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What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine, commonly known as meth, belongs to the class of synthetic psychoactive drugs amphetamines, which are central nervous system stimulants.

Medications containing amphetamines are commonly prescribed to treat narcolepsy (sleep disorder) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and also as an appetite suppressant for obese individuals.

Methamphetamine Facts

Methamphetamine usually comes in crystal-like small rocks and is white or yellow in color, depending on its purity. Odorless and bitter-tasting, it can be easily crushed into powder or dissolved in water or alcohol. Like amphetamine, methamphetamine causes hyperactivity, wakefulness, heightened alertness, decreased appetite, and a feeling of euphoria. Although methamphetamine is structurally similar to amphetamine, it has more striking, longer-lasting and more harmful effects on the central nervous system. At comparable doses, a greater amount of meth enters the brain than amphetamine, making it a more potent stimulant.

Meth stays much longer in the body than cocaine, leading to prolonged stimulant effects. Classified as a Schedule II drug by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, medications containing meth can be obtained legally only with a prescription. Additionally, its medical uses are restricted, and the prescribed dosages are usually lower than what an abuser takes.

Methamphetamine is manufactured either in highly advanced or small illicit laboratories with relatively low-cost, over-the-counter ingredients like pseudoephedrine, which is a common ingredient in cold medications. The chemicals needed to manufacture meth pose serious health risks to lab workers, as well as others exposed to these labs, because toxicity from these chemicals can linger in the environment for a long time.

Prevalence of Methamphetamine Abuse

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated that in 2012 approximately 1.2 million people (0.4 percent of the population) used methamphetamine in the past year, and 440,000 (0.2 percent) used it in the past month. There were approximately 133,000 new users of meth aged 12 and older in the U.S in 2012, and the average age of new methamphetamine users was 19.7 years.

The 2012 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of adolescent drug use and attitudes reported that about 1 percent of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders had used methamphetamine within the past year. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), methamphetamine accounted for about 103,000 emergency department (ED) visits in 2011, and it was the fourth most common illicit drug associated with hospital emergency department visits, following cocaine, marijuana, and heroin.

History of Methamphetamine

The history of methamphetamine dates back to 1887 when ephedrine (an amphetamine) was first isolated from the shrub ephedra, a substance with anti-congestion and anti-asthmatic properties. Six years later, in 1893, methamphetamine was synthesized from ephedrine by Japanese chemist Nagayoshi Nagai. In 1919, the crystallized form of methamphetamine was produced by Akira Ogata, using the precursor chemical ephedrine, iodine and red phosphorus.

Methamphetamine was introduced in the U.S. in the 1930s and was initially used as a nasal decongestant and bronchial inhaler, as well as for treating obesity. However, during World War II (1939-1945), the military forces of the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and Japan started using amphetamine-containing drugs to elevate mood and increase alertness and endurance. Following World War II, former Japanese military warehouses had a huge inventory of the drug stockpiled. As a result, large quantities of over-the-counter methamphetamine pills were sold to civilians by Japanese pharmaceutical companies. This led to widespread abuse and addiction problems. Meth abuse spread to Guam and then to the West Coast of the U.S.

During the 1950s, methamphetamine was widely prescribed in the U.S. by doctors as a diet pill and anti-depressant. Since it was inexpensive and easy to procure, abuse by college students, housewives, truck drivers and athletes became rampant. Its abuse intensified during the late 1950s and 1960s with the discovery that intravenous injections of water soluble methamphetamine produced greater euphoric effects than the oral doses. The drug was declared illegal as a part of the U.S. Drug Abuse and Regulation Control Act of 1970, yet its production and trading remains pervasive through illegal channels.

Methamphetamine’s Methods of Use

Methamphetamine can be used orally, snorted, or smoked in a glass pipe. It is also dissolved in water or alcohol and injected. Usually the ‘glass’ and ‘ice’ forms of meth, which look like clear crystalline rock, are vaporized and inhaled using a glass pipe, whereas ‘crystal’, the powder form of meth, is inhaled, injected or consumed orally.

Injecting methamphetamine leads to rapid absorption, delivering it instantly to the brain and producing immediate and deep euphoria. When it is snorted, the effects become apparent within 3 to 5 minutes. Oral ingestion of the drug produces effects within 15 to 20 minutes. When mixed with alcohol or other drugs, the effects and risks amplify.

After taking the drug, users experience a short but powerful rush that lasts for about 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the route of administration. Other effects like alertness, activeness, decreased appetite, and a sense of well-being last for as long as 6 to 12 hours, since the drug is not completely eliminated from the body even after 12 hours. Methamphetamine addicts often take repeated doses of the drug in a day to prolong the feeling of ecstasy and to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

The Addictive Properties of Meth

All forms of methamphetamine are highly addictive. Upon absorption, meth induces the release of three neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. These are released from nerve endings in the brain and their reuptake is inhibited, so they accumulate at synapses (junction between two neurons or brain cells). The build-up of these neurotransmitters produces a variety of neurological effects.

Most of the pleasurable effects of methamphetamine are due to dopamine. The immediate effect is a sudden rush of energy, pleasure and excitement, which fades away in few minutes. Even after the high slumps, the brain remains alert and the body jittery for up to 6 to 12 hours. The person also experiences enhanced confidence, talkativeness, wakefulness and decreased appetite. However, once all these effects subside, the brain becomes exhausted of dopamine, leading to feelings of depression and confusion. Abusers are often unable to bear the crash of feelings, making it one of the chief reasons for the dependence of methamphetamine.

