Methamphetamine Addiction

Meth Addiction
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Methamphetamine addiction is a significant problem making a major impact on public health in the United States. The consequences and complications of methamphetamine addiction are severe and wide-ranging. The toll methamphetamine addiction has on an individual’s health can be devastating.

Methamphetamine has a substantial influence on cardiovascular health, risk of pulmonary disease, oral health, and infection in both chronic and acute abuse. Addiction to methamphetamine has profound influence on cognitive functioning and emotional stability. Long term impairment from meth dependence can persist even after an individual is able to be abstinent. Meth is extremely addictive. Once addicted it can be difficult to discontinue use without professional help. Treatment is critical to intervene in the cycle of relapse and addiction.

What is Methamphetamine Addiction?

Methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant that affects the central nervous system. The production of meth involves mixing harmful substances and toxic chemicals. Methamphetamine has been determined to be the second most abused illicit substance in the United States. Methamphetamine addiction most commonly occurs in individuals between the ages of 12 and 25 years of age.

Rates of meth abuse and dependence are significantly higher in younger age groups. Meth is found most predominately in crystal form but can also be used as a powder or paste. There are many ways people addicted to meth abuse this highly addictive drug. Meth can be snorted, ingested, inhaled, and injected. Intravenous use is the most dangerous of these methods. The health risks of meth addiction are greatly increased with this type of administration. People addicted to Meth commonly abuse other illicit substances in addition to methamphetamine. Marijuana, alcohol, and opiates are typically substances abused comorbidly with meth.

The most significant risk of polysubstance abuse with methamphetamine is the increase in toxicity. The risk and severity of physiological and psychotic symptoms increase as toxicity rises. Many people associate meth addiction with the severe damage seen in dental health. People addicted to Meth commonly experience teeth grinding, jaw pain, and rampant tooth decay.

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Meth goes by many names. Some people refer to methamphetamine as speed, ice, crystal, glass, meth, or kryptonite to just name a few. Physical dependence occurs rapidly and traps a person addicted to meth in a desperate cycle of addiction. The consequences of meth addiction are devastating to the person who is addicted and their loved ones. Meth contributes to psychiatric illness, cognitive impairment, and major medical issues. Meth abuse can devastate finances, relationships, career goals, and have serious legal consequences.

When a person becomes physically dependent on using meth, withdrawal from methamphetamine is tremendous. Cravings are overwhelming and result in significant discomfort. The severity of meth withdrawal contributes to the probability of relapse. Withdrawing from meth includes severe mood swings characterized by agitation, depression, and a profound state of dissatisfaction. Acute withdrawal symptoms include spikes in anxiety, distress, poor concentration, irritability, fatigue, sleep, and appetite disturbance. The most intense experience of withdrawal symptoms is in the first 7-10 days of abstinence.

The intensity of these symptoms often requires the support of professional treatment. The ability of the individual to cope with the intensity of withdrawal from meth addiction is pivotal in planning for relapse prevention.

High Risk Behaviors

Methamphetamine use is associated with high risk behaviors of those who are abusing. High risk sexual behaviors are a common experience reported by people addicted to meth. Methamphetamine is an illicit drug often used with risky sexual behaviors and HIV risk behaviors. Methamphetamine is abused to enhance the enjoyment of sexual intercourse, including prolonged sexual experience and delay of orgasm. This can lead to compulsive sexual behavior and contribute to exposure to increasingly risky sexual engagement. High-risk sexual behaviors include unprotected sex, anonymous sex, and HIV exposure.

Risky sexual behaviors, as well as intravenous use of methamphetamine, exposes the addicted individual to other infectious diseases. Unsafe sexual behaviors and sharing needles increase the spread of viruses such as HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Gay men are the population most at risk of the spread of these blood-borne viruses due to the relationship between methamphetamine abuse and risky sexual behaviors.

Consequences of Meth Addiction

The complications of methamphetamine addiction can have lifelong consequences. High-risk behaviors put the person who is addicted in jeopardy of harm and increase as the person continues to abuse meth. Methamphetamine addiction results in severe health risks as well as a vulnerability to psychopathology. The most common experiences of psychopathology in people dependent on meth are psychosis, anxiety, and mood disorders. Behaviors are often highly impulsive, sporadic, and violent. Methamphetamine dependence and abuse can result in severe cognitive impairment. Cognitive deficits in problem-solving and memory are common. These consequences have a substantial effect on day-to-day functioning.

