WHAT IS METHAMPHETAMINE ABUSE?
Once the domain of 1%-er bike gangs, methamphetamine is now well-known. Whether it’s because of prestige television shows like Breaking Bad or public service campaigns like the Montana Meth Project, most people are aware of how harmful the substance is – and the violence and crime which often surround it.
And yet, the drug still pulls people in. According to polls from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as many as 2 million Americans said they used the drug during the past year.
Available in crystalline, powder, and even liquid form, methamphetamine is a dangerous illicit stimulant that can be sniffed, injected, and smoked. Regardless of the method used, meth is a substance that can rapidly cause users to fall into addiction.
Where Does Meth Come From?
Earlier this century, meth was widely manufactured in clandestine, domestic laboratories. Made up of often haphazard, primitive equipment, these labs were infamous for causing fires, explosions and leaving dangerously toxic messes in their wake. NIDA says there were over 15,000 such incidents in 2010.
By 2017, however, that number had shrunk to nearly 3,000. Thanks in part to restrictions on ingredients like pseudoephedrine and precursor chemicals, backyard meth labs are slowly disappearing.
However, meth has undergone something of a resurgence in recent years. Powerful criminal cartels are now manufacturing large amounts of high-quality meth, resulting in a drug that’s now cheaper, easier to get … and more powerful than ever.
What Is Meth?
Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant. Like all drugs, methamphetamine causes the body to release the neurotransmitter dopamine when taken. Dopamine plays a large role in the brain’s reward system and is one of the reasons we feel good when we engage in pleasurable activities.
Usually, our systems only release small amounts of dopamine. Meth turns that small release into a firehose, rapidly releasing large amounts of the neurotransmitter into our system. Not only does this create the rush associated with meth use, but the rush also reinforces addictive behaviors as users will keep taking meth to achieve that same high.
There is one important difference between methamphetamines and other stimulant drugs like cocaine: meth stays in the system far longer. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), meth stays active in the system for a greater duration of time than cocaine. Also, meth causes the body to release a greater amount of dopamine than cocaine does.
Methamphetamine has a surprisingly long history. First manufactured in Japan in the early 20th century, methamphetamine was a more potent form of its earlier relative, amphetamine. Used heavily by soldiers on both sides during World War II, methamphetamine was used for treating depression and obesity in the decades after the war.
Physicians became increasingly aware that methamphetamine had unpleasant (and potentially dangerous) side effects, including paranoia, heart problems, and even psychosis. They also noticed meth was both extremely addictive and was often abused. By the 1970s, meth had become largely illegal, and its manufacture was largely done by criminal organizations such as outlaw biker clubs.
What Are The Effects Of Meth Use?
Aside from the euphoric high, short-term effects of meth include:
The long-term effects of meth use are well-known … and often distressing to see. Apart from addiction, many long-term meth users experience the well-known condition of “meth mouth.” Brought on by teeth grinding, dry mouth, and poor hygiene, it is perhaps the most infamous symptom of meth use.
Other symptoms include weight loss, memory issues, psychosis, and aggressive/violent behavior. NIDA also warns meth damages areas of the brain involved in decision making and habit regulation.
The damage long-term meth causes make treating addiction to the drug challenging, but not impossible.
Treating Meth Addiction
Meth withdrawal has symptoms, but compared to withdrawal from alcohol or opioids, they’re relatively minor. As they withdraw, former meth users may experience feelings of anxiety and tiredness. Also, like most stimulants, meth can create an emotional “low” once use stops and the body readjusts to normal levels of dopamine.
Keep in mind quitting addictive substances like meth is far easier with guidance and medical supervision. A detox center will help patients deal with withdrawal effects and drug cravings as meth leaves their system. Meanwhile, rehab will teach recovering meth users how to live a fulfilling life free from meth and other addictive substances.
Drug and alcohol rehab can also offer guidance with medical care for the physical damage meth use may have cost, as well as addressing any underlying concerns which may have been driving the addiction.
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