As the frequency and dosage of meth intake increases, the body builds up tolerance, resulting in the need for higher doses to achieve the desired effects. The ability to experience pleasure and delight in routine activities gets disrupted, and addicts find gratification only through taking meth. Methamphetamine is considered to hook users like no other illicit drug, making withdrawal an extremely challenging and daunting task, which is why it is important that a person enters methamphetamine addiction treatment.

Breaking Bad with Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is a potential psychomotor stimulant, and its abuse can have disastrous side-effects on the brain and personality of a person. Neuro- imaging studies on meth users have shown alterations in their dopamine system, and these changes are associated with reduced motor activity (slowdown of neurological signals for muscular movements) and impaired verbal learning. Chronic methamphetamine abusers also have severe structural and functional changes in parts of the brain associated with emotion and memory.

Methamphetamine has been found to increase the level and activity of microglia cells in the brain. Normally, these cells guard the brain against infectious agents and remove damaged neurons. However, too much activity of the microglia cells can have toxic effects on neurons, which are responsible for the release of dopamine and serotonin. Continued use of methamphetamine is associated with low levels of dopamine and may cause symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. Its chronic use also causes the person to behave in a manner typical of psychosis or schizophrenia (a mental disorder in which the person loses contact with reality, has disturbed thoughts and withdraws from social contact). Psychotic symptoms can sometimes last for months or years after a person has quit abusing methamphetamine. Methamphetamine addiction recovery programs can help a person manage these lasting symptoms during recovery.

Meth addicts often behave in a violent and unpredictable way, and often suffer from paranoia, nervousness, irritability, and involuntary facial and body movements such as twitching or tremors. Delusions like insects creeping under the skin, also known as crank bugs, are also common. Because meth impairs the inhibitory control of the brain, users exhibit obsessive manners, repeating the same tasks over and over. Cognitive impairment, auditory/visual hallucinations and suicidal disposition are other side-effects of meth abuse.

Meth users are sometimes referred as “tweakers,” a slang term referring to the repetitive, compulsive behavior sometimes exhibited by meth abusers. The term is also used to describe the dangerous behavior that occurs when a meth abuser has not slept in several days due to continued use of the drug, and has become irritable and paranoid. The abuser craves more of the drug, but due to developed tolerance, is unable to experience the desired high and feels frustrated, often leading to hostile stints, impulsive and violent crimes or accidents. Dealing with the abuser in such conditions requires extreme caution. The best course of action is to enter methamphetamine rehabilitation at methamphetamine rehab centers, such as DTRC.

Side Effects and Health Risks of Methamphetamine Abuse

Methamphetamine users may experience both short-term and long-term side-effects, as it is a highly potent neuro-stimulating drug, even when taken in small doses.

The following are common short-term or immediate side-effects of meth abuse:

  • Diminished appetite
  • Rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat and increased blood pressure
  • Increased breathing rate and dilated pupils
  • Uncontrollable jaw clenching
  • Performing repetitive and meaningless tasks
  • Paranoia and irritability
  • In case of overdose, hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), profuse sweating, convulsions and coma, which if not immediately treated may result in death

Long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse include:

  • Memory loss and brain damage similar to Parkinson’s disease
  • Insomnia, anxiety, paranoia and suicidal tendency
  • Weakened immunity and weight loss
  • High blood pressure and increased risk of stroke, heart infections, lung disease, kidney and liver damage
  • Psychotic behavior and repeated motor activities
  • Aggressive and violent streak
  • Sores and skin infections due to scratching and picking at crank bugs (tactile hallucinations)
  • Meth mouth, characterized by dry mouth, severe tooth decay and cracked teeth due to severe jaw clenching during a meth high
  • Increased risk of contracting diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C from sharing contaminated syringes and unsafe sex
  • Premature birth, cardiac defects, cleft palate and other birth defects, when used during pregnancy

Methamphetamine Treatment Options

Meth addiction is highly overwhelming, and its withdrawal symptoms can be extremely tough and even life-threatening. That is why it is important to undergo methamphetamine withdrawal treatment. A customized and recovery-oriented rehabilitation approach for methamphetamine addicts can help a person end his or her abuse of meth. Behavioral therapies, individual counseling, family education and encouragement for non-drug-related activities are integral for an effective recovery program. A unique incentive-based method known as Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR) is also helpful in keeping the addict away from meth. Although certain medications are useful in controlling and treating addiction of common drugs, currently there is no such medication for thwarting the withdrawal symptoms of methamphetamine or reducing its abuse.

Methamphetamine Treatment Centers at Drug Treatment and Rehab Centers

Drug Treatment and Rehab Centers (DTRC) offers treatment for methamphetamine addiction, including residential rehab programs and detox for methamphetamine. Patients are screened and treated for all underlying and co-occurring conditions in order to reduce the risk of relapse. Through customized programming that combines individual and group psychotherapy and complementary alternative therapeutic activities such as yoga, meditation, art therapy, equine therapy, and music therapy, the programs at DTRC provide balanced, holistic treatment for the person, not the disorder. Call our Admissions team at (305) 615-2028 to learn more about our methamphetamine treatment programs.

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