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Methamphetamine addiction signs, symptoms, and treatments

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Methamphetamine addiction

Methamphetamine addiction is a type of substance use disorder (SUD) wherein a person has a compulsive need to keep using meth despite the harms it causes. An individual with methamphetamine addiction experiences strong and severe withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit.

Symptoms of this SUD include physical changes, behavioral and mental health problems. In order to experience euphoria, a person addicted to methamphetamine may also engage in risky behaviors. 

Causes of methamphetamine addiction include genetics, its influence on the brain’s reward system, socializing with people who use meth, a person’s environment, and mental health.  

The effects of methamphetamine addiction are changes in brain structure and function, mood disturbances, increased wakefulness, euphoria, weight loss, reduced hunger, and severe dental problems.

What is methamphetamine addiction?

Methamphetamine addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease indicated by the compulsive seeking of this stimulant drug and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using it. Meth abuse isn’t uncommon.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that in the past 12 months, 0.6% of Americans aged 12 and older had a methamphetamine use disorder. This percentage may seem small, but it accounts for at least 1.6 million people. 

Back in 2021, around 32,537 people in the United States died from an overdose associated with psychostimulants other than cocaine, mainly methamphetamine. 

This type of SUD is dangerous because methamphetamine exhibits its effects rapidly, but they’re more severe compared to amphetamine.

What are the causes of methamphetamine addiction?

The causes of methamphetamine addiction can be biological, psychological, or social. In most cases, it’s a combination of these causes that leads to methamphetamine addiction. The causes of methamphetamine addiction are listed below.

  • Biological causes: Methamphetamine activates the brain’s reward center because it quickly increases the level of dopamine. According to a 2017 study by Hedges et al., from Neuropsychopharmacology, methamphetamine could also increase oxidative stress and repeated use could dysregulate receptors, thereby making them less sensitive to the drug. In turn, a person needs more methamphetamine to feel the same level of pleasure, which paves the way to dependence and addiction.
  • Psychological causes: Many individuals with methamphetamine addiction also have an underlying mental health disorder. For some people, drug use is a way to cope with symptoms they experience. Methamphetamine addiction and mental health problems are closely connected. Many persons with meth addiction develop mental health problems or worsen their existing illness.
  • Social or environmental causes: A person’s environment has a major impact on addiction development. Households, where substance use disorders are common or even normalized, can contribute to methamphetamine addiction. The same applies to situations where a person spends a lot of time with other meth users.

What are the effects of methamphetamine addiction?

The effects of methamphetamine addiction are physical or psychological in nature. Methamphetamine also has short- and long-term consequences. The different effects of methamphetamine addiction are listed below.

  • Physical effects: changes in brain structure and function, deficits in motor skills and thinking, weight loss, severe dental problems
  • Psychological effects: mood disturbances, violent or aggressive behavior, getting easily distracted, psychosis including severe paranoia, hallucinations, and repetitive motor activity
  • Short-term effects: increased wakefulness, attention, and physical activity, reduced hunger, rush and euphoria, hyperthermia, irregular/rapid heartbeat, increased respiration
  • Long-term effects: Chronic methamphetamine users may find it impossible to experience any other kind of pleasure than the drug’s own, according to an article titled, “What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine misuse?” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Other long-term effects include severe physical and mental health problems, strained relationships, legal and financial problems.

What are the signs and symptoms of methamphetamine addiction?

The signs and symptoms of methamphetamine addiction can vary in severity, and may manifest in a combination of physical, psychological, and behavioral ways. The main signs and symptoms of methamphetamine addiction are listed below.

  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using meth
  • Anxiety and restlessness 
  • Loss of interest in once-loved or enjoyed activities 
  • Neglecting relationships, hobbies, and responsibilities in favor of methamphetamine use
  • Hyperactivity
  • Agitation
  • Twitching and jerky movements
  • Paranoia
  • Sudden, noticeable weight loss
  • Rapid eye movement
  • Skin sores and/or facial sores and acne
  • Decreased appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Erratic sleep patterns
  • Burns, especially on fingers and lips
  • Meth mouth (rotten teeth)
  • Frail, thinning body due to significant weight loss 
  • Droopy facial skin
  • Weakened immunity
  • Intense scratching
  • Increased libido
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to learn new motor skills and other tasks
  • Impaired visual memory
  • Isolating from friends and family in favor of spending time with persons who use meth
  • Engaging in risky behaviors to obtain meth
  • Spending a lot of time thinking or planning how to get more meth 
  • Financial problems due to meth use 

Signs and symptoms of methamphetamine addiction are numerous due to the many dangers of this drug. Other possible methamphetamine addiction symptoms are listed below.

