Methamphetamine (commonly referred to as meth or crystal meth) stimulates the nervous system and is often used to treat ADHD or obesity. But there is a darker side to this drug, one that speaks of drug abuse and physical and psychological damage.
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Methamphetamine (also known as crystal meth, crystal, speed, ice, etc) is a CNS stimulant. While it is mostly produced in crystal form (as a white or blue rock), meth can also be obtained as a powder, paste or pill.
Note that there is a difference between amphetamine and methamphetamine. Unlike amphetamine, meth targets the brain’s dopamine and serotonin centers directly (it is neurotoxic.) Also, some evidence suggests that meth can permanently damage the serotonin receptors in the CNS.
Meth isn’t necessarily bad, primarily when it is used to combat diseases. However, recreational use is much more difficult to control and monitor. Recreational uses consume meth to enhance their everyday experience. Meth often induces euphoria. It can also stimulate one’s CNS, and even act as an aphrodisiac.
Users use meth via snorting, smoking, and orally. In some rare cases, users will mix the powder with alcohol and inject it. To understand what is meth, one must understand its effects. The main reason why it is so addictive is due to its short but intense high-effect.
Meth users will often take the drug repeatedly to either maintain or increase the high. And because it acts directly on CNS, it can compel users to go days and days without food and sleep while only using meth.
Meth affects physically and psychologically. The biggest problem happens with the brain, where the meth addiction is born. When used, Meth releases a high amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that dramatically affects our desire and motivation centers.
When one takes a high dose of meth, the brain feels overwhelmed, as if it is in paradise. Naturally, it wants more! It releases a vast amount of dopamine, and consequently, encourages further and repeated use. Upon use, the brain actively seeks meth (for it felt gratifying) and isn’t at all interested in food, sleep, rest, and so forth.
Even when used on a short-term basis, the meth can:
- increase blood pressure and heart rate
- cause irregular heartbeat
- increase body temperature
- decrease appetite
Short-term meth side effects aren’t as dangerous as the long-term ones, especially when we talk about neurological and psychological side effects.
There are various long-term physical side-effects of meth abuse. For instance, those that take it intravenously are more prone to diseases such as Aids or Hepatitis. And, because it acts as an aphrodisiac and affects the decision-making parts of the brain, it promotes riskier behavior and unprotected sex.
Meth also affects one’s cognitive functions. This includes thinking, decision-making, memory, and learning. There are, of course, common long-term meth side effects:
- loss of appetite and severe weight loss
- meth mouth
- psychosis (followed by paranoia, hallucinations, nervousness, etc.)
- sleep problems
- decrease or eliminate the need for sleep
Physical consequences are ugly; there’s no denying it. However, it is much harder to heal a broken mind than a decayed tooth. Long-term methamphetamine abuse restructures one’s dopamine system. This can result in permanent damage to coordination, speech, and learning.
More severe than that is the dopamine production. Once the user puts his/hers dopamine system out of balance, it is complicated to restore it. It needs to be said that the lack of dopamine doesn’t only reflect on movement, coordination, memory, and learning, but on overall happiness and well-being.
As already stated, dopamine is an integral aspect of desire and motivation. Long-term meth abuse can lead to a stage of desirelessness. A person may also feel unmotivated and depressed with no desire to achieve or seek anything; this is by far the greatest consequence of long-term meth abuse.
Meth withdrawal symptoms are strongly related to the person’s tolerance of meth. Generally, the longer a person uses meth, the withdrawal symptoms will be more severe.
One study showed that virtually all regular meth users reported some withdrawal symptoms within the day of their last hit. Chronic users can experience meth withdrawal symptoms for one month! These symptoms are:
- nervousness and anxiety
- extreme drug craving
- disinterest and lack of motivation
- soreness and fatigues
- increased appetite
- inability to focus or concentrate
- lack of agility and reduced need for movement
It needs to be said that these aren’t the only withdrawal symptoms and that they can vary from person to person. Also, not all symptoms occur instantaneously. They occur gradually and can increase or decrease depending on their nature.
For instance, it makes sense that one will crave the drug more than anything else for the first week or two. But once one’s need for drug reduces, other needs will appear. A person will “wake up” and face the consequences of their actions, which can be overwhelming and panic-inducing.
There are more obvious signs that someone is using crystal meth. For example, there are the distinct physical and psychological factors that can tell whether a person is a meth user (meth teeth, sudden weight loss, a sudden change in personality, etc.)
However, sometimes it is much harder to tell whether a person uses meth. Meth users love to pick their hair and skin because it calms them and keeps their brains occupied. They will also have dilated pupils and move their eyes rapidly and chaotically.
Extreme and sudden mood swings could also indicate that a person is on meth. For example, if an amiable and enjoyable person suddenly becomes violent or paranoid, it is possible that the person started using meth. In essence, when looking for signs that someone is using crystal meth, one should always look for common side effects and symptoms of both short and long-term meth abuse.
Meth is an incredibly addictive drug, much more addictive than cocaine. Because of its severe withdrawal symptoms, meth users often have an extremely difficult time of letting go of the drug. More often than not, chronic users don’t want to use meth, but they need to use it.
First experiences might be enjoyable, but at some point, the desire is replaced with necessity. Suddenly, a person finds himself in a position where they need the drug just as one needs food or water. Thankfully, some methods and treatments can help meth users to leave the drug once and for all.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy has shown a lot of success in treating meth addiction. This therapy helps patients deal with their addiction situationally. For instance, the patients are thought to avoid situations where their addiction could return. Also, such treatments teach patients how to deal with tempting situations, helping them reject the drug.
Then there are less sophisticated (but useful) methods of treating meth. Motivational incentives are an excellent example of such treatments. These incentives motivate users to stop using drug by rewarding them with cash or other valuable rewards.
While physical symptoms are more intense, they are also easier to overcome than psychological symptoms. It because of that essential that a person receives proper care and support during withdrawal and rehabilitation.
Like most things in this world, methamphetamine can be beneficial and destructive. It can help those with ADHD and obesity but hurt healthy individuals who couldn’t control their recreational use. But regardless of the longevity and the severity of meth abuse, once can always quit using it.
Yes, it will be difficult, painful, stressful and depressing, but not impossible, especially with the help of friends and family. If you struggle with meth addiction, speak freely about it and seek help (if necessary.)
And if you know someone that struggles with meth abuse, just talk to them; sometimes a simple conversation and act of care and recognition can motivate people to transform their lives for good!