As highly addictive stimulants that affect the central nervous system, methamphetamines are no joke and the harm they cause is not only very real but can happen in what seems like an instant. So immensely potent that it’s possible for people to get hooked after just a single use.
The differences in strength are one thing but what addiction to meth has in common with any other type of substance addiction is the ways in which it seeps into every part of your life or the life of a loved one. Addiction is all-consuming and it works to destroy the body, mind, spirit and personal relationships you hold dear. Forcing you to choose it over everything else until you reach a breaking point and get help or reach a point of tragedy.
And methamphetamines have caused more than their fair share of tragedy with overdose deaths rising sharply from 2009 to 2019, increasing by 10 times to over 16,500 lives lost.
Of course, death is the worst possible outcome for a meth user but the suffering and spiraling that precede it is devastating to witness and even more ghastly to experience. It’s not a small number of people either, per a 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), roughly 1.6 million Americans reported using meth in the last year and just under 775,000 had used it in the past month.
Sadly, the average age of a new meth user is 23.3 years old.
What’s the explanation behind the intensely addictive nature of this drug that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says “causes devastating health effects, and sometimes death, even on the first try” though?
It boils down to an explosion of dopamine being released in the brain which creates a state of euphoria that a user immediately latches onto and begins to crave.
More specifically, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “dopamine is involved in body movement, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding behaviors. The drug’s ability to rapidly release high levels of dopamine in reward areas of the brain strongly reinforces drug-taking behavior, making the user want to repeat the experience”.
While methamphetamine can be found in a prescription drug for ADHD and weight loss (Desoxyn), the vast majority of people who are addicted use the illegal form, like crystal meth.
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As far as the signs of addiction go, it’s worth noting that meth is taken in a myriad of ways; swallowed, snorted, injected or smoked with each method having a different effect. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) explains that those who smoke or inject it report a brief, intense sensation or rush while those who take it by oral ingestion or snorting, feel a longer-lasting high instead of a rush, which reportedly can continue for as long as half a day.
Therefore, how one takes meth will, in a small way, shape the manner in which addiction appears. That said, in general, meth addiction symptoms are similar across the board and show themselves both physically and behaviorally.
One More sign someone is using meth is called “tweaking” which is a period that can last 3 to 15 days and is characterized by anxiety and insomnia. Tweaking can cause psychological side effects, such as paranoia, irritability and confusion due to the desperation to use again. Tweaking from meth can also cause people to experience hallucinations and become prone to violent behavior.
Crashing is another sign to take note of and it describes the period when the body is utterly and completely deprived of dopamine due to the meth use that depleted it. It appears as exhaustion in the extreme, excess sleep, cravings for meth and depression and lasts from 1 to 3 days.
If a person stays hooked and using meth for the long-term, even more signs of bodily and mental deterioration will creep in. If the chief means by which you’re taking meth is by injection, the risk of contracting diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C dramatically increase and the progression of those diseases will likely be worsened by meth use.
Additionally, a person can experience respiratory issues, high blood pressure, heart attacks, kidney failure, lung damage, infections, reproductive issues including birth defects, liver failure.
Cognitive issues related to thinking, understanding, learning and remembering will worsen due to the “rewiring” of how the brain works and can show up as memory loss, difficulty thinking, paranoia, psychosis, delusions and inability to feel pleasure. NIDA points out that “continued methamphetamine use causes changes in the brain’s dopamine system that are associated with reduced coordination and impaired verbal learning. In studies of people who used methamphetamine over the long term, severe changes also affected areas of the brain involved with emotion and memory”.