Meth is a highly addictive stimulant drug that can lead to addiction after just one use. Meth addiction is serious since it can lead to a wide variety of physical, mental, and social problems. Individuals who use meth are also at risk of a deadly overdose. If you or someone you love is addicted to meth, you need to seek professional treatment as soon as possible.
What Is Meth?
Methamphetamine or meth is a synthetic drug that affects the central nervous system and speeds up the functioning of the brain. It has highly visible and long-lasting effects on the body. Meth is also known as crystal, zoom, speed, ice, glass, tweak, crank, uppers, and poor man’s cocaine. It can be swallowed in pill form, injected intravenously, smoked, or snorted. Depending on how it is made, it may be an odorless powder or a solid crystal that looks like shards of glass. While meth and crystal meth look different, they are chemically the same.
Where Did Meth Come From?
Methamphetamine has a longer history than you may think. Amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887 in Germany after ephedrine was isolated from the ephedra plant. Crystal meth was first produced in Japan in 1919. It was two to three times stronger than amphetamine with longer-lasting effects and it was easier to make. Crystal meth was also more toxic and more addictive.
However, since the negative side effects weren’t well known at the time, German soldiers were given meth tablets during World War III to help them fight day and night without the need for food or sleep. British and American soldiers were also provided with the drug to keep their energy levels up.
By the 1950s, amphetamine was being marketed as Benzedrine, a treatment for colds, asthma, and hayfever. It was also used recreationally. However, by 1971, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (USDEA) had classified all amphetamines as Schedule II controlled substances because of the risk of abuse, dependence, and addiction.
Today, the use of amphetamine is highly restricted but drugs like Adderall and Dexedrine are prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. The pure form of methamphetamine, Desoxyn, is hardly ever prescribed in the US.
When amphetamine became a controlled substance, illegal drug suppliers turned to ephedrine, a substance used in cold medicines which can produce methamphetamine. Also, crystal meth was rediscovered in the 1980s. It was made in makeshift labs from a wide range of household and industrial products such as fertilizer, drain cleaner, brake fluid, and sodium hydroxide.
As you can see, methamphetamine isn’t a new drug. However, it has become stronger and more dangerous partly due to refined meth processing techniques. Some experts call this purer variety “super meth”. It has led to the meth overdose crisis currently being experienced and a high risk of addiction in users.
How Does Meth Addiction Happen?
Meth’s addictive potential is largely because it produces a rush of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that induces feelings of pleasure and also plays a role in memory retention, learning, motivation, and reward processing. While the brain produces dopamine naturally, the rush produced by meth is much higher.
Since users want to continue experiencing that euphoria, they keep using the drug. Some take meth continually over several days so they can stay high. This typically leads to the development of tolerance, meaning individuals need to take larger and larger doses to feel the same effects. Tolerance, along with the drug’s affordability and relatively easy availability, can quickly lead to addiction.
At this point, individuals may not feel happy or even normal if they’re not taking meth. Furthermore, they may experience highly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the drug wear off. This reinforces the abuse of the drug and sourcing and using meth can easily take over a person’s life.
Not everyone who uses meth becomes addicted to it. It is difficult to say exactly why some people become addicted and others don’t. However, there are known risk factors for meth addiction. For example, people with a history of mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder are at heightened risk. So too are those who have had substance abuse disorder before. You’re also more likely to develop a meth addiction if you have a family history of meth addiction.
Dual Diagnosis and Meth Addiction
Dual diagnosis refers to when a person has a mental illness and a substance abuse problem at the same time. Meth use can either be the result of mental health problems or the cause of them. It’s often difficult to tell which issue came first. However, both conditions must be treated at the same time if the affected individual is to recover.
Many people who have mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and attention deficit disorder turn to meth to relieve their symptoms. However, this relief is only temporary and the symptoms can come back even more strongly when they crash.
People with conditions such as schizophrenia or psychosis may even experience a worsening of their symptoms while they’re high. To compound matters, regular meth use can interact negatively with psychiatric medications and also prevent individuals from taking their medication as prescribed.
Signs of Meth Use and Dependence
People who use meth will display physical and psychological signs. Physical side effects of meth use include:
- An increasingly thin, frail body
- Track marks on the arms, legs, hands, feet, or neck
- Facial sores
- Rotten teeth
- Increased susceptibility to illness
- Increased body temperature
- Constant scratching
- Liver damage
- Increased libido
Increased libido combined with lowered inhibitions and increased stamina makes people who use meth more likely to engage in unprotected sex. This causes them to be vulnerable to a variety of sexually transmitted diseases.
Meth is also associated with several psychological side effects. Because of the dopamine imbalance that occurs with ongoing meth use, individuals may develop memory problems and difficulty learning new things, including motor skills.