Methamphetamine’s Effect on the Brain

Methamphetamine addiction has a powerful impact on the functioning of the brain. Important parts of the brain damaged by meth addiction are the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that manages abstract thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, memory, and learning. Damage to the prefrontal cortex influences acute and long-term functioning. Momentary decision-making is impaired, resulting in confusion and frustration. Long-term effects include vulnerability to brain impairment such as dementia or Parkinson’s. These long-term conditions can show up years after the withdrawal from meth addiction due to the damage done to the brain during abuse.

Meth addiction damages the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system is associated with emotion, behavior, and motivation. The damage and disruption of this part of the brain result in the suffering of intense and overwhelming emotions for the person who is addicted. Many of the short-term and long-term symptoms meth addicts suffer with are related to the damage done to this part of the brain. The ability to regulate emotion and behavior has been impaired. The effect of this damage to the brain is a dysregulated emotional experience and chaos of experience and relationships. The impairment of the brain can persist for six months or longer after withdrawal from methamphetamines. It has been determined that detoxification of the brain may require more than a year.

The most common manifestation of psychosis in people addicted to methamphetamine includes delusions and hallucinations. People dependent on Meth will report overwhelming feelings of persecution and mind reading. Paranoia and inability to trust complicates and devastates relationships. Auditory and visual hallucinations create confusion and anxiety for an individual addicted to meth. The intensity of delusions and hallucinations when withdrawing from meth can last from 7 days to indefinitely.

An individual suffering from these psychiatric symptoms induced by meth addiction experiences intense mood swings. The rapid and severe fluctuation of mood is stressful for the individual. Behaviors can become hostile or violent toward others. Mood can become predominately depressed and agitated. These psychiatric symptoms can result in hospitalizations due to risk to safety for self or others. It is estimated that almost 31% of people addicted to methamphetamine will experience these severe psychiatric symptoms. There are a lot of factors that can affect the chance of person becoming vulnerable to these devastating psychiatric symptoms. The longer a person abuses meth the more likely these symptoms are to occur. The intensity and quantity of meth use have severe implications on the possibility of symptoms.

If an individual already has a history of psychotic behaviors and symptoms the likelihood of these symptoms being made worse by meth abuse is very high. When an individual has a psychological diagnosis such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, typical symptoms experienced with these disorders can be exacerbated by the abuse of meth. The unpredictability and impulsivity associated with these psychiatric symptoms create a staggering risk for harm to self and others. These behaviors create incredible harm and can result in life threatening consequences. Violent behaviors in particular are common with those addicted to meth. Heavy use such as intravenous administration increases the possibility of violent behaviors. A significant percentage of people addicted to meth are involved in violence and criminal acts. These violent crimes include assault toward others while under the influence of methamphetamines.

Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are common in methamphetamine addicts. Prolonged depressed mood as a consequence of meth addiction results from a combination of influence on the brain and consequences to the life of the person who is addicted. Neurotransmitters that support the regulation of emotion have deteriorated with needed chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine depleted. The earlier an individual becomes addicted to meth the likelihood of depression rapidly increases. High levels of anxiety result from the influence of the stimulant and exacerbated the sense of urgency during withdrawal and risk for relapse.

Treatment of Methamphetamine Addiction

There are no approved medications for the treatment of methamphetamine addiction. The most effective treatments for meth addiction are the evidence-based approaches of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), family therapy, and behavioral modification. Recovery counseling and relapse prevention will be essential to an effective treatment approach. CBT combined with motivational enhancement, 12 step programs and other community support meetings such as SMART recovery can provide a comprehensive treatment approach. An individual, family member, or friend who believes that someone is in need for therapeutic intervention to address addiction can seek referrals for treatment with any medical or therapeutic provider. Common treatment levels for meth addiction would be residential or intensive outpatient services. A treatment facility will ideally address any comorbid addiction to other substances, psychiatric and mood disorders, as well as trauma.

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McKetin R, McLaren J, Kelly E, Lubman D, Hides L (2006) The prevalence of psychotic symptoms among methamphetamine users. Addiction 101: 1473- 1478.

McKetin R, McLaren J, Kelly E (2005) The Sydney methamphetamine market: patterns of supply use, personal harms and social consequences. National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund Monograph no.13. Adelaide: Australian Centre for Policing Studies.

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