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Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, is an artificially manufactured drug that stimulates the central nervous system. The substance was actually developed in the 1890s and was believed to have medicinal purposes; at one time, the drug was even considered to be a potential treatment for asthma patients. Over the years, it was discovered that meth is highly addictive and volatile.
As a result, it was listed as a controlled substance by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the 1980s. It is currently classified as a Schedule II controlled substance, placing it in the class with other drugs that are commonly abused but still retain some medicinal uses, such as cocaine.
The drug is most often manufactured in home laboratories that combine numerous chemicals and ephedrine or pseudoephedrine to produce a very concentrated form of the drug that can be smoked, snorted, or injected (when mixed with water). Because the drug is so dangerous, there have been targeted efforts to monitor and even reduce the availability of chemicals and other substances that are commonly used in the manufacture of the drug.
The psychoactive effects of the drug are very intense and produce very strong feelings of euphoria, invincibility, and a rush of energy that typically will dissipate rather rapidly. This results in abusers spending hours bingeing on the drug to maintain these effects. Over time, the euphoria is replaced by paranoia, aggression, and psychosis. As a stimulant drug, meth can place a significant burden on numerous organ systems, on an individual’s ability to function normally within their environment, and on society due to lost productivity and the cost of treatment for individuals who develop stimulant use disorders as a result of methamphetamine abuse.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the DEA report that the use of meth results in a significant increase of dopamine and norepinephrine in the central nervous system. This release of these leads to significant euphoria, feelings of increased energy, and other effects.
Street versions of methamphetamine are often made with numerous toxic substances, such as drain cleaners, antifreeze, battery acids, iodine, etc., that make the drug highly unstable and dangerous to make as well incredibly dangerous to take.
In addition, the mechanism of action of the drug results in a large increase of neurotransmitters in the brain that is followed by a significant depletion of these neurotransmitters once the drug has been discontinued. This massive increase followed by massive depletion of neurotransmitters can significantly alter the functioning of a person’s central nervous system, and if continued chronically, can result in significant neurological damage in addition to damage to other organs in the body.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) lists the formal signs of a stimulant use disorder, which would be the formal diagnosis of a person who has developed a substance use disorder (abuse problem or addiction) related to the use of methamphetamine. Formal diagnostic criteria can only be used to diagnose a substance use disorder by a trained mental health clinician. In general, there are several categories of symptoms that are used to determine if a person has a formal substance use disorder.
In addition to the formal diagnostic signs, there are other indicators that a person may be abusing methamphetamine. These include:
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Long-term methamphetamine abuse can result in various physical and mental consequences. Some of the early signs of methamphetamine abuse include problems with skin, significant weight loss, and problems with dentition.
Skin issues and problems with teeth are often considered telltale signs that one is smoking meth.
Street meth is highly corrosive and results in the teeth being exposed to acid, and the enamel often rots away. Likewise, skin becomes very unhealthy. Numerous examples of the detrimental effects of meth abuse on physical appearance are presented from various sources. Frightening changes often occur in chronic meth abusers with just a few years of abuse.
One of the major consequences of meth abuse is the development of physical dependence on the drug. Physical dependence often results in escalating binges to avoid withdrawal effects. Tolerance to stimulant drugs like methamphetamine develops rapidly, and individuals find that they need more and more of the drug to get the types of stimulating and euphoric effects they once got at significantly lower doses. Tolerance fuels the cycle of substance abuse because individuals begin to binge more frequently and for longer periods of time in order to achieve prior effects. Once tolerance is established, users never actually achieve the same level of euphoria that they achieved in the early stages of their substance use disorder.
The symptoms of the withdrawal syndrome from stimulant drugs are often more emotionally based than physically based. However, individuals still feel significant urges to use the drug once it begins to leave their system. Because there is a massive depletion of neurotransmitters, users often begin to feel very lethargic, depressed, and apathetic; some people may even feel suicidal. This may fuel the bingeing process.
The timeframe for withdrawal from methamphetamine is relatively consistent.
The prominent symptoms of withdrawal from methamphetamine appear to be:
Withdrawal management (medical detox) often consists of directly addressing the symptoms the individual experiences. This can include behavioral treatments, the use of mild stimulants to treat lethargy and depression, and even the use of benzodiazepines for some individuals. The withdrawal syndrome for methamphetamine is not normally considered to be dangerous in the same way that withdrawal from alcohol can be potentially fatal; however, individuals can become emotionally distraught, desperate, and make poor decisions or get involved in accidents.
Overdose potential is extremely high during the withdrawal process. Individuals with stimulant use disorders as a result of methamphetamine abuse require long-term specialized treatment following completion of a withdrawal management program.
Chronic abuse of methamphetamine can affect major organ systems, resulting in significant issues.
There is an extensive body of research that has investigated the effects of meth abuse on the central nervous system. Numerous research articles in professional journals have indicated the following:
Individuals who chronically abuse methamphetamine are at an increased risk to develop other mental health disorders that also can result in problems with their physical and mental functioning. These people are prone to developing issues with major depressive disorder, anxiety, trauma- and stressor-related disorders, and psychotic disorders.
As mentioned above, individuals who begin a program of abstinence from methamphetamine and other drugs should become involved in intensive aftercare treatment once they have completed a medical detox program. Depending on the level of methamphetamine abuse, there may be a full recovery, or the individual may experience some level of impairment in their physical and/or cognitive functioning following completion of the withdrawal management program. However, the most important thing to remember is that the person should remain in an organized treatment program despite any setbacks or frustrations that occur.
Treatment for substance use disorders is not a short-term process. It often represents a long-term and even lifelong commitment to recovery, as the person remains connected in some form of treatment-related activity to guard against the signs of potential relapse.
Even individuals with years of abstinence may relapse. Thus, continued vigilance and long-term participation in some form of treatment-related activity for decades is typically advised.
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