Methamphetamine or “meth” addiction is one of the most dangerous of all substance addictions. According to data provided by the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 1.6 million Americans reported using meth in the last year. Although the average age of first use is around age twenty-three, people as young as age twelve struggle with a methamphetamine use disorder leading to clinically significant impairments resulting from ongoing meth use. Fortunately, many of the warning signs of a methamphetamine use disorder are easy to spot, providing an increased opportunity to encourage a friend or loved one to seek potentially lifesaving addiction treatment at The Hills in Los Angeles, California.
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine, or “meth,” is a highly addictive, powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system. The central nervous system includes your brain, your spinal cord, and associated nerves that carry messages throughout the body. Methamphetamine is commonly referred to by various names, including blue, ice, meth, crystal, and many others. It takes the form of an odorless, bitter-tasting crystallized powder that is white in color and dissolves easily and quickly in water or alcohol.
Methamphetamine was developed early in the nineteen hundreds as a product of the drug amphetamine. Initially, methamphetamine was used as an ingredient in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers to help with symptoms related to congestion and even asthma. Like its “parent drug” amphetamine, methamphetamine results in increased activity, excitability, decreased appetite, and a feeling of euphoria or joy. However, illegally produced methamphetamine differs from amphetamine in that much larger doses of the drug enter the brain, making it significantly more potent at equivalent doses.
Methamphetamine is also longer lasting and leads to substantially more harmful effects on the central nervous system, making it a drug with a high potential for misuse and addiction.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration classifies methamphetamine as a Schedule II stimulant. This means it is available legally through a non-refillable prescription. It is still used as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and as a drug in some weight loss treatments; however, these uses are uncommon, and prescriptions for methamphetamine are rare. When taken outside of a prescription, meth is generally smoked, injected, swallowed, or snorted.
How Meth Affects the Body
As previously mentioned, methamphetamine is a stimulant. It works within the brain to increase activity in certain areas. As a result, the functions of the central nervous system are increased or occur at a faster rate. For example, life-sustaining body functions such as heart rate, body temperature, respiration, and blood pressure are all elevated when someone takes methamphetamines.
Like many other drugs, methamphetamine increases the dopamine response in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical messenger or neurotransmitter that is responsible for producing feelings of happiness and pleasure. Pleasure, focus, energy, attention, and excitement are all increased under the influence of methamphetamines. Dopamine is responsible for the intense “high” associated with using methamphetamines. The desire to recreate or relive this high over and over is what makes methamphetamine extremely addictive in dangerous.
Warning Signs of Methamphetamine Abuse
Ongoing meth use takes a substantial physical and emotional toll on the body. Although there are far more than five specific warning signs of meth abuse, the below list occurs most often and is frequently most apparent.
Sudden Loss of Interest
One of the first and most notable symptoms of meth abuse is a sudden loss of interest in things that were once important. This could include career goals, educational aspirations, hobbies, and even relationships with loved ones. All of these and more are often pushed to the side in favor of getting and using methamphetamines. Like with many substances, someone addicted to methamphetamine will often try to hide their use from family and loved ones in the beginning. However, the longer they struggled with a meth addiction, the more the need and desire to use methamphetamine takes over. Methamphetamine physically alters how the brain and body function leading to changes in how the addict thinks and feels. Their priorities shift from day-to-day obligations and tasks to using and remaining high.
Tweaking is an emotional side effect of methamphetamine use. It is a period of alternating anxiety and insomnia that can last between three and fifteen days. Tweaking occurs at the end of a binge when someone using methamphetamine can no longer achieve a rush or “high” from using meth. Tweaking leads to various psychological side effects, including confusion, irritability, paranoia, and desperation to use again. Depending on the individual and the severity of their addiction, it can also lead to hallucinations and violent or angry outbursts.