  • Physical: changes in appearance and health 
  • Psychological: paranoia and other mental health symptoms 
  • Behavioral: changes in attitudes toward life and treatment of other people

How to overcome methamphetamine addiction?

In order to overcome methamphetamine addiction, it’s important to understand recovery is achievable but requires a lot of hard work. Many patients give up due to strong withdrawal symptoms, or they’re afraid of relapse after a treatment program.

These fears are understandable. However, withdrawal symptoms gradually subside, especially when detox is performed in a medically-supervised setting. On the other hand, relapse is also possible, but it’s not the end of the road. 

A person with methamphetamine addiction can decrease the risk of relapse by avoiding people who use meth and places where this drug is used. It’s also useful to identify triggers that intensify the need for the drug then reduce the exposure to them.

Other things that can help overcome methamphetamine addiction include a strong social support system, participating in meaningful activities such as volunteering, and developing a positive self-image.

A healthy lifestyle in the form of a well-balanced diet and regular exercise and sleep is also important for overcoming methamphetamine addiction.

Taking care of mental health is vital. One way to make that happen and reduce the risk of relapse is by joining support groups. These groups are useful because people share their experiences and support one another.

What are the risk factors for methamphetamine addiction?

Risk factors for methamphetamine addiction are characteristics, activities, or incidents that raise an individual’s susceptibility to developing a methamphetamine addiction. The risk factors for methamphetamine addiction are listed below.

  • Personal history of substance abuse: A person is more likely to develop methamphetamine addiction if they also have an addiction to other substances, or had it in the past 
  • Family history of meth addiction and/or substance abuse: The risk of methamphetamine addiction increases for individuals whose family members were also addicted to meth or other substances. This isn’t just about the environment wherein a person is exposed to meth, but also due to genetic predisposition. A 2021 paper on the genetics of methamphetamine use disorder published in the Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews confirmed that some genetic markers are associated with methamphetamine addiction, but this subject requires further research.
  • Having a mental illness: A person is more likely to develop substance use disorders, including methamphetamine addiction, if they also have a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, among others
  • Socializing with persons addicted to meth: Social circle plays a major role in one’s risk of developing meth addiction. An individual is more likely to develop this form of SUD if they socialize with persons who also have it. That may happen due to peer pressure, curiosity, or because they spend a lot of time in an environment where methamphetamine use is considered normal.

How do you treat methamphetamine addiction?

Methamphetamine addiction is usually treated with behavioral therapies. Good examples are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the Matrix Model, and contingency management intervention.

The most common behavioral approach in treating methamphetamine addiction is CBT. This type of therapy focuses on shifting behaviors from negative to positive. Patients also learn to overcome negative thoughts in favor of more positive ones. 

Thanks to CBT, patients learn new coping mechanisms to handle stressful situations and negative stimuli while preventing relapse.

On the other hand, the Matrix Model is a 16-week program that combines behavioral therapy with counseling, family education, drug testing, a 12-step program, and the promotion of non-drug-associated activities. A 2020 study by Aryan et al., from the Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy found that the Matrix model can be helpful for persons with methamphetamine addiction. 

The main focus of the contingency management intervention is on motivation through reward. The program offers incentives, and patients have to commit to the treatment and abstinence maintenance in return. 

Besides individual counseling sessions, group sessions are also available. The exact behavioral approach in the treatment of methamphetamine addiction depends on the needs of each patient. Many patients can also benefit from couples counseling, family therapy, and other therapy options. 

Treatments for many substance use disorders also include medications. At this point, no medications can tackle specific withdrawal symptoms of methamphetamine addiction.

Treating methamphetamine addiction usually requires an inpatient or residential program where patients live in the treatment facility for a specific period of time. In the treatment centers, patients receive counseling and medical supervision.

Outpatient programs are also available for persons with milder forms of addiction or those who have completed residential treatment and need more support to stay clean and sober.

Why is using methamphetamine addictive?

Using methamphetamine is addictive because this drug is fast-acting and it induces the release of dopamine, the feel-good chemical, in the brain quickly. 

Methamphetamine is a powerful and very addictive stimulant that acts on the central nervous system. Developed in the 20th century from amphetamine, this drug was initially used in bronchial inhalers and nasal decongestants. 

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classified methamphetamine as a Schedule II stimulant, meaning it’s legally available with a prescription only. 

Methamphetamine has some medical uses. In some, although rare, cases it can be prescribed as a short-term weight loss treatment or for the management of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, this drug is largely misused. 

