Meth Addiction Explained
Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as meth, is a central nervous system stimulant that was initially made in 1919 as an artificial substitute for ephedrine. Although some methamphetamine-based medications are legally manufactured and distributed, the street drug crystal meth is illegal and highly abused.
Meth is an artificial stimulant that was frequently used in World War II to keep soldiers sharp and awake. Currently, the drug is highly prohibited, and the only legal meth product is a tablet that is seldom prescribed in the treatment for obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (3)
The drug produces a “high” sensation that fades quickly, causing the user to take repeated doses to maintain the euphoric feeling. It is this powerful rush produced by methamphetamine that hooks a person right from the start.
When consumed, it causes the production of dopamine, a chemical substance that floods the parts of the brain that control the feelings of pleasure. Users also become extra energetic and confident when they use the drug. This is exactly what leads to addiction because the user will go to any lengths to experience that rush again. This persistent usage of the drug results in the body building tolerance, since the user will need even higher doses to get the same high (3).
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What Is Meth?
Methamphetamine (meth) is a colourless, odourless, sour-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol. It is frequently used as an illicit substance. Its chemical properties are similar to its parent drug, amphetamine. Amphetamine is a drug that is used to treat medical conditions like obesity, narcolepsy and ADHD. Unlike amphetamine, meth is mostly consumed illegally due to the pleasurable effects it produces. (1)
Methamphetamine was developed from amphetamine in the early 20th century and was initially prescribed as a nasal decongestant and bronchial inhaler. Like amphetamine, the drug causes talkativeness and increased activity, euphoria, a pleasurable sense of well-being and decreased appetite.
Methamphetamine differs from amphetamine in that, when administered in the same dose, a larger amount of the substance enters the brain. This makes meth a more powerful stimulant that is dangerous when misused. Methamphetamine also has enduring and hazardous effects on the central nervous system. (1)
Methamphetamine may be medically prescribed for the treatment of ADHD and weight-loss treatments in the short term. However, these uses are very limited and doctors rarely prescribe it. When it is prescribed, it’s usually in doses that are much lower than those typically misused. (1)
Analysing the Chemical Components of Meth
Methamphetamine can be described as a chemical compound containing two enantiomers, levomethamphetamine and dextromethamphetamine.
At room temperature, methamphetamine is a crystalline white substance with the smell of geranium leaves. The substance easily dissolves in ethanol, diethyl ether and chloroform. Its melting point ranges between 171 and 175 degrees C (338 to 347 degrees F). (2)
Chemical formula – C10H15N
The molecular formula C10H15N (molar mass: 149.23 g/mol, exact mass: 149.120449) refers to methamphetamine (CAS-537-46-2). It belongs to the phenethylamine family, which includes an array of substances that may be entactogens, hallucinogens or stimulants. (2)
According to IUPAC, the fully systematic name of methamphetamine is N,α-dimethylbenzeneethanamine. The asymmetric α-carbon atom contained in the substance gives rise to two enantiomers that were previously referred to as the [–]- or l-stereoisomer and the [+]- or d-stereoisomer. However, they are defined as the R- and S-stereoisomers in modern scientific usage. (2)
Routes of Meth Administration
Methamphetamine is produced in many forms and can be administered, used and abused in different ways as well.
The most common route of administration is by injection, smoking, swallowing the pill or snorting. Some daring individuals may even administer the drug via rectal or even vaginal routes. (1)
The oral method is the traditional medical way of administering methamphetamine. Currently, users still take meth orally with homemade or manufactured pills. When administered orally, the user feels the effects within 15 to 20 minutes. Oral ingestion is mainly preferred when the drug is prescribed for medical purposes because it does not produce an intense rush or a euphoric feeling.
Intravenous injection or infusion is the process of administering medications directly into a person’s bloodstream by using a tube or a needle. It can be administered via an IV catheter, which is a thin plastic tube is inserted into the user’s vein. This allows multiple safe doses of the medication to be administered without puncturing a person with a needle each time.
Some users may opt to administer methamphetamine intravenously to experience a swift rush. This may carry a high risk of blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis B due to sharing needles. (1)
An intramuscular injection is a technique used in modern medicine to deliver medication deep into a muscle. This allows swift absorption of the drug into the bloodstream, and the effects can be felt within minutes. An intramuscular injection may be issued at a doctor’s office. However, people may still self-administer an intramuscular injection, especially for illegal purposes. (1)
To get the fastest ‘flash’ effect, people misusing methamphetamine opt for an intramuscular injection rather than an intravenous injection because it is less complicated. (1)
A subcutaneous injection is a method of administering medication under the skin. This technique involves using a small needle to inject medication into the tissue layer between the skin and the muscle. Medication administered this way is absorbed more slowly than if injected into a vein and may take approximately 24 hours for complete absorption. (1)
Medically, this type of injection is preferable when other methods of administration are less effective. This method is uncommon among methamphetamine users because its effects take more time to be felt.
