Methamphetamine is a very powerful, highly addictive stimulant that can target the central nervous system. It is also known as “Poor Man’s Cocaine” because it has similar euphoric effects to cocaine but is less expensive. It is commonly called ice, meth, chalk and crystal. Its most common form is crystal methamphetamine where it looks like glass fragments or bluish-white, shiny rocks. It is mainly used as a recreational drug and less-commonly as an alternative treatment for ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and also obesity.
The abuse of methamphetamine is very rampant and the drug is considered illegal in most countries of the world. Methamphetamine was first synthesized in Japan in 1893 from ephridine by chemist Nagai Nagayoshi. It was then used during World War II to improve soldiers’ moods and increase alertness. In low to moderate doses, meth can heighten mood, increase alertness, energy and concentration in tired individuals, cause weight loss and reduce appetite. At very high doses, it can cause psychosis, brain bleeding and breakdown of skeletal muscles.
Due to its high potential for misuse, the drug is regulated under the Controlled Substances Act in the United States. Users can take methamphetamine by swallowing through pills, smoking, snorting or injecting the powder that can be dissolved in alcohol or water. Because the “high” effects start and fade quickly, usually lasting for 6 to 8 hours and sometimes 24 hours, users often take repeated doses in what they call a “binge and crash” pattern. During the intake of methamphetamine, users may give up food and sleep, taking in the drug for every few hours up to a few days which they call a “run”.
Effects of Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine has both short-term and long-term effects depending on the dosage. The short-term effects of meth include decreased appetite, increased wakefulness and physical activity, rapid and/or irregular heartbeat, faster breathing and increased body temperature and blood pressure. A lot of the pleasure-causing effects of meth are caused by the release of high levels of dopamine in the human brain. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain involved with the motivation, motor function and experience of pleasure in human being. Most drugs that are prone to abuse work by affecting this neurotransmitter.
Aside from addiction, methamphetamine has other very dangerous and long-term effects due to prolonged use. These effects include extreme loss of weight, serious dental problems also called “meth mouth”, constant and intense itching that leads to skin sores due to scratching, molecular and chemical changes in brain function and structure, anxiety, memory loss, confusion, violent behavior, sleeping problems, paranoia and hallucinations.
Aside from this, users are at risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C. This is especially true for users who use injections to introduce methamphetamine into their system. Contagious diseases can be transmitted through contact with blood or other fluids that could remain on the equipment used for drug intake. Methamphetamine can also influence judgment and decision-making and lead to behaviors such as unprotected sex, aggression and suicide. In a recent study, methamphetamine use has been linked to Parkinson’s disease.
Treatment of Methamphetamine Addiction
Treatment of meth addiction depends on the severity of the addiction. An assessment of the severity should first be conducted as it is quite common that meth users do not seek help only until they experience grave consequences of the addiction. These consequences could include aggression towards a loved one, psychosis, depression or serious physical health concerns. Counseling is usually the first best step as a psychotherapist and psychiatrist who specializes in addiction could quickly assess the severity of the addiction. The first step is to usually let the withdrawal effects go away. The next step is to prevent the relapse into addiction.
Just like anxiety and depression, addiction on a certain level of severity can be treated by cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. Some therapies include narrative therapies where users are required to narrate their life stories. Some therapies are solution-focused where the users’ strengths are first identified and channeled toward curbing behaviors that lead to addiction. Medication may or may not be suggested by the psychotherapist.
Residential rehabilitation is recommended for patients with higher severity of addiction or those who have no support group accommodation such as family, friends and other support organizations. Medication and counseling is advised for this group of patients. Healthy and life-changing lifestyles that steer the patients off of drug use permanently are also introduced to the patients. For users with lower severities, support groups, self-help and lifestyle changes could work for them.
Methamphetamine addiction is one of the most difficult addictions to treat because of the accessibility of the drug and molecular and chemical changes that the drug induces in a person’s brain. Successful treatment is not impossible however. With vigilance, discipline and the right treatment and medication, the chemical changes in the brain can be remedied and the addiction permanently stopped.