching the skin to get rid of insects that some meth users imagine to be crawling under it.
Crystal Meth Dependency
Crystal meth signals the brain produce an increased amount of dopamine, a chemical that causes a feeling of reward or pleasure.The increased activity of dopamine is what scientists believe plays a large role in the development of addiction to certain drugs. It is thought that the positive feeling from dopamine is so strong—and so intensely satisfying—that it reinforces the behavior that initiated its release. As a user builds up tolerance to crystal meth, they will need more of it to achieve the desired high and will take ever-increasing amounts, placing themselves at risk for overdose and furthering fueling the body’s dependency on the drug. It’s a downward spiral for many, one that becomes dangerous very quickly. Over time – and after a period of persistent abuse of a substance – dopamine receptor activity is severely impaired, which can cause perceptions of decreased happiness and pleasure and even lead to permanent cognitive impairments. [cta id=’269′]
The symptoms of withdrawal from crystal meth often include:
- Feelings of depression.
- Intense drug craving.
- Loss of energy.
- Itchy eyes.
- Sleep difficulties, ranging from oversleeping to severe insomnia.
- Increased appetite.
Withdrawal from crystal meth can be very difficult and uncomfortable and may lead users to relapse in an attempt to alleviate the symptoms. Being in a medically supervised detox program can ensure management of symptoms and may help prevent relapse. Successful completion of a detoxification period often marks the initial part of treatment, that later leads in to a more protracted stay at an inpatient rehab program or participation in a structured outpatient program. Inpatient programs or residential rehabilitation can be highly effective methods for treating addiction, in that they allow the user to focus intensely on sobriety with minimal distractions or temptations. Most programs range from 30-90 days, with longer stays available for more severe cases of addiction. Outpatient or intensive outpatient drug treatment are additional valuable options to address the mental, behavioral, and medical issues associated with crystal meth abuse [contact-form-7 id=”27″ title=”Contact form 1″]