Like other forms of injections, subcutaneous injections also carry a high risk of blood-borne infections. (1)
The National Institute on Drug Abuse Community Epidemiology Work Group data identified smoking as the most frequent method of abusing meth. Users prefer to smoke the hydrochloride salt of methamphetamine without changing its form or adding something else. In this crystal or ‘ice’ form, the substance takes the appearance of a blue-white rock. Users may also smoke crystal meth in a small glass pipe called a flute. (1)
The office of the National Drug Policy identifies smoking meth as the route most likely to lead to addiction. Smoking meth gives the user the biggest rush, producing the effects in seconds — hence its popularity among abusers.
This is one of the more unusual ways of administering methamphetamine. The rectal bioavailability of methamphetamine is not well researched or defined, but studies reveal that enteric absorption of the psychoactive drug via the oral route is fine, with relatively low protein binding.
The volume of distribution is approximately similar to the oral route absorption of meth across rectal mucosa and may rapidly deliver significant quantities of the drug into the systemic circulation via the anorectal-venous circulation. It is reported that when methamphetamine is administered via trans-rectal routes, it takes about 3 to 5 minutes to be absorbed in the body. (2)
Users may prefer to snort the drug by inhaling the substance, usually as a crushed pill or as a powder, through the nose. This mode of administration is also referred to as nasal insufflation. (4)
Snorting methamphetamine is one of the fast ingestion routes because the psychoactive drug bypasses the digestive tract, including the liver, where the drug would have been metabolized. When a drug is snorted, it goes straight into the bloodstream via the nasal cavity’s blood vessels and travels quickly to the brain, affecting the brain receptors responsible for the production of dopamine. (4)
Drugs may be administered via the vagina in cases where the drug is poorly absorbed via oral administration. The vaginal route of drug delivery has been used since ancient times and has been rediscovered as a possible route for the systemic delivery of peptides and other therapeutic macromolecules. (12)
There are no cases or incidences of vaginal administration of meth. This may be due to the poor absorption of the psychoactive drug across the vaginal epithelium. (12)
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Legal Class of Meth – Class A
Previously, meth was classified as a Class B drug, except in cases where the drug was prepared for medication purposes. On 18 January 2007, the psychoactive drug was classified as a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971 after thorough deliberation by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in June 2006.
This made the possession, sale, transport and production of methamphetamine illegal. A 2013 BBC news article stated that the government of the United Kingdom did not have a problem with methamphetamine, as it was restricted mostly to the gay male sex party scene.
Trade Names and Synonyms
Street Slang for Meth
- Crystal, crystal glass, crystal meth
- Christina, tina, cris, cristy
- Chalk, chalk dust
- Geep, getter, getgo, go fast
- Trash, garbage, wash
- White cross, white crunch
- Hironpon, hiropon
- Hot meth, super meth
- LA glass
- LA meth
- Meth cream
- Chunky love
- Cotton candy
- Go-go juMeth
- No doze
- Rocket fuel
- Scooby Snax
Terms to Describe Someone Using Meth
- Getting geared up
- Chicken flippin’
- Hot rolling
- Speed freak
- Spun out
What Is Meth Addiction?
Methamphetamine is listed in the same class as cocaine and functions as a stimulant and an anorectic, or appetite suppressant.
Methamphetamine is very addictive because the psychoactive drug arouses parts of the brain that are responsible for pleasure. When a person stops using the drug, they may be unable to feel pleasure, which in most cases results in a relapse. Many users end up damaging vital organs as their addiction worsens because of this dangerous cycle.
Ephedrine, or pseudoephedrine, is the key ingredient in meth that acts as a stimulant. Persistent use of meth causes the body to become accustomed to the effects of the drug, making the user dependent on it. (5)
Risk Factors of Meth Addiction
A study conducted in the US by the National Co-morbidity Survey from 1990 to 1992 pointed out that only a minority of drug users meet the criteria of dependence. For example, 11.2% of the people who used stimulants like methamphetamine became dependent on the drug. (6)
Research conducted among drug addicts suggests that users who take low levels of meth are mostly influenced by social and environmental factors, while users consuming high levels of meth are mainly influenced by psychological, biological and psychiatric factors.
Individuals with first-degree relatives such as parents or siblings who are addicted to a substance such as methamphetamine are at a higher risk of developing addictions later in life.
