Methamphetamine (also commonly referred to as meth, crystal meth, and ice) is a highly addictive synthetic stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Methamphetamine was first synthesized in the 1890s, though its rise as a commonly abused substance in the United States did not occur until a century later.
Methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance by the U.S. Department of Justice, which means that the drug meets the following criteria:
- High potential for abuse
- Currently accepted for medical use in treatment in the United States
- May lead to severe psychological or physical dependence
Methamphetamine has been described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as a drug whose abuse can lead to “devastating medical, psychological, and social consequences.”
Methamphetamine most commonly appears in a powder or crystallized rock form. The drug’s coloring usually ranges from whitish to yellowish depending upon the quality and purity of the sample. After being ground into a finer powder or heated into a liquid form, methamphetamine may be swallowed, snorted, smoked, or injected.
According to the 2009 edition of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 1.2 million Americans ages 12 or above reported having abuse methamphetamine at least once in the previous 12 months.
The 2010 Monitoring the Future study (MTF) revealed that 1.2 percent of 8th graders, 1.6 percent of 10th graders, and 1.0 percent of 12th graders had abused methamphetamine at least once in the 12 months prior to the survey.
The initial effects of recreational meth abuse include enhanced alertness, energy, and a sense of euphoria. However, methamphetamine abuse can quickly lead to the following health problems:
- Anhedonia — an inability to feel pleasure without meth
- Malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, and mineral deficits
- Memory problems and verbal learning deficits
- Hallucinations (auditory and visual)
- Erratic, aggressive, and violent behavior
- Anxiety, irritability, and paranoia
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Meth mouth — severe tooth decay
Because methamphetamine is such a highly addictive substance, even short-term recreational use can quickly lead to physical dependency upon the drug.
Methamphetamine can cause cardiovascular problems.Rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and irreversible, stroke-producing damage to small blood vessels in the brain. Hyperthermia and convulsions occur with methamphetamine overdoses, and if not treated immediately, can result in death.
Methamphetamine abusers also can have episodes of violent behavior, paranoia, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia. Heavy users also show progressive social and occupational deterioration. Psychotic symptoms can sometimes persist for months or years after use has ceased.
Production errors may result in methamphetamine contaminated with lead. There have been documented cases of acute lead poisoning in intravenous methamphetamine abusers.
Fetal exposure to methamphetamine also is a significant problem in the United States. At present, research indicates that methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy may result in prenatal complications, increased rates of premature delivery, and altered neonatal behavioral patterns, such as abnormal reflexes and extreme irritability. Methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy may be linked also to congenital deformities.
Meth abusers are likely to develop tolerance for the drug, which means that they will need to ingest increasingly larger amounts of methamphetamine to experience the same high. Because methamphetamine is such a powerful drug, meth addiction is likely to cause significant financial, legal, social, and health damage.
Of course, one of the hallmarks of addiction (in addiction to tolerance and the presence of painful withdrawal symptoms in the absence of the addictive substance) is that individuals will continue to abuse the drug even after this behavior has resulted in negative consequences.
The nature of methamphetamine addiction makes it difficult if not impossible to overcome without professional assistance or, at the very least, participation in a structured support group.
Treatment for Methamphetamine
Treatment for methamphetamine abuse or addiction depends upon several factors, including the age and gender of the patient, the length and severity of the patient’s drug problems, and the presence of any co-occurring disorders.
Treatment for meth abuse or addiction may be done on an outpatient, residential, or partial hospitalization basis.
Treatment for meth abuse or addiction may include the following therapies and techniques:
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- 12-Step education
- Relapse-prevention instruction
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Methamphetamine users are often unable to recognize problems related to their drug use, and as a result techniques to promote change in the patient’s thinking must be used. The most effective method of treatment for methamphetamine addiction is cognitive behavioral intervention. In this approach, treatment aims to modify the patient’s thinking, expectation, and behaviors to increase skills in coping with the stresses of life.
Methamphetamine recovery support groups are also effective supplements to behavioral interventions and can lead to long-term drug free recovery.
While there are currently no pharmacological treatments for methamphetamine addiction, antidepressants may be used to help ease depressive symptoms that often occurs in methamphetamine users who have recently stopped using the drug.
The length of treatment programs is also an important factor in the recovery of methamphetamine addicts. Methamphetamine users may have a tendency to quickly drop out of treatment programs, but those who continue to along the path of treatment can achieve long-term drug free recovery.
Treatment programs also utilize strategies to prevent relapse, such as drug education, family and group therapies, and self-help groups. In these groups users must learn to identify behaviors and situations that put them at high risk for using methamphetamine. This creates a structure that allows the patient to become actively involved in their recovery and will help to prevent relapse.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: Drugs, Brains, and Behavior – The Science of Addiction
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
- National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
Adapted from: CRC Health – Addiction Treatment Centers, http://www.crchealth.com/
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence https://www.ncadd.org/
American Psychiactric Association,https://www.psychiatry.org
American Psychological Association, https://www.APA.org
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://www.drugabuse.gov/