Understanding Crystal Meth Addiction
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Crystal meth is a man-made drug that causes many dangerous physical symptoms. It is highly addictive. Those who use crystal meth often find it hard to stop, even after very few initial uses.
What is Crystal Meth?
Crystal Meth, short for crystal methamphetamines, is a man-made stimulant drug made from pseudoephedrine, an ingredient found in many over the counter cold medications. While most of the US’s crystal meth is imported from Mexico, there are smaller makeshift labs in the USA– usually in individual homes or portable living compartment trailers. The creation of crystal meth is dangerous due to the explosive nature of the chemicals involved in refining ingredients into transparent white, blue, or pink methamphetamine crystals, inspiring the nickname “crystal meth.”
Although. it was reportedly once given to soldiers during World War II in order to keep them awake during combat. Other forms of methamphetamines are used for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obesity, and other medical conditions. Although crystal meth is most commonly smoked through pipes, it can also be inhaled nasally, eaten, or injected directly into veins.
Why Is Crystal Meth So Addictive?
Meth is so effective in making people come back for more because its sole purpose is forcing the brain to pump out dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for the feeling one gets when feels accomplished or have the satisfaction of a job well done. Normal dopamine is triggered by a variety of everyday situations or activities. But when one got involved into meth, it takes control of that function and starts pumping out way more dopamine than is healthy. With continued use over time the dopamine receptors in the brain actually get destroyed. This means that the brain has no other way to experience pleasure other than through meth. If crystal meth use gets to this stage, of course, treatment and therapy can bring rehabilitation, but there is a considerable risk that the damage caused is permanent.
What makes this process even more frightening it that meth releases such a burst of pleasure in the brain during its first use that addicts often will admit they were hooked the first time they tried it. That is where the now famous saying came from “Meth, not even once” because one try may be all it takes to open the door to long-term consumption and addiction.
Trying Meth For The First Time
A first time meth high will last anywhere from 6-12 hours and may include feelings of euphoria, being very active, hyper-alert, and talkative. At the first time one may not experience any negative signs or symptoms of meth use. But while one may be feeling on top of the world, from the first use crystal meth is carving out a sensation in the brain’s reward system. Other things that caused a pleasurable sensation in the past get clouded in the brain. That is because meth affects the regions in the brain dealing with rewards, pleasure, cognition, and memory. This effect can and has been measured, and the results are shocking. For example, we know that meth causes the brain to produce 1,250 times more dopamine during a meth high than during sexual intercourse.
With every subsequent use of meth, the brain is forced to adapt to the assault of dopamine, so no high ever compares to the brain’s first exposure to meth.
This is where the expression “chasing the dragon” comes from because addicts keep using in an attempt to recreate that original feeling. Those attempts are unachievable and only drive the users further into the grasp of crystal meth addiction or even force them to try some homemade recipes like shake and bake meth sometimes.
Anhedonia Following Crystal Meth Use
Anhedonia is a very challenging side effect of meth use and can lead to other symptoms such as depression and suicidal thoughts. It is the inability to find pleasure from things that used to do just that. These can be extremely little things like listening to music, or eating good food, to larger areas such as sexual activities or hobbies.
This is a state that can occur when meth has done permanent damage to an addicts brain, to the point where he is neurologically incapable of deriving pleasure from activities he once did. This can be a major cause of relapse once an addict has detoxed from meth because while searching for feelings of pleasure he discovers that he is no longer capable of finding it anywhere but in crystal meth. This is why addiction treatment programs are so helpful because they teach coping skills to manage those feelings.
Meth Use and Psychosis
Another frightening symptom that can occur after meth detox is psychosis. In addition to symptoms of major depression, users may show signs of psychosis during the later stages of withdrawal. This is an umbrella term that in the beginning stages includes:
- Feelings of suspicion
- General anxiety
- Distorted perceptions
- Obsessive thinking
- Sleep problems
More advanced forms of psychosis can progress and symptoms may include:
- Disorganization (in behavior, thoughts, and speech)
- Disordered thinking (making unrelated correlations between thoughts)
- Catatonia (being unresponsive)
- Difficulty in concentration
Though these symptoms may sound threatening the good news is they pass away relatively quickly.
What Are the Physical Symptoms of Crystal Meth Addiction?
Physical symptoms of crystal meth addiction include:
- Blisters or sores on the face and mouth
- Needle marks on arms, legs, or between toes
- Tooth decay
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Bloodshot eyes
- Extreme weight loss or loss of appetite
There is no way to know for sure whether someone is using drugs unless a drug test is performed. Numerous warning signs do exist, however, that may indicate someone is using drugs.
