Methamphetamine is an illegal, man-made stimulant drug that is highly addictive and methodically destroys the body of the user. It is most often a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder, but can also be clear crystals, known as crystal methamphetamine. Methamphetamine can be snorted, smoked or injected, and crystal meth is usually smoked. Methamphetamine is commonly known as one of the most damaging and addictive drugs, and one of the hardest drugs to quit.
The Creation of Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is often manufactured illegally in secret laboratories, most often in the homes of meth addicts. Various forms of amphetamine are mixed with other chemicals, often over-the-counter cold tablets containing pseudoephedrine as well as a chemical such as battery acid, drain cleaner, lantern fuel or antifreeze to increase the drug’s potency. Needless to say, cooking these chemicals not only creates toxic fumes that individuals inhale, but the chemicals themselves are potentially explosive. Because the persons who are cooking methamphetamine are often addicts themselves who live in a drug-induced haze, they can be burned, disfigured or even killed when their methamphetamine preparations explode. Additionally, a meth lab fire or explosion has the potential to bring harm to other individuals inhabiting the surrounding area, as they will be exposed to dangerous fumes from the chemical mixtures. Even when a methamphetamine lab does not explode, it produces a significant amount of toxic waste, roughly five pounds of waste for every pound of methamphetamine, which can poison individuals exposed to it.
How Methamphetamine Works in the Body
When methamphetamine enters the bloodstream, it makes its way to the brain, where it increases the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is involved in the reward and pleasure functions of the brain, so an individual who is taking methamphetamine normally experiences a euphoric rush or high. The person may also feel a strong sense of confidence and energy, which can lead to risky behavior. Unfortunately, these desirable effects are short-lived, usually lasting between six and eight hours after initial methamphetamine use. Coming down from the desired effects leads the individual to take another hit to re-experience the same euphoric rush or high. Over time, the body develops a tolerance to methamphetamine, which causes the individual to take higher doses to achieve the same desired effects. Eventually, continued use of methamphetamine leads to addiction, the person compelled by physical cravings and a fear of withdrawal symptoms to continue using the drug despite all adverse effects it has had on their life.
The Side Effects of Methamphetamine Use
Even one dose of methamphetamine can sufficiently deplete the body’s resources, creating a dependence that the individual can only resolve by taking more of the drug. This steep downward spiral can quickly result in life-threatening physical conditions or death, along with many painful side effects. One of the most commonly known side effects of methamphetamine use is compulsive scratching – the individual is often under the impression that bugs are crawling under their skin, and they scratch at their skin, creating open sores and lesions on their arms and face. Some of the other side effects of methamphetamine use include:
- Memory loss
- Delusions (including the illusion of bugs crawling under the skin)
- Psychotic behavior
- Heart damage
- Brain damage
- Decreased appetite
- Increased respiration
- Rapid heart rate
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased blood pressure
- Hyperthermia (an increase in body temperature)
- Severe and extensive mouth, gum and teeth problems (commonly called “meth mouth”)
- Extreme weight loss
It is not uncommon for a methamphetamine user to appear much older than they are – sometimes by twenty years or more. Methamphetamine use results in a restriction of blood vessels and a decrease in blood flow to the skin, causing it to take on a gray, leathery appearance. The individual’s skin cannot heal normally from the sores caused by scratching or picking at “invisible bugs”, leaving a meth user with a scarred, sagging, gray face that ages them in startling fashion.
Phases of Methamphetamine Use
There are seven acknowledged aspects of methamphetamine use:
- Rush – This is the initial euphoric feeling the user experiences after snorting, smoking or injecting methamphetamine. A meth rush can last for up to thirty minutes, as compared to a crack cocaine rush which lasts two to five minutes.
- High – After the initial euphoria, a methamphetamine user experiences a high that often makes them feel smarter and more confident. They may become aggressive or intensively focused on some trivial task as a result of this pseudo-confident high. A methamphetamine high can last anywhere between four and sixteen hours.
- Binge – Because they are unwilling to experience the severe withdrawal symptoms, a meth addict often goes on a binge, smoking or injecting methamphetamine regularly for three to fifteen days. They are hyperactive mentally and physically, and typically conclude the binge period only when each new hit of meth fails to produce any rush or high.
- Tweaking – At the end of a methamphetamine binge, when the individual no longer experiences a rush or high after a hit, the person often experiences a sense of emptiness along with intense cravings. This is often when they have the delusion that bugs are crawling under their skin. They are typically in an entirely psychotic state, unable to sleep and experiencing hallucinations that are so real the individual can become hostile and dangerous to himself and others.
- Crash – Eventually, the body, is unable to cope with the effects caused by methamphetamine and shuts down, causing the individual to sleep for one to three days straight.
- Hangover – After, the person’s body, recovers from the crash, the individual is starved, dehydrated and thoroughly exhausted for two to fourteen days. Many people are unable or unwilling to experience this condition and return to methamphetamine use as a “solution”.
- Withdrawal – Methamphetamine withdrawal causes an individual to feel depressed, without energy, and unable to experience pleasure. When cravings for meth hit, the person can become suicidal and return to methamphetamine use to avoid further painful symptoms.
It is possible for an individual to address and resolve methamphetamine addiction, although it is often painful and challenging. The truth is that roughly ninety percent of methamphetamine-addicted people who participate in traditional rehabilitation treatment programs relapse into methamphetamine use shortly after release. It is, therefore, safe to say that meth addiction cannot be treated in the traditional way if it is to result in a successful, long-term recovery. Following are some tips for successful methamphetamine treatment:
Select a facility that is familiar with methamphetamine treatment – What may work wonderfully to resolve alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or even heroin addictions may not work to resolve methamphetamine dependence. A facility that is familiar and experienced with methamphetamine treatment is more likely to provide the treatment services necessary for a successful recovery.
Enroll in long-term, residential rehabilitation treatment – It can be ridiculously easy for a methamphetamine addict to cook up more of the drug in their home and kitchen when they are experiencing cravings or withdrawal symptoms. By participating in long-term, residential rehabilitation treatment, the individual is removed from their normal life environment and participating in a program that is lengthy enough to help them fully recover from methamphetamine use.
Participate in medically-supervised detoxification – It is critical that all residual methamphetamine toxins are eliminated from the body for the individual to experience a reduction or elimination of cravings.
Engage in counseling – Because meth creates psychological changes as well as physical changes, it is important that the individual participates in counseling to help re-establish a healthy mental attitude.
Learn life skills – In many cases, an individual might not have turned to methamphetamine use in the first place if they had possessed the skills necessary to handle the difficulties and challenges of life. Life skills education can not only boost the individual’s confidence but can also serve to give him drug-free solutions for future life problems.
Enroll in aftercare – Even an individual who participates in a nine-month rehabilitation program and feels wonderfully restored to life and health at program completion may encounter unexpected difficulties when he returns to his normal life environment, not the least of which may be finding housing and employment. Aftercare programs can provide support and referrals so that the individual does not feel abandoned or alone as they try to reintegrate into society.
Methamphetamine has the potential to destroy lives within a very short time. With careful attention and thorough rehabilitation, a meth addict can be restored to a sober, productive life.
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