Methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, ice, or meth, is a growing problem in the United States. Meth abuse has spread widely, and is affecting many people across different walks of life. Meth is an addictive stimulant that is snorted, smoked, or injected for its effects. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, abuse of methamphetamine is associated with serious health and psychiatric conditions including heart and brain damage, impaired thinking and memory problems, aggression, violence, and psychiatric behavior.
Initially meth makes users feel euphoric, with a rush of good feelings, but once the high wears off users feel angry, afraid, or generally edgy. The highs of methamphetamine are very intense, and the lows are equally intense, but in a negative way. Meth users develop a tolerance to the drug, which means that they need more of it to achieve the same effect after some time. It also has withdrawal effects that make users who are dependent on meth feel sick and depressed when they do not have it. All of these factors lead to addiction.
Street Names for Meth
Meth is known by a number of street names. It’s important to be aware of these slang names for meth, so as to be aware if someone is talking about it in your presence. These names include:
- Redneck cocaine
There are certainly other street names, as well, but it can be hard to keep up with the ever-changing drug landscape. Things change quickly as law enforcement and other authority figures catch on.
Signs of Meth Abuse
If you believe that someone you love may be using meth, they will likely display some of the signs of meth abuse. Drug abuse and addiction are often hidden, and people affected directly by them tend to lie to protect themselves and others, fearing that people will try to get them to stop. With this in mind, it’s very important to be aware of the signs yourself. In addition, meth is a highly addictive drug with very serious long-term effects. If someone you love is using, it is important to get them help as soon as possible to mitigate the potential damage done by the drug.
Meth abuse symptoms include:
- Violent or psychotic behavior
- Poor hygiene
- Pale, unhealthy complexion
- Sores on the body
- Cracked teeth or teeth that are otherwise decaying
- Loss of appetite
- Increased physical activity for periods of a few days, followed by periods of lethargy
- Uncontrollable jaw clenching
- Unpredictable behavior
Tweaking: The Most Dangerous Stage of Meth Use
According to the University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research, the most dangerous stage of meth use occurs when a user has not slept for three to 15 days. At this point, which is when a person would be labeled a ‘tweaker’ and would be said to be ‘tweaking’, users are very irritable and paranoid. They crave more methamphetamine, but are unable to reach their original high and thus become very frustrated and unstable.
It can be hard to tell if someone is tweaking, but it is important to be aware of as tweaking has been known to cause domestic disputes, car accidents, and spur-of-the-moment crimes. Though a tweaker may appear normal – with clear speech and brisk movements – a close look would show that their eyes are moving extremely fast, their voice may slightly quiver, and their movements would be quick and jerky.
Consequences of Meth Abuse
Meth abuse can lead to a number of very serious health problems, in addition to problems with the law, in personal relationships, at work or at school. Meth abuse can quickly lead to addiction, which is a chronic, progressive, and relapsing condition that people often have to battle with for their whole lives. Methamphetamine causes significant long-term cognitive damage that takes years to fully repair.
Consequences of meth use include:
- Addiction. Meth abuse very frequently leads to addiction – a chronic, relapsing disease that is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and taking the drug despite knowledge of its negative consequences.
- Increased risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis B and C. Injecting meth is very dangerous, especially due to the sharing of needles. Doing so puts people at risk for disease. Meth also increases sexual desire, which may lead to risky sexual encounters.
- Problems at work or school. It can be hard for people who abuse meth to succeed in school or at work because they become consumed with the drug. As well, the highs and lows can make it difficult for anyone to follow a routine other than that created by meth itself.
- Financial problems. A meth habit, especially as it grows, can end up being very costly. Many people end up resorting to stealing – even from friends and family – to support their habits.
- Problems with personal relationships. As meth consumes a person, they pay less and less attention to things they previously enjoyed, including spending time with loved ones.
- Cognitive impairment. Over time, meth use significantly impairs the cognitive abilities of users. Decision making, impulse control, learning, memory and other functions can take over a year of abstinence to heal, and often take two or more.
- Increased risk of stroke and Parkinson’s disease. Individuals who abuse meth or have abused meth are at a higher risk for both of these health conditions.