Crystal Meth users may exhibit specific physical signs:
- Blisters or non-healing sores around the face and mouth
- Tooth decay
- Bloodshot eyes from sleeplessness
- The inability to function normally at home or at work
- Sudden or extreme weight loss
- Extreme talkativeness
- Awake all night, and for prolonged bouts
- The inability to eat at meals
- Possible needle marks called “track marks” on the arms, legs, or between the toes
Additional signs may also become apparent. Those who are using drugs may:
- Lose interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Become withdrawn or isolated from others
- Begin exhibiting aggressive or irritable behaviors
- Become absent from work or class
- Lose touch with friends and family members
- Act secretive or like they are hiding something
- Pick at their skin, often leading to sores and abrasions
- Lack standard personal hygiene routines
- Remove or steal light bulbs, they can be turned into smoking pipe
Those who use crystal meth may also feel as though bugs are crawling over them, or have uncomfortable sensations under the skin.
Who is At Risk of Crystal Meth Addiction?
Drug addiction can strike anyone, at any time. Even so, there are groups who are more likely to experiment with illegal drugs, such as crystal meth, than the general population.
Teens and college students: Young adults try drugs for a variety of reasons. Some do so because they want to “fit in” or be like their friends. Others experiment with drugs because they are available at parties or clubs. Still, others attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to cope with stress at home or at school.
Professionals: Up to 70 percent of drug users hold down a job, in spite of their drug use. These high functioning addicts sometimes turn to drugs due to high-pressure careers, and some even use while on the job.
Veterans: Those who have served our country in the military are, unfortunately, more likely to suffer from substance abuse issues. Multiple deployments, separation from family and friends for extended periods, and sometimes poor living conditions, often lead to co-occurring conditions. Veterans are also more likely to suffer from additional disorders, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Males – Research has shown that males are more like to try drugs than females. While this may be true, females are more likely to spiral into severe addiction faster than males, as they are not as immune to the effects.
Relatives of Addicts – Those who have immediate family members who use or have used drugs are more likely to do so themselves. According to studies reported by the Mayo Clinic, there is a genetic link when it comes to drug addiction. Those who are the children of addicts may be more likely to become addicts themselves. It is also true that those who are raised around drugs are more likely to try them in the first place.
Peers of Drug Users – Many people begin using drugs due to peer pressure. Those who hang around friends or colleagues who use drugs are more likely to try them because of social pressure to “fit in”. Teens and young adults who frequent parties and clubs are also exposed to drugs like crystal meth.
Crystal Meth Statistics
In 2012, there were nearly half a million people who reported using meth in the past month in the US. In 2006 that number was approximately 731,000.[/su_note]
There were approximately 30 thousand less emergency room visits in 2011 than there were in 2004 from meth abuse. In 2004, it was over 130 thousand. In 2011, it was just over 100 thousand.
The most abuse and addiction reports of meth come from the American West. Meth use is declining overall, but numbers are still in the hundreds of thousands when it comes to users.
Treatment For Crystal Meth Addiction
The best way to quit meth is to start with an inpatient rehabilitation program at a treatment center. These facilities allow a person to detox safely while under the supervision of medical professionals. The patient then undergoes intensive counseling and therapy as part of a treatment program. Outpatient programs and support groups are useful for maintaining sobriety.
Because crystal meth is so addictive, it is very hard to stop without professional help. Those who attempt to quit “cold turkey” or without the right guidance often relapse quickly. There are a few types of professional help one might receive when trying to stop using crystal meth.
Support groups – These are often led by counselors or former addicts who are still recovering. Support groups allow users to relate to others who have struggled with the same addictions and troubles they have.
Outpatient counseling – This involves users going to visit a counselor, usually once or more per week to start, and then slowly lessening over time. A therapist who has been trained in helping addicts can help guide users through the pitfalls of recovery.
Inpatient Facilities – Inpatient drug rehabilitation programs offer treatment in several ways. First, they help users detox from the drugs. This generally involves removing access to drugs until they are out of the addict’s system. Detoxification is followed by intensive counseling sessions to get to the root of the reasons why a person started using, to begin with. Group therapy is often also implemented in inpatient rehabilitation centers as well. Outpatient programs are generally used as follow up once the more intensive inpatient regimens are over. Inpatient treatment by medical professionals is the best option for severe addictions. Inpatient treatment overseen by medical professionals is imperative for anyone who has any level of crystal meth addiction.
- Ruiz, P., & Strain, E. 2011. Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, Fifth Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2015. DrugFacts: Methamphetamine. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (Drugs And Human Performance Fact Sheets) (2015). Methamphetamine. http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/research/job185drugs/methamphetamine.htm.
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