Meth Addiction and Treatment Info
Start beating your meth addiction. It's never too late to ask for help.
With assistance, you can restore your physical and mental health and gain back a love and enjoyment for life that you probably haven't felt in some time. You'll start to realize how great it feels to have the confidence and ability to pursue your goals and dreams. And all you have to do is reach out.
Many different treatment options exist to help you get on the path to recovery. Caring addiction specialists can work with you to develop a plan that's tailored to your unique situation. You'll have someone with you every step of the way, giving you support throughout detox and helping you implement long-term strategies to reduce the chance of relapse.
The Extent of the Meth Problem
Methamphetamine abuse and addiction have been described as an epidemic in the US with an estimated 1.4 million users. Meth causes hazards to the personal health of users and poses dangers to the community due to the toxic nature of its manufacture. As further evidence of the meth problem, 58% of police officers surveyed nationwide have said that meth is the number one drug problem they deal with. Additionally, statistics show that 8,000 meth labs were seized in 2004 and 3,000 children were removed from them (meth.com.usa, 2014).
The impact of methamphetamine is far reaching and many need treatment to overcome their addiction to it. Individual lives can be destroyed along with the lives of the families of those who are addicted. If you need help, reach out. Recovery happens and there is hope. There are many providers and facilities that can help you.
If you are a family member of someone who needs help, there are many things you can do. Talk to your loved one, research solutions, and offer to help. Take a close look at your own behavior. Are you doing anything to help the addiction continue? And, if your loved one goes to treatment, be supportive and participate in their recovery efforts.
It has been estimated that over 12 million people have used meth at least one time.
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine—also known as meth, crystal meth, or ice—is a highly addictive drug. It is considered a stimulant—an "upper" or "speed"—because it puts its user in mental and physical overdrive. Some methamphetamine is produced by pharmaceutical companies to treat medical conditions like ADHD and obesity, but this is very limited and rarely done (NIDA, 2013). The great majority of meth is manufactured, sold, and used illegally.
Meth is considered a drug with high potential for abuse and addiction. Consequently, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) classifies it as a Schedule II substance. This means that meth is considered dangerous, causing severe psychological and physical damage to its users (US Department of Justice, 2014).
Meth is considered a very serious problem in the U.S. It has been estimated that over 12 million people have used meth at least one time (NIDA, 2013a). It has also been reported that meth use costs the U.S. between $16.2 billion and $48.3 billion per year. This cost includes health care such as drug and other treatments, death, lost productivity, crime, expenses in the criminal justice system, environmental hazards, and child endangerment (Nicosia, Pacula, et al, 2009).
A Synthetic Substance
Meth is a stimulant like cocaine and the two are often compared. Both cause the body and brain to speed up their functions and both are harmful to the bodies and brains of their users. However, cocaine and meth are very different in their origins and in how the body processes them. Meth, for example, is a synthetic drug. This means that it is not produced from a natural substance and is created chiefly in illegal Mexican and U.S. labs from synthetic ingredients. In contrast, cocaine is derived from the coca plant, which grows in South America. The body typically processes these two drugs differently, as well. For example, cocaine intoxication lasts a matter of minutes—about 30—while the meth high can last 8-12 hours (Johnson, 2005).
Forms of Meth and How It Is Used
Meth comes in various forms:
- Powder—a white, crystalline substance that is odorless but has a bitter taste
- "Rocks"—chunks that are white, yellow, or clear
- Pills—tablets or capsules in various colors and shapes
Meth is used several ways. The powder can be eaten, put into a liquid to drink, snorted, or injected, while rocks can be smoked, and pills can be taken orally, mixed in a drink, or dissolved into a solution in order to be injected (NIDA, 2014).
The Effects of Meth
Meth effects are very noticeable because they are intense and often extreme. This is true of the immediate effects of the "high" (intoxication) as well as the long-term effects of addiction. The symptoms and signs of meth use are often quite easy to spot.
The immediate effects of intoxication (the "high") can include the following:
- Unusual alertness
- Suspiciousness or paranoia
- Increased activity
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased need for sleep
- Increased sex drive
- Racing thoughts
- Rapid mood changes
- Increased heart rate
- Irregular heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Rapid breathing
- Raised body temperature
Behavior often includes sudden violence and self-harm.
The longer-term effects of abuse and addiction can be extreme. Physical, mental, and emotional problems are typical. A meth addict's behavior can be compulsive, causing him or her to do certain things over and over again with no apparent reason for doing them. Also, behavior often includes sudden violence and self-harm.
Social and family ties are strained or broken with the majority of relationships being with other addicts. There are also often legal consequences since possessing, using, making and selling meth are all illegal. Usually there are serious financial difficulties. Meth users typically cannot steadily work, solve problems, make decisions, or meet any obligations and responsibilities of usual life. In short, the longer term effects reach every aspect of the meth addict's life.