Social norms, peers and stress
Social norms that accept drug use make it easier for an individual to try using methamphetamine in the first place. Peer pressure may cause an individual to start abusing the psychoactive drug for recreational purposes, and people experiencing stress in their lives may abuse stimulants as a means of escape.
Personality traits of an individual may contribute to them becoming addicted to meth. Individuals seeking thrills and who like to experiment with new things may try meth and end up being addicted to the drug. Other factors like novelty and impulsivity have also been found to increase the likelihood of a person becoming addicted to meth.
Most individuals who come from a family that abuses drugs have greater chances of becoming dependent on such substances. Scientists attribute this to an individual’s genetic predisposition as well as the environmental influence. For instance, an individual who has a relative abusing meth has a greater likelihood of becoming addicted to the psychoactive drug.
Easy availability of drugs may tempt an individual to experiment with meth, hence causing them to be addicted to the psychoactive drug. Most meth addicts have been found to have accessed the drug either from family or friends.
How Does Meth Affect Dopamine in the Brain?
Methamphetamine increases the amount of natural chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in body movement, motivation and reinforcement of rewarding behaviours. Meth causes brain receptors to release dopamine into the synaptic cleft, hence raising the dopamine concentration in that area.
The drug blocks the transport of dopamine into the storage vesicles and increases the concentration even further. This results in an abnormally high level of dopamine in the body that causes severe neurotoxicity of methamphetamine.
A person who uses high dosages of the psychoactive drug for a long period is likely to experience neurobiological deficits that cannot be rectified until many months following cessation of use. (2)
Meth Abuse & Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects
Physical, psychological, behavioural and other signs of meth use will start to emerge when the user starts abusing the drug or when they become increasingly dependent on it. Below are some of the most common signs, symptoms and effects of meth abuse and addiction
The immediate side effects of meth abuse
The short-term effects of methamphetamine can last anywhere from 8 to 24 hours, a rather long time compared to other drugs. In most cases, meth users have been known to stay awake for days when they engage in abuse. During this time, the person may experience some of the following side effects:
- Increased energy or activity
- Decreased appetite
- Breathing more or faster
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
The long-term side effects of meth use
Long-term consumption of crystal meth could also lead to side effects. Some of them include;
- Psychosis (paranoia or hallucinations)
- Problems in thinking ability
- Problems with motor control
- Memory loss
- Aggressive or violent behaviour
- Extreme weight loss
- Dental problems
- Skin sores
- Erratic mood fluctuations
Neurotoxicity and How Meth Abuse Disrupts the Central Nervous System
Methamphetamine is an addictive pharmacologic psychostimulant with strong neurotoxic effects on the central nervous system (CNS). Users become addicted to meth because of its efficient penetration into the CNS and longer effects.
Once the user becomes addicted to the substance, they are likely to experience devastating effects such as pulmonary hypertension, cerebral-vascular events, adrenergic storm stroke, circulatory collapse, kidney failure and even Parkinson’s disease. (2)
Researchers in the medical field have been deeply concerned about the neurotoxic effects of meth and have been investigating the processes underlying them. Neurotoxicity is generally defined as the physical damage of neurons, inferring the harmful effect of a drug on the nerve cells’ structure that results in interference in the components of the neurons. This causes histological signs of neuronal injury, the collapse of entire neurons and behavioural abnormalities.
Some of the meth-induced neurotoxic effects include neuronal apoptosis and destruction to serotonergic and dopaminergic terminals. Additionally, the activation of microglia and astroglia may lead to neuroinflammatory responses within the brain. Mechanisms underlying meth-induced neurotoxicity include oxidative stress, excitotoxicity and neuroinflammation. (2)
Chronic Withdrawal from Meth and the Dangers
Meth is an extremely addictive drug, and just using it twice is enough to make the user’s body dependent on the influx of chemicals. Once the body becomes dependent, a person has to keep taking the drug to prevent drug withdrawal. The withdrawal symptoms surface once a person begins the detoxification process. (1)
Meth withdrawal and detoxification is a painful experience and is the reason why most people fail to quit meth on their own. The experience is not only uncomfortable but can also be dangerous to a person’s health. Because of this reason, a large number of users prefer to go through detoxification at a drug rehabilitation centre under the supervision of a doctor. (1)
Meth withdrawal symptoms may be physical, behavioural or mental. In most cases, these symptoms are extremely intense, lasting for days or even weeks. Withdrawal from meth occurs under the following phases;
- 24 hours of abstinence: First withdrawal signs appear.