The Effects of Meth Abuse
Meth’s effects are created in part by the drug’s interaction with the brain. Methamphetamine causes a release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin which produces the intense rush that users feel. These neurotransmitters are very important for regulating emotion, mood, and movement. After the rush, the brain stays in an alert state and keeps the user’s body on edge. After the effects wear off, the brain is depleted of dopamine. This often causes a severe depression that makes users seek out more meth. It also causes reduced motor skills and impaired verbal learning, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Physical Effects of Meth Abuse
Meth causes many physical effects on both the inside and outside of most users. While all users will have different experiences, certain changes to the outward appearance are common. These include:
- Poor skin. Abuse of methamphetamine causes the destruction of tissues and blood vessels, which makes it harder for the body to heal itself. Acne often develops, and the skin loses elasticity and luster which makes users look older. Hallucinations of bugs crawling on the skin are common in meth users, and they cause compulsive skin picking which leads to sores.
- Gaunt, frail figures. Meth suppresses the appetite while causing bursts of physical activity. This leads to severe weight loss that often turns users’ bodies into very frail, thin and gaunt figures.
- Poor oral hygiene, tooth decay. Methamphetamine makes users grind their teeth and clench their jaws which causes the teeth to break. Chronic use of meth also results in poor hygiene and diet, which can lead to tooth decay and staining. The decaying of the mouth is so common that it is called ‘meth mouth’.
- Other physical effects may include: increased heart rate, lowered resistance to illness, liver damage, extremely high body temperature that can lead to brain damage, stroke or death.
Psychological Effects of Meth Abuse
Meth is associated with a number of psychological side effects which worsen with the severity of a person’s abuse problem. High doses are associated with increased nervousness, irritability, paranoia, and psychosis. These psychological side effects are sometimes likened to the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or schizophrenia. Anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behavior are common as well.
The interaction between meth and the brain cause other significant effects. According to PBS Frontline, meth abuse destroys dopamine receptors over time. This makes it impossible for chronic users to feel pleasure without the help of the drug. This is part of what causes severe depression.
Meth Abuse Statistics
Meth abuse is a growing problem in the United States. It was formerly more common in the western and south-western US, but is spreading eastward.
Here are 5 alarming statistics about meth abuse:
- In 2012, 1.2 million people reported using methamphetamine in the last year, and 440,000 reported using it in the last month. (National Survey on Drug Use and Health)
- There were 133,000 new meth users above the age of 12 in 2012. The average age of new users was 19.7 years old. (National Survey on Drug Use and Health)
- In 2011 meth accounted for 103,000 emergency department visits and was the fourth most mentioned illicit drug in ED visits. (Drug Abuse Warning Network)
- Of the total number of people admitted for methamphetamine abuse treatment in 2003, 45% were women. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
- Female meth users are more likely to use meth more days in a 30-day period, smoke rather than snort or inject the drug, be single parents who live alone with their children, and have worse employment, psychiatric, and medical profiles than male meth users. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
Treatment for Meth Abuse and Addiction
Meth abuse and addiction is best treated with behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The Matrix Model in particular has shown to be effective, for example. This is a 16-week program involving behavioral therapy, family education, individual counseling, 12-step support, drug testing and encouragement for non-drug-related activities.
The main meth addiction treatment methods are:
- Contingency management (CM). CM is a behavioral and motivational intervention. With this method, counselors offer patients incentives for desired behaviors or for meeting goals, such as having a clean drug test or having one month of abstinence from drugs.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT counselors work with patients to understand the patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior that lead to drug use. Once understood, counselors help patients to steer clear from these situations or to change the patterns to lead to more constructive behaviors.
Counseling sessions are normally conducted in either one-on-one or group settings, and family counseling is often involved. Family counseling helps to motivate a person’s recovery, and to help the family understand their loved one’s situation vis a vis meth abuse and addiction, as well as how they can help.
An important factor in meth addiction treatment is the length of treatment. Due to the severity of meth addiction and its effects, long-term treatment is often recommended. Long-term meth rehab provides the patient with enough time to fully detox from the drug, participate in treatment meaningfully, and to integrate the things learned in treatment into their life. As well, it allows them enough time to adjust to a drug-free lifestyle while having the support provided in treatment.