Meth abuse can also lead to psychosis in some people. This can include hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and irritability. The scratching we mentioned above is in some cases linked to psychosis.
It may be useful here to differentiate between meth mites vs meth sores. Individuals who are experiencing meth-induced psychosis may experience meth mites – the belief that bugs are crawling on or under the skin. This leads to scratching and picking along with abrasion, rashes, and open sores. If you’ve seen before and after meth pictures, you’ll be aware of the skin problems that can come along with meth use
People who are on meth may also experience insomnia for 3 to 15 days. This is known as tweaking and it may happen during a meth binge in which an individual keep using meth continuously for several days. Tweaking can lead to confusion, irritability, and paranoia. A person who is tweaking may also display rapid eye movements, walk with a jerky motion, and speak in a fast or jumbled way. In addition, they may be prone to violence. Tweaking is following by a crash.
Changes in Behavior
There are also behavioral changes associated with meth use and dependence. When drug use becomes a priority, it isn’t long before individuals start experiencing problems at home, work, or school. People usually try to hide their meth use in the early stages but if they become addicted, they typically don’t care what people think. The only thing they’re concerned about is getting and using meth. Therefore, one of the main signs of addiction is the abandonment of relationships, hobbies, and responsibilities in favor of drugs.
Presence of Drug Paraphernalia
If you suspect that a loved one is using meth, you may not want to approach them without evidence. Concerned family members often look for drugs and/or drug paraphernalia. If an individual is using meth, you may find small self-fastening baggies or sandwich bags with a corner cut off and twist ties for fasteners.
Other paraphernalia will depend on the way the person uses meth. If they smoke, they may have strips of aluminum foil, short straws, torch lighters, hollowed-out pens, or glass tubes. These items may have burn marks on them. People who snort meth may have straws, rolled bills, or hollowed-out pens. Meanwhile, those who prefer intravenous use may have items such as syringes, armbands, and spoons.
Symptoms of Meth Withdrawal
Individuals who are dependent on meth will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using. Symptoms can start within a few hours of the last dose and they can be painful and extremely uncomfortable. That’s why it’s recommended that individuals undergo medically supervised detox. The most common meth withdrawal symptoms are insomnia, depression, fatigue, and intense cravings. The cravings can last for up to ten weeks but once they fade, individuals can begin treatment.
Meth withdrawal tends to last for one to two weeks but it can last for a month on more in extreme cases. While each person will have a somewhat different experience, we can set out a possible meth withdrawal timeline.
Within 24 to 72 hours after the last dose, individuals may experience:
- Suicidal thoughts
From days four to seven, symptoms can include:
- Mood swings
- Increased appetite
- Aches and pains
In the second week, individuals are usually left dealing with sleep disorders, cravings, depression, and mood swings. The next two weeks may involve anxiety, depression, fatigue, and nervousness.
There are several factors that affect how severe meth withdrawal is and how long it lasts. One of the most important is how long a person has used meth. Frequent, long-term meth use results in more severe and long-lasting symptoms. Other factors include:
- The method of administration (when the individual smoked, snorted, or injected the drug)
- How strong the meth is
- Whether other substances were used at the same time
- The metabolism of the user
- The strength of the user’s immune system
- The overall health of the user
Individuals are also more likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms if they quit meth cold turkey but the duration is shorter.
Can Meth Addiction Be Cured?
Substance addiction is a chronic illness. It can’t be cured but it can be treated managed. Many people who are addicted to meth go on to be live drug-free lives after they undergo medical detox and rehabilitation. Often, individuals progress along a continuum of inpatient treatment, partial hospitalization, and outpatient treatment. Ongoing aftercare and relapse prevention support are also essential for lasting recovery.
Treatment methods for meth recovery can include behavioral therapies, medication-assisted therapies, contingency management, individual counseling, family education, and 12-step programs.
Does Insurance Cover Meth Treatment?
Insurance plans typically cover the cost of addiction treatment. However, the coverage can vary significantly from one plan to another. Some plans cover all the costs while others expect the individual to pay for part of their treatment out of pocket. Some plans also require people to choose from a specific group of treatment providers. To find out what your plan covers, you should contact your insurance provider. Treatment facilities like Circle of Hope accept most of the major plans and we can verify your insurance when you call us.
Get Help from Circle of Hope
If you or a loved one is finding it hard to control your meth use, you need to seek help. Don’t try to manage the situation alone. Circle of Hope is staffed by addiction treatment professionals who can guide you every step of the way. Whether you’ve been using meth for a long time or you’re noticing the first signs of a problem, we’re here for you. Call us today to learn about your options.