Effects on the Brain
Meth goes directly to the center of the brain where pleasure is experienced. It floods the brain with dopamine which is the brain chemical responsible for pleasure. After using meth for a while, however, the brain is unable to respond with pleasure because the natural chemicals and processes of pleasure have been damaged by the drug. Many other meth side effects on the brain cause serious life problems including lasting effects for many individuals. Some of these are:
- Impaired ability to learn
- Poor coordination
- Poor verbal skills
- Inability to control emotions
- Memory impairments
Some long-term users of meth develop psychological problems that require psychiatric treatment. Some of these are severe depression and suicidal thoughts, being out of touch with reality (psychotic) with hallucinations and delusions, confusion, and an inability to care for themselves. Additionally, some crystal meth users become aggressive, violent, and unsafe to be around others (Harvard Medical School, 2014). Mood swings can be sudden and extreme. All of these conditions may require hospitalization to keep the meth user and others safe and to treat these types of symptoms.
Problems with Diagnosis
Many meth users have symptoms that look like other conditions. For example, hallucinations and delusions caused by meth use may look like schizophrenia. The "crash and burn" phase of meth use may look like clinical depression and mood swings related to meth use may be mistaken for bipolar disorder. In order to determine if a person who uses meth also has another mental illness, it is important for the person to be off meth for at least 30 days. This allows some recovery from the effects of meth and a more accurate diagnosis can be made if another condition is present (SAMHSA/CSAT, 1999).
Physical Health Problems of Long-term Use
The physical health problems of meth abusers are quite noticeable. Users age rapidly. There are some graphic examples of aging and other signs of physical deterioration shown here in pictures of users taken over time (ABC13, 2017).
Some other common health effects of meth use include:
- "Meth mouth" in which teeth decay and are lost due to poor hygiene, dry mouth, and grinding teeth
- Skin sores due to scratching and picking at "meth mites," the imaginary bugs that users feel under their skin
- Abscesses due to IV use
- Weight loss due to poor nutrition, poor appetite, and long periods of starving
- Use of other drugs to help manage their addiction such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, sedatives, heroin, and cocaine
- Potential for stroke
- Potential for convulsions
- Potential for heart attack
- Potential for sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis, and HIV due to high risk behavior when using (PBS, 2011)
The History of Meth
The "mother" of meth—amphetamine—was first made in Germany in 1887. In 1919, methamphetamine was made in Japan, but it took some years till there were uses found for meth. It was used as medicine in the 30's for asthma and narcolepsy (sleeping sickness) and in the 40's and 50's for obesity and sinus inflammation.
In World War II, Allied pilots were given the drug to keep them alert on long missions, but they became too disorganized, irritable, and angry to be effective. German troops in World War II were given methamphetamine to decrease fatigue on the front lines, in flight, and in tanks. Adolf Hitler is reported to have been given meth injections daily.
By the 60's, illegal use was growing. Meth became associated, for example, with outlaw biker gangs who were said to manufacture and sell it. Its illegal use became popular among some groups such as students, athletes, and truck drivers who used it to enhance their performance. By 1970, meth use was so prevalent that it was regulated through the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.
Other milestones in the history of meth include:
- In the 1980s—Rehabs begin to see an increase of patients with crystal meth addiction.
- In the 1990s—Rural areas in the U.S. begin to see small meth labs set up to manufacture the drug due to new ways to "cook" meth. Manufacturing and use increase.
- 1996—The Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act is passed. This act controls the mail order and purchase of chemicals needed to make meth, such as pseudoephedrine. Supply companies who sell the ingredients for making meth are monitored and liable.
- 2005—The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act requires stores to keep records of cold medicines with pseudoephedrine sold to customers, and limits the amount that can be purchased over the counter in 30 days (Braswell, 2005; Parsons, 2014).
The Differences Between Men and Women Who Use Meth
Between the sexes, meth appears to be an equal opportunity drug—about the same number of men and women use it. Also, among the number of meth users in treatment, approximately 50% are men and 50% are women. Men and women meth users are different from one another however.
A woman who uses meth is most likely to have been introduced to meth by a man in her life. She is also likely to have a partner living with her that also uses it. Many women who are addicted to meth are unemployed and dependent upon the men in their lives. Because of these circumstances, her efforts to recover from meth addiction will typically involve a need to be independent from an addicted partner.
Men, on the other hand, have equally serious but different problems with meth. For example, men tend to enter treatment later in their addiction than women do. They also appear to remain in treatment for less time than women. Also, after leaving treatment, men tend to relapse more quickly than women.
