Meth Addiction SignsAnna Ciulla
Methamphetamine (meth) is a highly addictive Schedule 11 psychostimulant used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and assist in short-term weight loss. The drug—known on the street under monikers such as ice, crystal, blade, quartz, and glass—is available in a variety of forms, including fine, white powder and ice-like shards. Meth’s inherent dangers are magnified by the fact that it is manufactured in underground labs by “street chemists” and frequently laced with poisons or other cheap household ingredients in order to maximize dealer profits. Crystal meth, a crystallized form of the drug prevalent on the black market and popular on the rave scene, is known for its devastating and unpredictable toll on physical and psychological health.
In 2017, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that approximately 900,000 people age 12 and older currently used methamphetamine, the majority of them illicitly. Additionally, 85-90 percent of stimulant-related drug deaths involved meth—a record 225 percent increase in stimulant-related deaths when compared to the previous decade. The following national and global statistics shed further light on the magnitude of the meth epidemic:
- The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) estimates the global production of amphetamine-related stimulants—including meth—to be 500 metric tons annually, with approximately 25 million abusers.
- In 2007, approximately five percent of high school seniors and four percent of sophomores reported using meth at least once. That same year, it was reported that US drug treatment center admissions resulting from meth and amphetamine abuse tripled between 1996 and 2006. In certain states, that percentage is much higher. For example, in Hawaii, approximately 50 percent of those seeking professional help for drug or alcohol abuse were addicted to meth.
- In 2008, US government surveys reported that 13 million people over the age of 12 have used meth—approximately 530,000 of them regular users.
- In 2015, 225,000 people began using meth—an alarming statistic that is projected to increase based upon statistical patterns.
Unlike the outwardly identifiable signs associated with other illicit drugs, meth addiction produces a number of distinct signs and symptoms that place it in a unique category. These signs and symptoms are evidence of serious physical and psychological deterioration and those suffering from them require aggressive professional treatment in order to safely recover.
Meth’s disruption of neurotransmitter levels in the brain and central nervous system (CNS) is highly problematic. Although the short-term euphoria is causes is initially perceived as pleasurable by users and quickly becomes addictive, over time, meth abuse floods the brain with excessive pleasure-inducing chemicals, creating a noticeable imbalance. As a result of their chemically altered brain, users may experience major cognitive deficits including short and long-term memory loss, difficulty learning new motor skills, and visual memory impairment. Psychosis is another clinical feature directly observable in many meth abusers and may include:
- Depression and/or Anxiety
- Auditory or Visual Hallucinations
- Uncharacteristic distractibility and agitation
- Prolonged Insomnia—“tweaking”
- Non-sleep related Rapid Eye Movement (R.E.M.)
- Accelerated Speech
- Quick, Erratic Body Movement
- Irreversible Brain Damage
- Violent Behavior and Criminality
Methamphetamine exacts a devastating toll on the human body—which was not designed to withstand the assault of toxic chemicals often found in its ingredients—even when used only occasionally. As a potent psychostimulant, it assaults the cardiovascular system, disrupting regular heart rhythms, impairing overall function, and creating abnormal blood clots that may lead to a heart attack. Additional effects of meth-induced physical damage may include:
- Severe malnutrition
- Facial acne or open sores
- Extreme weight loss
- Dilated pupils
- Liver damage
- Visible tooth decay and discoloration
- Damaged nasal passages
- Jaundiced, cracked, or prematurely weathered skin
- Intense convulsions
- Injection rashes
- Burn marks on the fingers or lips
- Oral sores, bleeding lesions, and infections
- Injury to kidneys, liver and lungs
- Dramatically increased libido
- Impaired immunity and susceptibility to disease
- Uncontrollable urges to scratch
- Brittle, cracked nails
- Dangerous spike in body temperature
- Increased risk for HIV in intravenous (IV) users
- Coma and/or death—the result of overdose
In many users, meth addiction begins with casual experimentation but rapidly progresses to an overwhelming, life-consuming priority. Once addicted, users soon encounter a myriad of work, school, and relationship problems that become increasingly difficult to manage, and impossible to hide. For example, meth users may be fired, suspended, served divorce papers or threatened with restraining orders due to their increasingly volatile behavior. Some may lose scholarships, be dismissed from high schools or universities, miss out on key social or athletic events, or find themselves suddenly unwelcome by family or their circle of friends. Spouses, husbands, partners, or immediate family may find meth-related drug paraphernalia inconspicuously stashed in dressers or glove compartments, or be called from jail to bail out their recently arrested loved one. The following list of behaviors is commonly associated with meth addiction:
- DUIs, DWI’s, hit and run, assault and battery, or theft charges
- Pathological behaviors such as lying, stealing, sexual deviance, or malingering
- Professional, academic, domestic, or social instability
- Self-imposed isolation and unexplained absences from major commitments
- Unkempt appearance and disregard for personal hygiene
- Excessive idle time and mounting financial problems
- Preoccupation or obsession with getting high
- Dangerously lowered inhibitions and increased impulsivity
THE WITHDRAWAL AND RECOVERY PROCESS
Meth withdrawal is known for being a slow, “pins and needles” process defined by three formal stages: the crash, subsequent cravings, and recovery. In many clients, the withdrawal process can last up to 40 weeks or longer, however, the most intense and debilitating symptoms generally appear within 48 hours following cessation. This is largely due to the fact that meth is considered a fast-acting psychostimulant which is metabolized very quickly in the majority of users. It also exhibits a relatively short half-life—the time it takes meth levels datable in the bloodstream to be reduced by half.
