Methamphetamines, or meth, is a powerful stimulant that’s primarily used as a recreational drug. Meth is approved for medical use in the United States as a weight-loss drug, but its limited therapeutic value and a high potential for adverse effects has made it uncommon for medical use. Instead, it’s sold illegally and used for it’s intense but short-lived euphoric high. Meth works in the brain by influencing dopamine and serotonin. These two naturally occurring chemicals are considered “feel-good chemicals,” which are closely tied to reward and motivation.
Meth primarily affects dopamine, which is tied to alertness, excitement, and energy. Meth achieves its effects by blocking a process called reuptake, where excess chemicals are removed from the synapse and recycled. Meth blocks the reuptake of dopamine, which causes it to build up and bind to more dopamine receptors. Meth can also increase the release of dopamine, which flood the brain and its receptors.
However, meth’s positive effects are brief, and it can cause a number of negative side effects, including depression, dependence, and addiction. Meth can cause tolerance and dependence as your brain adapts its chemistry around the foreign chemical. If you stop using after becoming dependent, you may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Addiction is a deeper disease that just a chemical change in the brain‘s messaging system.
Addiction occurs when meth use causes a change in the brain’s reward center that causes you to seek the drug compulsively, despite severe consequences. Your reward center is designed to pick up on activities that cause a release of feel-good chemicals like eating a delicious meal.
Because meth works on dopamine and serotonin, your reward center mistakes meth use to be a life-sustaining activity and encourages you to use it again through powerful compulsions and cravings. Addiction is difficult to get over on your own, but it can be treated.
Addiction is considered a progressive disease, which means that it can get worse over time. It can slowly start to affect multiple areas of your life, including your health, relationships, and finances.
For that reason, addressing a substance use disorder early can allow you to avoid some of the most adverse consequences of addiction. Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of meth addiction can help you get the treatment you need sooner.
If you have used meth and you’re worried that you might have developed a substance use disorder, there are some signs that can confirm that you have a problem. Signs and symptoms include:
If you are worried about someone else that might have a substance use disorder related to meth, there are a few signs you might be able to notice from an outside perspective. Signs include:
Meth addiction is a serious disease that can be treated with the right medical and psychological therapies. When you first enter addiction treatment, you’ll start by going through an intake and assessment process that’s designed to place you in the level of care that’s ideal for your needs.
If you have a high-level medical needs, you may start in a medical detox program. Meth withdrawal can be unpleasant, but it’s not known to cause dangerous physical symptoms as central nervous system depressants can.
However, it can cause severe depression and anhedonia, which can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts or actions. If you experience these symptoms, speak to a professional as soon as possible. Detox involves 24-hour medical care that’s designed to help you avoid dangerous complications and ease your uncomfortable symptoms. It can also treat medical issues that aren’t directly related to meth use but still need to be addressed.
After you complete detox, or if you don’t need the highest level of care, you may go through inpatient treatment, which involves 24-hour medical monitoring or clinical management.
This is a slightly less intensive level of care where you can begin to address the underlying issues of addiction like mental health issues. You may also go through intensive outpatient or outpatient services, which involve more than nine hours or less than nine hours per week, respectively. Through treatment, you’ll go through a variety of therapies that are designed to help you increase your self-efficacy, address underlying problems, and develop strategies to avoid relapse.
Meth is a particularly hazardous drug with potent adverse effects on the body. Meth users can experience potentially dangerous consequences, even after using once or twice. Seizures and convulsions can occur after using meth recreationally. Meth also offers a short-lived but intense high. This can encourage binging when repeated doses are taken in close succession to avoid the side effects of a comedown and continue the positive effects. However, binging is more likely to cause negative side effects and overdose.
People who go through meth binges often stay awake for days. Between the stimulating effects of the drug and lack of sleep, your body is put under immense strain, which can lead to exhaustion, heart complications, and severe psychological effects.
Meth can cause a psychological phenomenon called stimulant psychosis. This is when a central nervous system stimulant-induced event occurs in which psychological symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and difficulty discerning imagined events and reality occurs.
In some cases, psychosis can cause erratic behavior, mania, aggression, and even violence. This can cause you to harm yourself and, in some cases, other people. Stimulant psychosis is typically only temporary. A meth overdose can cause deadly symptoms, including heart attack, stroke, severe fever, seizures, and coma.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, April). What is the scope of methamphetamine misuse in the United States? from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/methamphetamine/what-scope-methamphetamine-misuse-in-united-states
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