Meth Addiction: Facts, Statistics & How Meth Changes You

Meth Facts & Statistics

  • Methamphetamine, or meth, is a powerful and addictive stimulant drug.
  • The National Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) reports that in 2014 approximately 53 people per 100,000 were receiving care at a specialized addiction treatment facility for issues involving methamphetamine.
  • As of 2015, around 6 percent of the American population (aged 12 and older) had tried it at least once, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports. Found as a white powder or in glass-like form called crystal meth, meth is generally smoked, injected, swallowed, or snorted.

What Does Meth Feel Like?

As a stimulant, meth increases activity in certain areas of the brain, and functions of the central nervous system are heightened as a result. For example, heart rate, body temperature, respiration, and blood pressure all rise under the influence of meth. Energy, attention, focus, pleasure, and excitement are enhanced as well, as chemical messengers in the brain, such as dopamine, are increased by the interaction of meth. Elevated levels of dopamine cause the intense “high” that is associated with meth, and the desire to recreate this feeling makes the drug extremely addictive.

When someone is taking meth, they are alert and energized, and can stay awake for long periods of time. When meth wears off, however, a significant “crash” generally occurs, leaving individuals feeling fatigued, lethargic, hungry, depressed, and anxious. As a result, meth is commonly taken in a binge pattern, often called a “run,” where small amounts of meth are taken every few hours for a couple days to prolong the high. This pattern of abuse can more quickly lead to drug dependence and addiction.

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Side Effects of Meth Addiction and Long-Term Abuse

Long-term use of meth can cause significant damage to the brain and the cells that make dopamine as well as to the nerve cells containing serotonin. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warns that chronic and prolonged meth exposure can damage as many as half of the dopamine-producing cells in the brain and potentially even more of the serotonin-containing nerve cells.

Individuals who use meth long-term can have severe cognitive and emotional issues, including:

  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Trouble with verbal learning and memory
  • Violent outbursts
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Distractibility
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Movement, motor, and coordination issues
  • Mood disturbances
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Delusions

Skin sores and infections from picking, tooth decay and “meth mouth,” significant and unhealthy weight loss, and an increased risk for contracting an infectious or sexually transmitted disease are common side effects of methamphetamine addiction. People who regularly inject the drug may suffer from collapsed veins and a higher risk for contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis. Snorting meth can damage sinus cavities and nasal passages, and lead to chronic nosebleeds and/or a perpetual runny nose. Smoking meth may lead to respiratory damage and lung complications.

NIDA reports that meth addiction can also possibly increase the risk for developing the nerve and movement disorder Parkinson’s disease. Psychotic symptoms, memory problems, and cognitive and emotional issues can persist for several years after stopping meth use, NIDA further warns. While some of the damage to the brain may be reversible with long-term abstinence from meth, some of the changes may be permanent.

Meth Addiction, Anxiety, and Co-Occurring Disorders

The American Journal on Addictions published studies showing that around 40 percent of people seeking treatment for methamphetamine abuse also reported struggling with anxiety. Mood and anxiety disorders and drug abuse co-occur at rates as high as 50 percent, NIDA publishes.

Meth abuse and dependence can cause anxiety just as someone struggling with anxiety may take a drug like meth to self-medicate difficult symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Either way, meth abuse worsens anxiety in the long run and can make treatment for both the anxiety disorder and addiction more complicated.

The best method for treating co-occurring disorders is considered to be simultaneous and integrated care for both disorders. In this way, both the addiction and the anxiety can be addressed and managed in order to enhance recovery for both conditions. A combination of medications and therapeutic measures should be employed by highly trained medical, mental health, and addiction treatment professionals.

Treating Meth Addiction

The longer someone takes meth, and the higher the dosage, the more severely dependent on the drug they are likely to be. A high level of dependence means that withdrawal will be difficult. Withdrawal symptoms are optimally managed through a medical detox regime like that provided in a comprehensive treatment program. There are no specific medications designed to treat meth addiction; however, some medications can be helpful in managing specific symptoms of withdrawal like those that address depression, anxiety, and tremors.

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) reports that the sooner someone receives help for meth abuse, the better the long-term prognosis is. Meth is highly addictive, and the emotional lows and severe drug cravings associated with its use can make relapse highly likely. It is important to stay vigilant and for an individual to remain in an addiction treatment program for long enough to form healthy habits, to allow new brain connections to form, and to learn relapse prevention techniques to control cravings.

Support groups, such as the 12-Step-based program Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA), can connect individuals with peers who can relate to what they are going through and offer hope, encouragement, and tips on remaining abstinent. Family therapy, counseling, and educational programs can all help to promote a lasting recovery as well.

Methamphetamine can cause long-term damage to the brain, which can require specialized treatment and continuous care over a sustained period of time to promote abstinence. With proper treatment, individuals can learn to manage the possible side effects of repeated abuse and disruption to the brain, and minimize instances of relapse for a healthy recovery.

Last Updated on Oct 21, 2022
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