A third warning sign that a friend or loved one might be addicted to methamphetamines and could benefit from addiction treatment at The Hills in Los Angeles is the crash phase. The crash occurs when the body experiences dopamine deprivation. Using methamphetamine leads to significant spikes in dopamine production. This is how the user achieves pleasure and euphoria from methamphetamine use. When the user can no longer maintain their high or if the amount they are using is not enough, they will experience a crash. A crash can also occur when they stop using or intentionally begin the detox and withdrawal process. This “crash” leads to extreme exhaustion lasting anywhere from one to three days. The crash phase is also characterized by long periods of sleep, depression, and intense, sometimes overwhelming, drug cravings.
Methamphetamine use leads to various physical changes in the body. Some are indeed more noticeable than others. Using meth will lead to noticeable often sudden weight loss, dilated pupils in the eyes, lesions or sores on the skin, rotting teeth, and changes in appetite. Depending on how the user consumes methamphetamine, you may also notice burns on the lips or fingers from smoking methamphetamine. Due to consistent tweaking and crashing, methamphetamine users also struggle with significant changes in sleeping habits.
A fifth warning sign of methamphetamine abuse includes emotional or behavioral changes. Methamphetamine use leads to increased energy, and therefore, someone addicted to methamphetamine may appear hyperactive or overly energetic as compared to before they began using. You may also notice your friend or loved one experiences significant episodes of paranoia and agitation. A user experiencing either a crash or a tweaking phase may also struggle with substantial emotional outbursts and violent, unpredictable mood swings.
Overcoming A Methamphetamine Addiction
Outgoing methamphetamine use is dangerous. The short- and long-term side effects of meth addiction lead to permanent physical and functional changes to the brain and vital body systems. Methamphetamine is toxic to the nerve endings in the brain, and it can destroy the receptor sites where dopamine is released. This results in significant dependence on using methamphetamine. Prolonged meth addiction changes the brain’s chemistry, making it increasingly difficult to experience pleasure without using. In addition to changes in mood and behavior, meth use can also cause irreversible damage to vital body systems and blood vessels in the brain, increasing one’s risk of stroke. Other long-term effects of untreated methamphetamine addiction include liver and kidney failure, seizures, sudden cardiac death, respiratory issues, increased risk of overdose, and death.
Seeking comprehensive addiction treatment is vital to overcoming an addiction to methamphetamine. Several forms of treatment have proven effective in helping those addicted to methamphetamines attain and maintain ongoing sobriety. The best and most effective treatment method will depend on your unique treatment needs and goals. The first step for the majority of those struggling with a meth addiction is to go through withdrawal and detox. Although withdrawing from stimulants is less physically dangerous than withdrawal from other substances (such as alcohol and opioids), methamphetamine withdrawal can be unpleasant and produce seizures in some people. Methamphetamine withdrawal also increases the risk of overdose in the event of a relapse.
For this reason, it is essential to undergo detox in a medically supervised addiction treatment setting where trained medical professionals can provide support and guidance throughout the process. Medically assisted detox helps to reduce the risk of relapse in a safe, supported environment. Upon completing detox, it is essential to transition to an addiction treatment program to receive therapy for meth addiction. Behavioral therapy is the most effective treatment model for meth addiction. The most commonly used behavioral therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Important aspects of a comprehensive treatment program include family education, individual and group counseling, 12 step program supports, drug testing, and encouragement to participate in non-drug-related activities such as sober gatherings and mindfulness practices. Although medications are used to treat some substance use disorders, there are currently no medications proven to counteract the specific effects of methamphetamine.
If you or a loved one struggles with an addiction to methamphetamine, seeking comprehensive addiction treatment at a facility like The Hills in Los Angeles is vital to your recovery. Addiction is an individual struggle. Although the warning signs listed above are common to many, each person will experience signs and symptoms unique to their experience. For this reason, it is crucial for an addiction treatment program to work with those seeking recovery to design a treatment approach that addresses the individual’s specific treatment needs and goals. Their program should address all aspects of the person, including their physical, psychological, and spiritual treatment needs.
At The Hills, we understand the decision to seek addiction treatment is complex. Our caring and compassionate treatment team are here to help answer your questions about methamphetamine addiction, recovery, and how to begin your journey to a safe, healthy, and drug-free future. If today is the day for you to start your journey to sobriety, contact our Los Angeles-based admissions team today. Let us help you overcome your methamphetamine addiction.