- 7 to 10 days: Withdrawal signs reach the intensity peak after the user quits the drug and start a gradual decline.
- 14 to 20 days: This is the average duration of the withdrawal period, with 14 days being the most commonly reported duration of the withdrawal symptoms.
How Meth Affects People’s Lives
Methamphetamine negatively affects the lives of the users who take it. The drug has been known to take over people’s lives in different degrees. There are three categories of meth abuse. (7)
- Low-intensity meth abuse: Low-intensity abusers snort or swallow methamphetamine to get extra energy that enables them to stay awake and alert to accomplish a task. Low-intensity abusers may also use the drug to suppress appetite as a way to lose weight.
- Binge meth abuse: This involves abusers who inject methamphetamine with a needle or smoke it to get a powerful rush that’s psychologically addictive. They are on the verge of moving into high-intensity abuse.
- High-intensity meth abuse: This is usually common in individuals who are addicted to the drug and take it to prevent painful withdrawal symptoms. To achieve the desired rush from the drug, they must take more and more of it.
Meth has both short-term and long-term impacts on an individual. The psychoactive drug affects people’s lives in the short term by causing nausea, disturbed sleep patterns, hyperactivity, delusions of power, irritability, increased aggressiveness and irritability. (7)
Long-term effects include damaged blood vessels, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, seizures, irregular heartbeat, liver, kidney and lung damage and even death due to cardiovascular collapse. (7)
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Teen Meth Addiction
Although meth may be consumed by a relatively small percentage of the UK population, its intense power and likelihood for severe physical, behavioural and social consequences make it a concern to many communities. (8)
The drug causes harmful and irreversible damage even to occasional users, and that’s why its abuse among the youth is considered tragic. A larger number of meth users end up with permanent and severe physical and cognitive damage, compared to the users of other illicit substances.
Tell-Tale Signs Someone Is Abusing Meth
Methamphetamine damages the body in several ways. A friend, parent, spouse or sibling of someone using meth can identify that the person is a victim of substance abuse by looking at changes in their behaviour and body.
People who are on meth tend to exhibit certain specific physical signs that are not common in users abusing other drugs. Below are some of the common tell-tale signs that can reveal if someone is abusing crystal meth. Signs and symptoms of this drug include:
- Lots of excessive movement
- Abnormally high amounts of energy
- High body temperature
- Lack of appetite
How to Get Help for a Loved One with a Meth Problem
It is recommended that a person get help as soon as they find out that their loved one is suffering from meth addiction.
The first step is to ask for help, especially if your loved one is ready to get treatment. You may find it helpful to bring a caring friend or family member to help your loved start on the path to recovery.
It is recommended to make an appointment with a doctor who will help assess your loved one’s overall health condition by performing a physical exam. The doctor may refer them to a well-equipped treatment centre that will address all their concerns.
Changes in Physical Appearance of People Who Are on Meth
Meth is known to cause severe damage on a cellular level and results in changes in physical appearance. The body is usually unable to heal itself because of the constant distress caused by methamphetamine abuse, which may result in premature aging and shortening of the user’s lifespan. (9)
A study using rats was conducted by scientists from the University of California Irvine and the Italian Institute of Technology to understand why methamphetamine use causes such extreme changes in a person’s physical appearance.
The researchers noted that methamphetamine had a direct effect on the body’s cellular structure. When a person takes the psychoactive drug for a long period, it influences body cell structure and starts accelerating the aging process of the cells. (9)
Scientists also found out that the amount of inflammation on the user’s face reflected the damage done to the body’s cells. Autopsies on the bodies of methamphetamine users discovered that meth addicts had diseases generally found in older people, such as coronary atherosclerosis and pulmonary fibrosis.
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Facts & Statistics About Meth Addiction
A recent survey of drug use in England and Wales conducted by the Home Office estimated that a total of 25,000 people used methamphetamine in 2014. Another survey that focused on the number of people seeking treatment revealed that methamphetamine users accounted for only 0.3%. (10)
In 2014, only 240 people were reported seeking help with methamphetamine in England which was low compared to nearly 8,000 people seeking help with cocaine-related problems. In the UK, methamphetamine usage appeared to be rampant in certain populations like men who have sex with men (MSM). MSMs have even been noted to use meth to enhance their sexual performance. (10)
Meth Addiction Comedown and Withdrawal Symptoms
Users may experience comedown effects of meth when the drug starts to wear off.
A comedown is different from withdrawal. Comedowns from drugs are closer to alcohol hangovers as a result of the interaction between the neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain and the concentration of toxins in the body because of the chemical conversion. (1)
Depending on the number of drugs consumed, comedown symptoms may last for a few days.
