Methamphetamine or “meth” addiction is one of the most dangerous substance addictions. Data released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates more than 2.6 million American youth and adults reported using meth in 2019. In 2020, 1.5 million people (ages 12 and over) had a methamphetamine use disorder. The average age where people first report using meth is during their early twenties, around the age of twenty-three.
However, research data shows youth and teens as young as age twelve have been diagnosed with methamphetamine use disorders that can lead to long-term, sometimes life-long challenges. 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?
“Meth,” is a highly addictive, powerful stimulant drug. With ongoing use, meth will have lasting effects on your central nervous system (CNS). Your CNS performs many of the most vital functions in your body. Comprised of your brain, spinal cord, and associated nerves, your CNS is responsible for all of the communication that occurs throughout the body, including sending vital messages to your lungs to maintain healthy breathing.
Meth goes by many names. Some of the most common include blue, ice, meth, crystal, and others. Meth is a bitter-tasting, odorless, crystallized powder. It is generally white and easily dissolves in liquids such as alcohol or water. Meth is not new. It was developed in the early 20th century (the 1900s) as a product of amphetamine. Early on, methamphetamine was an ingredient in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers to help alleviate congestion and even asthma symptoms.
Like its “parent drug” amphetamine, methamphetamine has several effects on all body systems, including 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. Meth 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 classification makes meth legally available through a non-refillable prescription from a licensed medical provider. Meth is still prescribed 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.
Long-term Effects of Methamphetamine Use
Meth addiction has severe side effects; many are more severe than those of other drugs. In some cases, the effects of meth abuse are irreversible, even with detox and treatment. Research on the impact of meth addiction indicates the brains of those who use meth long-term undergo significant change. Often, these changes make it challenging to experience pleasure through “traditional” ways.
Methamphetamine use also affects emotional and behavioral well-being. Certain symptoms of meth addiction may continue long after completing a treatment program. In some cases, symptoms such as anxiety, mood disturbances, hallucinations, violent outbursts, and difficulties with sleep may continue for months or years after you stop using meth. A common side effect of meth use is paranoia or hallucinations. Hallucinations can come in several forms, including visual and auditory hallucinations. These symptoms also referred to as psychotic symptoms, may last throughout a person’s life and recur after exposure to specific triggers.
Meth addiction alters how your body produces and releases dopamine. Dopamine is a crucial chemical within the body responsible for many functions, including the reward system, motor function, and learning. Studies have shown that people who use meth suffer from severe damage to the areas of the brain linked to memory and emotional responses. Unfortunately, some types of brain damage that occur from long-term meth use might be irreversible. For example, verbal and motor functions have shown signs of improvement after extended sobriety; however, other brain functions are not as likely to improve even after months or years of recovery.
Mental and emotional health are not the only aspects of your overall well-being impacted by meth addiction. Chronic methamphetamine use leads to many physical effects as well. For example, long-term meth use causes tooth decay, tooth loss, skin sores, weight loss, and more. Dental and oral problems that evolved from methamphetamine use are sometimes referred to as “meth mouth.” This condition, characterized by severe dental problems, often results from poor hygiene, tooth grinding, inadequate nutrition, and chronic dry mouth.
Meth use increases your risk of heart damage and chronic disease. Using methamphetamine leads to bursts of energy, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Some studies show that ongoing use of methamphetamine increases your risk for sudden cardiac death or heart attack. Additionally, your risk of experiencing a stroke, developing Parkinson’s disease, and other irreversible medical conditions is substantially higher with long-term meth addiction.
Another side effect of meth abuse is signs of premature aging. Meth use can lead to several skin problems, many of which involve decreased elasticity in your skin. This can make one look far older than they are. Other skin-related effects of meth addiction may include skin picking and severe acne, contributing to permanent skin damage and scarring.
Seeking Treatment for Methamphetamine Addiction
Overcoming meth use is dangerous. The short- and long-term side effects of meth abuse and addiction frequently lead to permanent physical and functional changes to the brain and vital body systems. Meth is toxic to the nerve endings in the brain. It can damage or destroy the receptor sites where dopamine is released, leading to dependence on meth to feel emotions typically felt due to dopamine release.
In addition to physical changes, ongoing methamphetamine abuse Prolonged meth 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 meth addiction include liver and kidney failure, seizures, sudden cardiac death, respiratory issues, increased risk of overdose, and death.
The most successful way to quit meth and begin your journey towards a healthy, substance-free future is by seeking help from a treatment program like The Hills. Comprehensive, specialized addiction treatment is vital to overcome an addiction to meth safely. Several forms of treatment have proven effective in helping those addicted to meth achieve and maintain lasting sobriety.
The best treatment model for you will depend on your unique treatment needs and goals. The first step in the treatment process for someone with 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), it is not without challenges. Meth withdrawal can be unpleasant and produce seizures in some people. Detoxing from meth also increases the risk of overdose in the event of a relapse.
For this reason and others, it is essential to detox from meth 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 by providing medical and mental health support throughout the early days of detox. After you complete detox, it is essential to transition to an addiction treatment program to receive therapy for meth addiction.
Research suggests behavioral therapies are the most effective treatment model for meth addiction. The most commonly used behavioral therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Other essential elements of a comprehensive treatment program at The Hills include family education, individual and group counseling, 12-step program support, 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 addiction or withdrawal.
If you or a loved one struggles with an addiction to methamphetamine, seeking addiction treatment support at a facility like The Hills in Los Angeles is a crucial first step towards your physical and psychological recovery. Addiction is an individual struggle, and the symptoms you experience while using meth will inevitably differ from those of someone else. Similarly, elements of your recovery journey, such as withdrawal challenges and relapse risk, are also connected to the individual.
Because addiction and recovery “look” different for everyone, 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. Individualized treatment plans should address all aspects of your health, including physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. It is also crucial to assess for dual-diagnosis conditions as part of your initial assessment.
A dual diagnosis (or co-occurring disorder) happens when someone struggles with both an addiction to methamphetamine and experiences symptoms of a mental health condition simultaneously. The symptoms of dual diagnosis conditions are often highly intertwined. Therefore, treating both conditions as part of a specialized dual diagnosis treatment program is essential. Addressing only one condition does not offer the best treatment outcome and increases one’s chances of future relapse.
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 meth 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 a member of our admissions team at our luxury Los Angeles area rehab today to learn more about how our programs can help.