Methamphetamine was once a highly taboo substance, partly due to the success of the “Faces of Meth” campaign. However, it is now becoming more regularly used by teens and young adults who see meth as a fun “party drug.” It is important to understand what methamphetamine is and how very dangerous this substance can be.
Forms of Meth
Meth typically takes the form of a white crystalline powder and is ingested through snorting, smoking, or shooting it. The drug is known by several slang names:
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive illicit drug that is becoming more prevalent as its use spreads across the country. Methamphetamine was developed from its parent drug, amphetamine. Both drugs are classified as stimulants.
Stimulants affect the central nervous systems and have been historically prescribed as decongestants, bronchial inhalers, and weight loss aids. Compared to its parent drug, amphetamine, meth is a much more potent stimulant. Like other stimulants, meth causes feelings of increased energy, alertness, and a sense of euphoria. However, because of its potency, it is also incredibly addictive and dangerous when abused.
Meth use has a host of effects, ranging from intense euphoria to paranoia and agitation. Furthermore, effects of meth use can be differentiated between short-term and long-term.
Some short-term mental effects of methamphetamine include a rush of confidence and happiness. While under the influence of methamphetamine, a person may experience:
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Surplus of energy and hyperactivity
- Increased heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Lack of appetite
Methamphetamine can also cause a person to have convulsions, which can lead to death. The high from methamphetamine typically lasts between six and eight hours, but can last up to twenty-four hours.
Users of crystal meth will experience a severe physical and mental crash after the stimulating effects of the drug wear off. Because the high from crystal meth is so addictive and the crash afterwards is so terrible, people often become addicted to meth the first time they try it.
It’s important to note that because meth is highly addictive and wreaks havoc on the brain and body, the long-term effects of crystal meth can occur relatively quickly.
Mentally, long term meth use can result in:
- Permanent brain damage
From a physical standpoint, people who use crystal meth experience:
- Extreme weight loss
- Permanent damage to blood vessels of the heart and brain
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of a heart attack and stroke
- Damage to the liver and kidneys, and nasal passageways if it is being snorted
- If smoked, meth causes damage to the lungs, teeth, and gums
In addition, someone who uses meth over a period of time will experience an increased tolerance to the drug. This means that they will require more in order to feel the same high that a smaller amount used to give them. Because of this, users who attempt to quit but relapse are at a high risk of overdose.
Meth Overdose Symptoms
Like with any illicit substance, methamphetamine use is highly dangerous and can result in an overdose. Due to its potent stimulant effects, the most common cause of overdose death from meth is multiple organ failure. In these cases of overdose, the symptoms closely resemble those of heatstroke. This is because the stimulant rapidly increases body temperature.
A meth users’ body temperature will increase due to a combination of muscular hyperactivity, increased metabolic demands, and malfunctioning of the hypothalamus – a region of the brain responsible for regulating body temperature. To make matters worse, meth use causes a sharp increase in blood pressure, which can lead to further damage to the heart and blood vessels. There are a number of overdose symptoms associated with meth use.
Symptoms of methamphetamine overdose can vary, and can be affected by contaminants in the substance. Generally, signs of an overdose can include:
- Chest pain
- Hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperature)
- Heart arrhythmias
- Increased blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
In cases where contaminants are present, such as heavy metals, users may suffer from liver or kidney damage. If this occurs, additional signs of an overdose can include:
- Severe abdominal pain (pain may radiate into the back)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Kidney failure
- Unresponsiveness or coma
Symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal vary depending on how long the person was using meth and the amount they used. Generally, the longer a person has been using meth, the more severe the withdrawal process. There are two general phases of meth withdrawal, with the first phase beginning about 24 hours after the last use.
Initial withdrawal symptoms are typically the most severe and can include:
- Hallucinations and paranoia
- Strong meth cravings
- Extreme fatigue
After the initial week, withdrawal symptoms will often begin to diminish as the person enters the subacute phase. Symptoms during the later phase of withdrawal may persist for several more weeks and can include:
- Lessened meth cravings
- Sharp increase in appetite
Former meth users will often suffer from dramatic mood changes as they progress through withdrawal stages. Generally, individuals will suffer from a “crash” in mood, commonly experiencing anxiety and depression. These feelings can last for several weeks, and anxiety can persist for months for some long-term users.
Coping with Withdrawal
Meth withdrawal is often an extremely difficult process. Just like the sudden, intense high of meth use, withdrawal comes on quickly and is most intense during the initial week. Because of this, many people will resume using meth to alleviate their symptoms.
For this reason, it is often best to enter a medically-assisted detox program to have a higher chance of success. In addition to seeking treatment, other helpful practices include:
- Exercise regularly to help improve mood
- Keep busy and distract yourself through activities
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet to help improve mood and energy levels
- Avoid triggers, including people, places, or situations that may increase cravings
How Is Methamphetamine Addiction Treated?
The first step in treatment is usually medically-supervised detox. It is dangerous for anyone to attempt detox on their own. As discussed above, powerful withdrawal symptoms can lead to a relapse and potential overdose.
After detox, most people need to seek ongoing support in the form of outpatient counseling. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends behavioral therapies, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management (CM) interventions, for meth addiction treatment.
Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches participants how to challenge negative thoughts and modify their responses to these thoughts. Contingency management relies on a reward system where participants receive incentives for abstaining from meth and participating in treatment.
The FDA has not yet approved any medications for treating meth addiction. However, there is some evidence that naltrexone may be helpful. A study from Neuropsychopharmacology found that naltrexone reduced cravings for methamphetamine in the participants. More research is still needed on this topic, and detox and counseling are the only proven treatment methods for now.
Meth Addiction Treatment in Southeastern Pennsylvania
Rehab After Work offers outpatient drug counseling and other addiction treatment programs. We provide compassionate, person-centered care at several locations in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. We are also offering our programs online through teletherapy. Call us at (610) 644-6464 to schedule an appointment.