Meth withdrawal symptoms are essentially emotional and psychological with several associated physical symptoms. The drug withdrawal process is not consistently severe, compared to withdrawal from alcohol or opioid drugs. These withdrawal symptoms include;
- Muscle weakness
- Decreased appetite
- Lack of motivation
- Insomnia despite exhaustion
- Headache from dehydration
- Muscle pain, especially in the jaw from clenching
Meth Treatment Options
Behavioural therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy and contingency management interventions have been described as the most effective drug rehabilitation treatments for methamphetamine addiction.
For instance, the Matrix Model is a 16-week extensive behavioural treatment approach that combines family education, behavioural therapy, individual counselling, 12-step support, drug testing and encouragement for non-drug-related activities has been successful in reducing methamphetamine misuse. (11)
Contingency management interventions have also been successful because they provide the user with lower quantity inducements in exchange for engaging in the treatment and maintaining abstinence.
Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR) is an incentive-based method for encouraging cocaine and methamphetamine abstinence and has been fruitful among methamphetamine users through NIDA’s National Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network.
Medications have been effective in the treatment of many substance use disorders. However, there are currently no medications to counteract some particular effects of methamphetamine. (11)
Medication That May Help Your Meth Addiction Recovery Efforts
MHRA has not officially approved any medications to be used in the rehabilitation process from methamphetamine. However, several medications are prescribed by doctors to relieve the uneasiness that may occur during the withdrawal process. Some of these drugs include:
- Wellbutrin (bupropion): This is an antidepressant drug approved for use in smoking cessation programme There is sufficient literature indicating that it can be useful in minimizing the withdrawal symptoms in individuals abusing crystal by reducing cravings associated with the withdrawal process.
- Provigil (modafinil): This is a mild stimulant medication used in ADHD and narcolepsy treatment. It helps to lower disruptive sleep patterns and may also help recovering addicts by increasing their energy and enhancing concentration.
- Remeron (mirtazapine): Remeron is an unusual antidepressant whose basic mechanism of action is on both norepinephrine serotonins. Medical evidence shows it can help to prevent relapse during the withdrawal process.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: Paxil (paroxetine) and Prozac (fluoxetine) are some of the medications that have been identified to be effective in the treatment of crystal meth addiction during rehab.
If the user has engaged in chronic, long-term meth abuse and experiences severe withdrawal symptoms, an inpatient programme will be a better option. Users trying to recover in most cases relapse and fall back into the old cycle of drug abuse if they are not in a stable environment.
Drug rehabilitation centres offer inpatient facilities that provide a secure place that enables clients to regain control over their lives without the risk of relapse. Inpatient programmes may last between 30 and 90 days, depending on the needs of the recovering client.
Just like alcohol and other substance rehabilitation, the meth recovery process may also be done under outpatient rehabilitation care. The programme is recommended for individuals with weaker addictions who are actively committed to daily activities like going to work or school.
Outpatient programmes are offered on a part-time basis and allow the client to carry out their daily tasks normally. Such programmes may typically require a recovering client to spend 10 to 12 hours a week at a local treatment centre for detoxification and counselling.
Meth Rehab Treatment
The methamphetamine rehab treatment process often includes an array of services, which are explained below. The first days of treatment are focused on medical supervision and comfort, whereas the following weeks involve intensive therapy and around-the-clock programming.
- Detox: The first phase of treatment involves clearing methamphetamine out of the client’s system in a safe environment.
- Inpatient Therapy: After detox, the client transitions to inpatient therapy, depending on the intensity of treatment.
- Partial Hospitalization Programme (PHP): During partial hospitalization, the meth addict may live in a sober home affiliated with the rehab facility. The client receives therapeutic programming at the rehab facility throughout the day but may sleep at a separate facility at night.
- Outpatient Therapy: After PHP, the client fully transitions into outpatient therapy, which may involve individual and group therapy sessions every week.
- Aftercare: Aftercare is a broad term that refers to nonmedical services provided by rehab facilities. Social support, employment, housing and other factors are crucial to preventing relapse. Some aftercare services include sober living homes, support groups and educational and vocational programme
Meth Addiction Help & Treatment
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Making a phone call to a drug rehabilitation centre is usually the first step of getting out of the addiction and receiving treatment. The facility will help you through detoxification and enable you to overcome the issues you’re facing.
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The following are some signs that may indicate a user needs to stop their addictive behaviours and get help.
- A sincere urge to change
- Negative health
- Loss of financial control
- Detached social life from loved ones
If you are experiencing any of the above issues, feel free to talk to our addiction experts via chat or phone today to get started on the road to recovery.
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