Recognising a Meth Addiction: Knowing the Signs of Meth Abuse
What is methamphetamine?
How Meth affects a person’s physical & mental health. Let’s firstly look at methamphetamine. Methamphetamine is an energising drug (stimulant) that is highly addictive. It is more commonly known by its street names ‘meth’, ‘crystal meth’, ‘crank’, or ‘ice’. It can be taken orally, injected, smoked, or snorted. People abuse meth to experience a sudden ‘rush’ of pleasure. The desired effects of meth are increased energy and alertness, an elevated positive emotional state, and decreased appetite.1
Why is meth abuse widespread?
First synthesised by a German scientist in the 19th century, meth has a long history of use in around the world. Meth was widely used during the second world war by U.S. troops to enhance performance and productivity.2 Since then, people have used meth for both medical and recreational purposes.
Its cheaper price, wide availability, and long-lasting effects (8-12 hours) make meth one of the most abused drugs in the U.S., Meth is simple to produce since it is made from commonly available retail products. This makes it challenging for authorities to control the illegal production of meth (meth labs).3
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 2.6 million Americans aged 12 and older used meth in 2020; of that number, 1.5 million people had meth use disorder and about 23,837 people died from overdoses of stimulants (mainly meth).4
How does meth work?
Meth triggers dopamine release in the brain (dopamine is a chemical in the brain associated with pleasure, reward, and motivation). Experts say meth users may have the perception of being more attentive and productive than they actually are when under the influence of the drug. Furthermore, meth can make people feel more confident, conversational, and socially outgoing.5 In reality, studies have shown that meth has no beneficial effects on physical or cognitive performance in meth users.6,7
The use of meth over time results in the development of tolerance (increasing drug usage as a result of the body’s diminished response to meth). Users may get addicted to meth with regular use. Because of the catastrophic long-term consequences of meth addiction, it is important to protect loved ones from becoming meth addicts. Understanding the symptoms associated with meth use is the first step in this process.
Signs of someone using meth
The signs of meth abuse vary among users. Signs depend on the amount of meth used and how recently it was used. Furthermore, the method of consumption of meth (oral, smoked, or injected) may influence the signs shown by users.
Regular meth use will lead to different long-term and short-term effects. Long-term effects include developing an addiction to meth, bleeding in the brain, mood disorders, vision impairment, and anhedonia (a condition where a long-term reduction in dopamine levels in the brain results in an inability to experience pleasure from simple, everyday things).
The most common short-term effects of meth abuse are listed below. They are grouped into physical, behavioural, and psychological signs.
1) Physical signs
For some people, meth can create a variety of obvious physical symptoms in a short period of time. Meth-induced physical changes are as follows:
- Itchiness of skin
- Flushed skin
- Increased body temperature and heart rate
- Tooth decay and inflammation of the gums (also known as ‘meth mouth’)
- Uncontrolled twitching
- Pupil dilation
- Decreased hunger
- Weight loss
- Euphoria (a feeling of pleasure)
- Extreme tiredness
- Tweaking (a condition that occurs after the user has finished a meth binge and the drug no longer provides the intended rush or high)
2) Behavioral Signs
Meth use may radically alter a user’s behaviour, especially following an addiction to meth. The following are some meth-induced behavioural signs:
- Failure to meet responsibilities
- Inability to control meth use
- Ignoring grooming, hygiene, and appearance
- Social isolation
- Risky sexual behaviour
- Aggressive behaviour
3) Psychological Signs
Prolonged and frequent use of meth affects the brain. This results in abnormal changes in the mood of the users. Meth use can cause the following psychological signs:
- Poor memory
- Inability to focus
- Sleeplessness (insomnia)
- Mood swings
- Poor decision-making
Causes of meth addiction
Several factors contribute to a person becoming addicted to meth. These factors include:
Genetic vulnerability to meth addiction
According to researchers, there is a considerable genetic component that might predict a person’s vulnerability to developing a meth addiction. People with first-degree relatives who are addicted to meth, such as parents or siblings, are more likely to get addicted to meth.8
Studies have shown that euphoria and feelings of improved confidence following meth use are due to meth-triggered dopamine release in the brain.9 Regular meth use decreases dopamine receptors in the brain, requiring more and more dopamine to achieve the same high as before. This leads to addiction to meth in regular users.
Many mental disorders and other conditions can cause a reduction in feelings of happiness and focus. As a result, many people turn to drug abuse to manage their symptoms.
People who grow up in dysfunctional families without parental love and compassion are more likely to struggle with drug addiction. Kids who grow up around parents who use drugs like meth learn that abusing drugs is a way to cope with stress. Furthermore, when a parent engages in substance abuse, it becomes more acceptable and normalising its use. These environmental factors could lead to meth addiction in the future.
Meth addiction co-occurring disorders
It has been found that the co-occurrence of various disorders amongst meth users has devastating results.10 Co-occurring mental disorders may hamper response to treatment for meth use disorder.11 Moreover, people who had access to ongoing mental health therapy responded better to meth addiction treatments.12 As a result, diagnosing and treating co-occurring disorders is a critical first step in meth addiction treatment.
The following conditions are associated with meth use:
Meth use is frequently associated with depression. A lifetime history of depression was reported by 41.6% of people with meth use disorder.13
Some people who abuse meth on a regular basis develop psychotic symptoms. The severe psychotic symptoms often result in hospitalisation. In a study on meth users, paranoia was experienced by 64% of males and 67% of females, and hallucinations were experienced by 40% of males and 47% of females.14
In a study conducted in Australia, about 76% of regular meth users experienced severe anxiety, and 33% of meth users experienced panic attacks after starting meth use.
Along with the mentioned disorders, regular meth use causes continuous brain damage that may result in cognitive decline (hampered memory and decision-making ability). Furthermore, meth use raises the risk of suffering a stroke caused by a brain bleed.15
Meth withdrawal symptoms
Long-term and regular use of meth can lead to psychological dependence on the drug. When people quit regular meth use, they often suffer a variety of severe and unpleasant meth withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include:
Strong urge to use meth
- Extreme tiredness
How to treat meth addiction
Avoiding meth use is the most effective approach to avoiding meth addiction. If someone you care about shows signs of meth use, a medical healthcare provider should be consulted to diagnose meth addiction.
Following a verified diagnosis, individuals are treated for meth addiction using a variety of therapeutic approaches, as follows:
Detox is the initial stage of meth addiction treatment and is carried out under the monitoring of a healthcare provider. Detox removes the physical presence of meth from the body and assists users in readjusting to life without the drug. During this phase, patients may experience withdrawal symptoms, and they may relapse (resume meth use). Meth withdrawal symptoms are treated using drugs to relieve patient discomfort. Haloperidol (dopamine antagonist medication), for example, can help to calm a restless patient.
CBT has been shown to be particularly beneficial in the treatment of meth addiction. CBT examines the role of drug dependence in a patient’s life and teaches methods to avoid relapse. Other approaches in therapy may also be useful, depending on each persons needs.
Narrative therapy highlights the significance of personal life experiences. Narrative therapy is used to assist meth users in understanding how their stories have shaped their drug use and how to change these ideas and actions.
Combination therapy incorporates all the therapeutic approaches mentioned in different phases of treatment. In the first stage, the patient undergoes detox with the help of medicines that control the withdrawal symptoms. In the later phases of the treatment, CBT and narrative therapy are used to keep the patient motivated.
During all the stages of rehabilitation of meth addicts, the moral support of family and loved ones is essential, as meth addiction is a complex condition that requires more than good intentions and a strong desire to conquer it.
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