Are you worried that someone in your life is addicted to meth? Methamphetamine abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. It can no longer be characterized as a drug for poor, rural people, having now permeated every segment of our population. The rapid spread of meth abuse is due to several unique factors.
- It traditionally has not required smuggling.
- The drug can be produced using substances that, until recently, have all been readily available to the public (drain cleaner, battery acid, paint thinner, iodine, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, among others). Only recently has the government placed precautionary restrictions on over-the-counter forms of pseudoephedrine in order to reduce the domestic production of meth.
- It can be obtained at low cost by the user.
- Lastly, this drug is extremely addictive, but traditionally perceived to be less addictive or harmful than heroin.
How addictive? Meth prompts the release of norepinephrine (naturally triggered by a stressful event to raise heart rate and energy) and dopamine (which can cause a sense of euphoria). Every drug affects our brain's release of dopamine, and drug use obviously isn't the only activity to incite dopamine release; sex and food consumption, among other pleasurable activities, all carry with them various levels of dopamine release. But while sex generally doubles the brain's dopamine release, and cocaine roughly triples it, meth use triggers a dopamine release that is about twelve times the normal level.
Lack of health insurance or enough money can tragically discourage people from seeking drug rehab. But there are meth treatment options even for those with extremely limited resources.
Here are some signs that a person might be addicted to meth.
- Obsessive, fidgety behavior. As a stimulant, this drug can cause users to suddenly start exhibiting behavior more commonly associated with people who suffer from OCD (like compulsive hand-washing, cleaning). Sometimes a user will repeatedly perform the same task over and over again.
- Loquaciousness. The user often engages in constant, rambling conversation.
- Dilated pupils and rapid, darting eyes.
- Frequent sweating. Use can cause a rise in body temperature. In cases of extreme methamphetamine addiction and overdose, body temperature can rise high enough to cause brain damage or even death.
- Tooth decay (commonly referred to as "meth mouth"). Meth abuse over a period of time causes nervous tooth grinding, saliva deficiency and extreme lapses in hygiene. The result is dramatic tooth decay.
- Skin lesions and frequent sores that take a long time to heal. Not only does meth naturally inhibit the body's ability to fight off minor infection, but it can also cause addicts to nervously pick at their skin until it bleeds. Chronic users often suffer from the hallucination that they have insects crawling beneath their flesh.
- Weight loss. Tragically, the goal of weight loss has actually motivated people to start using. But extended meth use can cause severe and unhealthy weight loss. The drug that many take in order to look more attractive ultimately leads to physical degeneration that is sometimes unbearable to witness.
- Wakefulness that lasts for days, or perhaps more than a week. If your neighbor, roommate or family member doesn't sleep for days, during which time you observe the kind of nervous, high-energy behavior described above, there's a distinct possibility that meth abuse is the cause. This abuse often manifests itself in waves of "tweaking," in which a user will take repeated doses, foregoing sleep for days at a time.
- Absence from work or daily routine. The inevitable crash follows this kind of tweaking. Users will often sleep for long periods of time, their body drained of energy.
- Depression. During withdrawal stages, addicts often suffer from depression that remains until their next fix.
- Dangerous sexual promiscuity. Studies have shown a direct link between meth use and risky sexual behavior, the result of a drug that simultaneously strengthens libido and weakens judgment. While arousal and sexual activity can last for hours upon hours, many chronic users lose their ability to reach sexual climax.
- Frustration that they can't seem to focus or think. One of the reasons for the difficulty of quitting is that withdrawal leads a user to feel less intelligent, slower and unable to perform mentally. Frustrated by this, many users who want to quit feel that they must use in order to function. In harsh reality, the cognitive crystal meth side effects can last for a couple months or more than a year.
- Noticing strong smells. There are many smells that people associate with meth smoke - sometimes sweet (like an air freshener), other times like burnt food or a self-cleaning oven. Others describe the smell of chemicals burning, or a burnt plastic odor. While impure meth is said to produce a burning smell when smoked, many of these associated smells are likely due not to the actual smell of the smoke but, instead, the efforts of the paranoid smoker to cover up any possible odor with even stronger, recognizable smells. Meth itself is odorless, and not all users smoke it; it can be dissolved in water and injected, swallowed in pill form, snorted as a powder, taken as a rectal suppository or absorbed via the urethra. But if you smell strange new odors, you should investigate because these may be signs of meth use nearby.
Many of these signs and effects of meth abuse could alternately signify other kinds of drug abuse or an underlying mental illness. However, don't wait to express concern until you notice the most severe and advanced signs of meth abuse (skin lesions, meth mouth, extreme weight loss and psychotic behavior). Meth use rapidly leads to addiction and the necessity for larger doses. Gradually, an addict will lose the ability to feel pleasure entirely, and all pleasant narcotic effects of the drug will disappear to leave confusion, dulled cognitive ability, paranoia and a host of physical ailments. By any of its numerous names - crystal meth, crystal, tweak, ice, shards, crissy, jib and others - meth hijacks and destroys lives, leading to permanent brain damage, violent cardiac episodes and ultimately death.
Your concern may be the only thing that can save the addict from self-destruction. If you recognize behavioral changes that are typical of meth users, you must consider the best ways to help the user confront and overcome her meth addiction. Seek professional advice from drug treatment centers, and also seek the help of mutual friends and acquaintances.