The advantage of methamphetamine is that it acts quickly to produce its effects, but the disadvantages are more numerous. Methamphetamine is highly addictive and comes in many forms. This drug can be snorted, smoked, orally ingested, or injected. This gives people a lot of options for misuse. The most common form of the drug is crystal meth, a crystalline white, odorless powder.

Methamphetamine is addictive because it works rapidly to release the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical that helps regulate reward, motor function, motivation, and pleasure. The drug causes an instant euphoric mood due to excessively high levels of dopamine that make a person develop a strong desire to continue using meth.

Since the body goes through intense cravings to maintain this extremely euphoric state, the drug becomes even more addictive. This often leads to a “binge and crash” pattern of behavior where a person is constantly re-dosing and exhibits binge-like behaviors to experience euphoria. The crash occurs when the body shuts down and becomes overwhelmed because it’s unable to cope with the effects of the drug.

When is methamphetamine addiction counseling necessary?

Methamphetamine addiction counseling is necessary when an affected person shows signs associated with the use of this drug. Friends and family who suspect a person could be using meth should approach the individual carefully. Not everyone can acknowledge they have a problem right away.

Persons with meth addiction attempt to hide their problems. They should be approached in an understanding manner so they do not feel judged or criticized. It’s useful to contact a therapist first, to get professional guidance that will help in communication with an addicted person.

At the same time, individuals with methamphetamine addiction should seek counseling when they start taking meth regularly or attempt to quit without much success. Counseling is necessary because quitting meth without professional help is complicated.

A 2008 review by Nicole K Lee, PhD and Richard A. Rawson, PhD from the Drug and Alcohol Review confirmed that counseling can reduce methamphetamine use and induce other positive changes. Counseling is provided in the form of therapy sessions.

What are the symptoms of methamphetamine addiction withdrawal?

methamphetamine addiction symptoms

Symptoms of methamphetamine addiction withdrawal include cravings for the drug, increased appetite, fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety or agitation. Additionally, some patients may experience confusion, nausea, excessive sweating, lack of motivation, fever, and tremors. 

Withdrawal from methamphetamine addiction can also manifest itself through depression, paranoia and hallucinations, stomachache, red and itchy eyes, dehydration, and suicidal thoughts. 

Subjects in a 2010 study by Zorick et al., published in the Addiction journal also experienced decreased sexual pleasure during methamphetamine withdrawal. Depressive symptoms are most pronounced, but their intensity tends to decrease within two weeks for most persons with this addiction.

The severity of methamphetamine addiction withdrawal symptoms depends on factors such as the length of time a person used the drug, frequency and amount of use, and whether an individual also abuses other substances. A person’s mental health also plays a role in the intensity of withdrawal.

The method of methamphetamine use influences withdrawal symptoms, too. For example, persons who inject methamphetamine generally experience longer and more severe withdrawal symptoms compared to their counterparts who do not.

The withdrawal symptoms start within 24 to 48 hours after the last use of meth. The symptoms typically peak in three to 10 days and last around two to three weeks. However, after the second week, physical symptoms usually subside, but cravings persist.

Since methamphetamine addiction withdrawal symptoms can become intense and severe, it’s not recommended to go through the detox phase alone. Getting professional help that includes medical supervision is vital.

What is the difference between methamphetamine and amphetamine addiction?

difference between methamphetamine and amphetamine addiction

The difference between methamphetamine and amphetamine addiction is that the latter is less severe than addiction to meth. Both drugs are stimulants, and they’re frequently mistaken for one another, but they’re not the same.

An article titled, “How is methamphetamine different from other stimulants, such as cocaine?” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that methamphetamine is structurally similar to amphetamine. Just like meth, amphetamine can be prescribed for ADHD, weight loss, or other purposes. While these cases are rare, healthcare professionals are still more likely to prescribe amphetamine such as Adderall than its meth counterparts.

What makes addiction to methamphetamine more severe and dangerous than amphetamine addiction is that meth is a lot more powerful than amphetamines. At similar doses, a lot more methamphetamine remains in the brain. That’s why methamphetamine is more harmful to the brain (and the body), and its effects are long-lasting.

The molecular difference in methamphetamine enables the drug to enter the blood-brain barrier more rapidly and in greater amounts than amphetamine can. In other words, misuse of meth causes more extreme euphoria and a feeling of “high.”

Methamphetamine exhibits a stronger impact on dopamine transporters-mediated cell physiology than amphetamine, according to a 2009 study by Goodwin et al., from the Journal of Biological Chemistry. More precisely, meth and amphetamines act on dopamine and its receptors and transporters differently. This also explains why methamphetamine has stronger euphoric and addictive properties than amphetamine.