Women addicted to meth are also more likely than men to view meth as a weight control tool at some point in their use of it. Also, women are more likely to have more medical problems associated with meth use and to have a more extensive history of abuse and psychiatric symptoms than men. Domestic violence, for example, affects many couples who use meth. These situations usually involve men who abuse their female partners (SAMHSA/CSAT, 1999).
A woman who uses meth is most likely to have been introduced to meth by a man in her life.
Pregnancy, Children, and Meth
Serious problems develop in babies when women use meth during pregnancy. Some of these can include:
- Premature birth
- Birth defects of vital organs, the brain, and skeleton
- Strokes and brain hemorrhages before birth
- Low birth weight
- Feeding problems—trouble sucking and swallowing
- Overly sensitive to light, touch, and sound
- Difficult to soothe
As the children age, they tend to have learning problems, ADHD or ADHD-like problems, and behavior problems like angry outbursts.
Children living with meth addicted parents are exposed to chemical hazards and other dangers like lack of supervision, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, and malnutrition. Such children are likely to be involved with child welfare and many are permanently removed from their parents (Haight, Ostler, et al, 2008).
Treatment for Meth Abuse and Addiction
The cravings for meth are intense and relapse is a sad reality for some. Also, due to the poor health and mental and emotional problems meth addicts have, many require a wide range of services. Since getting better occurs in steps and stages, a person in treatment will have different needs at different times. Despite the challenges, there is hope for recovery. Many people on meth have successfully stopped using the drug. Having good support and trained help provides the best chance of recovery.
Meth addiction treatment usually involves a wide range of help and depends on an individual's needs. Recovery progresses in stages of physical, mental, and emotional recovery (Sharp, 2013).
Some of the issues addressed in treatment are:
- Safety from harming one's self or someone else
- Getting adequate nutrition and sleep
- Medical treatment of physical problems associated with meth use
- Assistance through meth withdrawal and detox
- Medication to ease detox and withdrawal symptoms
- Education about meth, addiction, and recovery methods for the addicted person
- Learning triggers for usage, and coping strategies
- Dealing with emotions, thoughts, and beliefs
- Individual counseling to support the recovery process
- Group counseling to help users support one another
- Family counseling to include family members in supporting the meth addict and to educate them about the addiction and recovery process
- Relapse prevention planning
- 12-Step programs for support in the community
- Psychiatric services for diagnosing other conditions and managing symptoms with medication
Some are able to use outpatient services to quit meth and stay off of it, but many require the safety and structure of inpatient or residential treatment centers. Such programs help the meth user get away from the environment in which they used, and the stress and relationships that contributed to the desire to use.
Also, those coming from inpatient or residential treatment need aftercare services to continue recovery after discharge. These take place in outpatient settings. Many outpatient services also offer a variety of individual, group, and family counseling as well as education. Often, 12-Step meetings in the self-help community are recommended in order for the recovering addict to have additional support (SAMHSA/CSAT, 1999; Sharp, 2013; Weisheit & M.A., 2009).
Despite the challenges, there is hope for recovery. Many have successfully stopped using meth.
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ABC13. (2017). How methamphetamine destroys your face and physical appearance. Retrieved 2019, August 12 from ABC13.
Haight, W., Ostler, T., et al (2008). Children of Methamphetamine-Involved Families: The Case of Rural Illinois. NY, NY: Oxford Press.
Harvard Medical School. (2014). What are Methamphetamine's Risks? Retrieved 2014, September 1 from Family Health Guide.
Johnson, D. (2005). Meth: America's Home-Cooked Menace. Center City, MN: Hazelden Foundation.
Nicosia, N., Pacula, R., Kilmer, B., Lundberg, R., & Chiesa, J. (2009). The Economic Cost of Methamphetamine Use In the United States, 2005. RAND.
NIDA. (2013, September). Methamphetamine. Retrieved 2014, September 1 from NIDA.
NIDA. (2013a, September). Letter from the Director. Retrieved 2014, September 1 from NIDA.
NIDA. (2014, January). Drug Facts: Methamphetamine. Retrieved 2014, September 1 from NIDA.
Parsons, N. (2014). Meth Mania: A History of Methamphetamine (Social Problems, Social Constructions). Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
PBS. (2011). How Meth Destroys the Body. Retrieved 2014, September 1 from FRONTLINE.
SAMHSA/CSAT. (1999). Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders, TIP 33. Rockville, MD: SAMHSA.
Sharp, J. (2013). Quitting Crystal Meth: What to Expect & What to Do: A Handbook for the first Year of Recovery from Crytal Methamphetamine. Createspace Independent Publishing: North Charleston, SC.
US Department of Justice. (2014, 8 20). Drug Scheduling. Retrieved 2014, September 1 from DEA.
Weisheit, R., & M.A., W. W. (2009). Methamphetamine: Its History, Pharmacology and Treatment. Center City, MN: Hazelden.