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How addictive is methamphetamine?

Young man, high on meth, leaning on a wall

Updated on

Methamphetamine is one of the most popular street drugs. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most dangerous and addictive. Many methamphetamine users develop serious health problems, have trouble maintaining stable lives, and put themselves at risk of developing serious addictions.

A Bit About Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is considered to be a highly addictive drug that doesn’t have much medicinal use. Occasionally it is prescribed for serious cases of somnolence or ADHD that is resistant to other forms of treatment.

Just under 5% of Americans have reported using meth at least once during their life.

Methamphetamine is a drug in the amphetamine family. When users take methamphetamine, they are given a powerful boost of long-lasting energy. Many meth users frequently stay up for days on end, during which time they eat little or no food.

Amphetamines are potent psychostimulants that are known to cause several intense effects such as these. Methamphetamine, in particular, is known to cause people to experience some of the following:

  • Extreme bouts of euphoria
  • Hyperstimulation, agitation, restlessness – it is common for users not to sleep for anywhere from 2-5 days
  • Extreme motivation
  • Increased heart rate, high blood pressure
  • Sweating, increased body temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bizarre, strange, and even violent behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased alertness
  • Improved sense of well-being, excitement
  • Emotional changes, irritability, anger, depression
  • Panic and psychosis
  • Overdose symptoms, including convulsions or seizures at very high doses

These effects can occur within a few minutes after using meth or can occur within a few days. More long-term effects include some of the following:

  • Damage to blood vessels in the heart or in the brain
  • Chronic high blood pressure which can increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes
  • Damage to the liver, the kidney or the lungs
  • Damage to the nostrils, if insufflated, to the veins if injected or to the mouth, throat, and lungs if smoked
  • Infectious disease, abscess
  • Serious weight loss, difficulty gaining weight after cessation of use
  • Tooth decay and other oral health problems
  • Confusion, apathy, disinterest in life
  • Psychological addiction and dependence
  • Psychosis
  • Long-term emotional problems like depression

These problems are more likely to occur if you use methamphetamine at large doses over an extended period.

What Makes Methamphetamine So Addictive?

Man, with a serious meth addiction, in withdrawalKnowing all of the potentially dangerous effects that can occur to someone using methamphetamine, you might wonder how the drug could still be so addictive. There are lots of things that make meth very addictive.

First off, there are several effects that the drug provides that many users find desirable. The euphoria, increased alertness, increased motivation, and physical activity, as well as the improved sense of well-being,  can all make this drug very desirable for an individual.

More so than the initial effects of the drug, the after effects tend to lead users to want more. When the drug begins to wear off, the feelings of euphoria, excitement, and well-being tend to fade into less desirable feelings – things like paranoia, depression, and anxiety. Users are often quick to take more methamphetamine to combat these undesirable feelings.

Methods of Administration

The method in which users take methamphetamine also influences how addictive they find the drug. There are a few different ways of using the drug, the main three being injection, insufflation, and smoking.

Injection

Injection is one of the more popular methods of using methamphetamine. When a user injects a drug, the full dose is delivered directly into their bloodstream. This means that the full effects are experienced within a few seconds after administering the drug.

This leads to an incredibly powerful ‘rush,’ in which a person goes from their ‘baseline’ state of mind to a state of intense euphoria and excitement within a matter of seconds. A lot of users find this to be incredibly thrilling and continue to inject more so for the experience of the rush than the experience of the high.

Smoking

Smoking is the most popular method of administering meth. The effects reach the person nearly as quickly as if they were to inject it. Smoking, however, is generally less stigmatized and more socially acceptable in circles where people are using meth.

The ease of which one can smoke meth and the rush that they experience make this a particularly addicting method of administration. Smoking meth tends to lead to the effects dwindling much quicker than with any of the other methods, as well, leading to users being more prone to smoking up more frequently than they would use other methods of administration.

Insufflation

Insufflation, or snorting, is one of the least popular methods of using methamphetamine.  When a user snorts methamphetamine, a very powerful burning sensation strikes their nasal cavities. Many users find the pain intense enough to deter them from using this method of administration.

Insufflation has a slower onset time than both smoking and injecting, and thus users will experience less of a ‘rush.’ While the drug will still provide much of the same long-lasting euphoria, many users find that the rush is the most addictive part of the experience and thus snorting is less likely to cause cravings that are as serious or as intense as injecting or smoking.

Oral

Oral consumption of meth is not as popular as any of the other methods. Oral administration leads to the slowest onset – effects are not usually felt for anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour. However, oral administration leads to the most extended duration of effects out of all the methods of administration. The effects may be obvious for longer than 24 hours after the last dose.

Addiction

Meth might not be as physically addictive as other drugs, such as heroin, but it can certainly be very psychologically addictive.

Crystal meth has been referred to as a drug that causes users to become addicted the first time that they try it. In many cases, this is true. The flood of dopamine responsible for the rush that users feel is many times more intense than what people are capable of feeling without the aid of drugs, and this intensely powerful sensation burns a memory into an individual’s brain that is hard to forget.

Many people also become addicted to meth because of the way it increases the ability to function in the short-term. Before any long-term damages have been observed, many users become addicted to the increased sociability, productivity, and wakefulness that the drug causes.

Unfortunately, the more a person uses methamphetamine, the less prevalent these positive effects become. At this stage, they will begin to use higher and higher doses of the drug in an attempt to relive the first experiences that they had with it.

This leads to the inevitable development of tolerance. During tolerance, your brain and body become accustomed to the extremely high flood of dopamine that the methamphetamine is releasing into your brain. This goes in contrast to your brain’s constant efforts at maintaining homeostasis.

Your brain and body are constantly trying to maintain an equilibrium, or a balance, known as homeostasis. Together, they attempt to regulate the number of hormones and neurotransmitters produced so that your different body parts and functions can work together in harmony. When you take a drug like meth that bombards your brain with dopamine, it attempts to maintain its level of homeostasis through a process known as downregulation.

Downregulation is the process by which your dopamine receptors essentially recede from the constant bombardment of dopamine. Since there is such a massive surge of dopamine in the brain, it responds to this by lowering the number of dopamine receptors available to receive dopamine so that you aren’t continually throwing yourself out of balance.

Unfortunately, this leads to difficulty. If your dopamine system is downregulated, then there won’t be enough receptors left to respond to the dopamine that you produce naturally. This means that, if you don’t take methamphetamine, you will feel typical symptoms of low dopamine: depression, lack of motivation, apathy, and similar feelings.

Withdrawal

Methamphetamine withdrawal doesn’t cause as many physical withdrawal symptoms as drugs like opioids or benzodiazepines, which are known for having severe withdrawal symptoms.

Many of the physical symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal are either caused by the stress placed on the dopamine system during the period of usage or are a result of the way that the body has been treated during the addiction. Common symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal include:

  • Lethargy, lack of motivation, oversleeping or undersleeping
  • Intense cravings
  • Overeating, sudden weight gain
  • Depression, irritability, anger
  • Anxiety, social withdrawal
  • Apathy, anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure)

These symptoms can last for anywhere from a week to several months or years depending on how long a person has been using meth and how much damage they have done to their dopamine system.

In Conclusion

Methamphetamine is a potent drug, and with this power comes great risk. There are many cases of people becoming addicted to methamphetamine after only using it a single time, and it’s crucial to be incredibly cautious when considering whether or not to use a drug this powerful.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to methamphetamine, Recovery Connection can help. Call (866) 812-8231 to speak confidentially to a recovery specialist today.

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