Causes, Symptoms & Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse

Methamphetamines (usually known simply as “meth”) are a group of highly addictive stimulants that cause tremendous damage to all organ systems, wreak havoc on personal relationships, and significantly decrease quality of life for those addicted. Methamphetamines, called on the street “crystal,” “glass,” “chalk,” “ice,” “speed,” and “crank”, are similar in structure to their parent class, amphetamines, however meth is far more potent and powerful than most other stimulants, such as cocaine. Often called the “world’s most dangerous drug,” methamphetamine is a relatively cheap way to get high. Meth is a Schedule II drug that is, upon occasion and in far smaller doses, used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. On the street, meth is abused by smoking or by dissolving the drug in water and injecting the meth directly into the blood stream. While most users begin using meth by smoking or snorting it, as addiction deepens, people may graduate to injecting the drug for a more intense, rapid high. IV drug usage carries with it a whole host of new problems, many of which are irreversible.

One of the reasons meth is so readily available and widely abused is because it is easily produced using easily found substances , including pseudoephedrine, anhydrous ammonia, ether, red phosphorous, and lithium from batteries. Despite the risk for fires and explosions, many people have taken to “cooking” meth in their own clandestine laboratories for personal use. While methamphetamine continues to be a growing concern for people in the U.S. and worldwide, with proper treatment, rehab, and support, many individuals are able to successfully ditch the meth and go on to lead much happier, sober lives.

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Statistics

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 0.4% of the population (or 1.2 million) of the United Sates reported using meth within the year prior, while 440,000 people (or 0.2% of the population) reported past-month usage. In 2011, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported that methamphetamines accounted for over 100,000 visits to the emergency room in the U.S. In these ER visits, meth was the fourth most commonly mentioned drug, following cocaine, marijuana, and heroin.

Causes and Risk Factors for Methamphetamine Abuse

Those who specialize in addiction have determined that addiction is not a result of a single root cause. Rather there is a complex interplay between genetic, environmental, and physical risk factors that leads some to develop addiction to methamphetamine and other drugs. Some of the most commonly cited causes and risk factors for methamphetamine abuse include:

Genetic: Addiction has a hereditary component— people with first-degree relatives who face past or current addictions are at a greater risk for developing addiction themselves. It’s worth noting that plenty of people who develop addiction do not have a family history of the disease.

Physical: With chronic drug use, methamphetamine actually changes the structure and functioning of the brain; notably the areas involved in impulse control, cravings, and decision making abilities. Additionally, the brains of people who are addicted to methamphetamines appear structurally different than those without an addiction to meth.

Environmental: People who begin abusing alcohol and drugs at early ages are more apt to develop an addiction later in life. Additionally, those who were born into homes in which drug abuse was common are more likely to see drug abuse as the proper way of coping with life events.

Risk factors:

  • Stress
  • Peer pressure
  • Being male
  • Underlying, co-occurring mental illnesses

Signs and Symptoms of Methamphetamine Abuse

Each person who abuses or becomes addicted to methamphetamines may display different signs and symptoms of the addiction based upon individual genetic makeup, frequency of use, presence of co-occurring metal disorders, amount abused, and length of addiction. The most common signs and symptoms of methamphetamine abuse include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Withdrawing from previously-enjoyed activities
  • Withdrawing from loved ones and friends
  • Lying to cover up meth usage
  • Hiding stashes of meth around the house
  • Poor work performance
  • Legal problems
  • Sudden need for money
  • Stealing from loved ones
  • Increased criminal activity
  • Reckless behaviors
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Increased libido
  • Unsafe sexual practices
  • Increase in violent behavior

Physical symptoms:

  • Meth mouth – or rotted teeth
  • Brain damage
  • Tachycardia
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Increased respiration
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperthermia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Malnutrition
  • Open sores
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Death

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Decreased ability to pay attention
  • Diminished short-term memory
  • Global memory loss

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mania
  • Memory loss
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Paranoia
  • Worsening of emotional health
  • Worsening of mental illnesses
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Meth-induced psychosis
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse

The effects of chronic methamphetamine abuse will depend upon the length of time an individual has been abusing meth, the amount used, frequency of use, and individual genetic makeup. One thing is certain: chronic methamphetamine abuse causes significant damage to many individuals.

Common effects of meth abuse include:

  • Anhedonia – inability to feel pleasure without meth
  • Emaciation and malnutrition
  • Loss of interpersonal relationships
  • Financial ruin
  • Joblessness
  • Social isolation
  • Mounting legal problems
  • Incarceration
  • Brain damage
  • Meth mouth
  • Anxiety, confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Mood disturbances
  • Extremely violent behaviors
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations – visual and auditory
  • Delusions – especially “meth bugs” crawling under the skin
  • Psychotic tendencies
  • Transmission of bloodborne illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C
  • Self-harm
  • Death by suicide
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose from Methamphetamines

The effects of withdrawal for someone who has chronically abused methamphetamines vary wildly. Symptoms may persist for days to weeks depending upon the length of meth use. It’s important that people attempting to detox from meth do so under the supervision of trained medical personnel to manage any symptoms.

Effects of methamphetamine withdrawal may include:

  • Strong drug cravings
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Extreme sleeping
  • Vivid dreams
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Hunger
  • Suicidal ideation and behaviors

Overdose: A meth overdose occurs when a person has used a tremendous amount of the drug. A lethal dose of meth will vary depending on the characteristics of the drug and the person abusing it – each person has a different sensitivity to a specific amount of meth. Unlike other drugs, overdosing on meth shows no immediate signs to the user. Overdosing on meth is characterized by a rapid onset of physiological deterioration that will eventually lead to heart attack or stroke, which occurs suddenly and unexpectedly.

The actual effects of a meth overdose will vary depending on how much of the drug was taken and if it was taken with other drugs. Common symptoms that may indicate an overdose may include:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Confusion
  • Changes in heart rhythm
  • Fast breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Hyperactivity
  • Muscle pains
  • Shakes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Coma
  • Stroke
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Methamphetamine abuse and addiction often occurs with other mental illnesses. The most common co-occurring mental illnesses include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Conduct disorders
  • Alcoholism
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