In addition to initial detox, where the withdrawal process is medically managed in order to prevent precipitated withdrawal—a potentially deadly backlash effect—clients may require one or more of the following treatment options aimed at minimizing symptoms and encouraging optimal treatment outcomes:
- Hospitalization—meth-addicted clients may require short-term hospitalization in order to monitor vital signs, administer necessary IV fluids, and recover from the debilitating effects of a recent overdose.
- Inpatient Treatment—clients may elect to enroll in a residential treatment program featuring 24/7 medical monitoring and intensive clinical supervision. This short-term option—which generally lasts between 30 and 90 days—is considered extremely effective in providing meth addiction treatment and premium behavioral healthcare.
- Outpatient Treatment—clients may elect to enroll in a non-residential program that offers greater flexibility based upon their personal and/or professional schedules. While less intensive in nature when compared to inpatient treatment, outpatient facilities offer many of the same medical and clinical benefits. These programs, which are available in numerous public and private facilities, are ideal for transitional care or maintenance therapy following more comprehensive treatment. They are also excellent when used to help manage the long-term—and more subtle—psychological effects associated with post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
- Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)—at all levels of treatment (with the exception of hospitalization) clients are prescribed a combination of evidence-based medications and appropriate psychotherapy aimed at identifying and resolving the underlying causes of meth addiction.
MAT will include appropriate therapeutic interventions as determined by an experienced clinician, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications as determined by the attending physician. Depending upon individual variables such as the length of addiction and presence of co-occurring mental or physical health disorders, the following medications may be prescribed:
- Antipsychotics—this category of medications—available in a variety of forms and dosages—helps calm agitation, reduce panic attacks, and manage underlying anxiety.
- Benzodiazepines “benzos”—are chemically designed to help reduce the intensity and longevity of insomnia, psychosis, and other debilitating psychological effects.
- Antidepressants—commonly known as SSRIs, these medications help reduce depression and eliminate insomnia and/or anhedonia with regular dosage. In many clients suffering from clinically significant depression, antidepressants are a key component of effective meth treatment.
If you or someone you love are suffering from meth addiction and in need of treatment, contact a substance abuse professional today. Action delayed is action lost—especially with regard to the ticking time bomb of a drug as unpredictable and dangerous as meth.
Always remember that addiction is not a sign of personal failure or underlying character defect. Rather, it is a learned response to physical, emotional and psychological trauma and/or stressors that can be effectively treated with commitment and discipline. Even in cases where addiction is particularly severe or the result of known genetic tendencies, long-term sobriety and a healthy, functional life are entirely possible.
Finally, remember that methamphetamine overdose is considered a medical emergency to be treated immediately by calling 911 or visiting your nearest emergency room (ER).
For more about meth addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:
- “Why Early Intervention for Addiction is Critical”
- “Experimentation vs. Addiction—How to Tell the Difference”
- “Overcoming Addiction With Science Support Recovery is More Real than Ever”
- “How to Minimize Shame in Your Addiction and Recovery”
- Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. Irreversible brain damage caused by methamphetamine: Persisting structural brain lesions. March, 2016.
- Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. A Review of Methamphetamine Dependence and Withdrawal Treatment: A Focus on Anxiety Outcomes. Dec, 2016.
- Heart Lung and Circulation. The Cardiac Complications of Methamphetamine. April, 2016
- The Medical Journal of Australia. “Ice” (crystal methamphetamine): concerns and responses. March, 2016.
- Science Direct Pharmacological Research. Methamphetamine: Effects on the brain, gut and immune system. June, 2017.
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Methamphetamine Abuse: A Perfect Storm of Complications. Jan, 2006