Crank. Crystal. Ice. Speed. No Doze.
These are some of the street names for the highly-addictive stimulant, methamphetamine. Most notably seen in the Netflix show Breaking Bad or in the movie Beautiful Boy, this drug of abuse is extremely dangerous, having been responsible for over 10,000 overdose deaths in 2017.
Unfortunately, with most of the public’s scrutiny being centered around the Opioid Epidemic, methamphetamine is making an ugly comeback. In fact, amphetamine-related hospitalizations in the U.S. have more than doubled since 2008. And with agencies cracking down on the distribution of opioids, many users are turning to this cheaper, more easily available alternative.
What’s the allure of this drug? How long does methamphetamine last in my system? What are the effects of methamphetamine? What are my treatment options for methamphetamine addiction? This article aims to answer all those questions and more by providing you with a detailed look into America’s favorite new drug. In doing so, we hope to increase our community’s awareness of drug and alcohol addiction as well as lay out affordable treatment options for methamphetamine addiction.
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine, or meth, is an illicit stimulant characterized by its white, crystalline appearance and bitter taste. It is notorious for its euphoric and energy-producing effects that propel users to stay up for days on the drug. Methamphetamine mainly comes in a powder form, however, it can also be compressed into a pill or dissolved into a liquid. Users of methamphetamine tend to either snort, smoke, or inject the substance directly into their veins.
Crystal meth, on the other hand, is the purest and most potent variant of methamphetamine. The synthetic psychostimulant is nicknamed “ice,” “glass,” or “rock,” due to its odorless, glass-like appearance. Although most meth tends to be white in color, other colors such as pink, brown, and orange have increased in circulation – a direct influence of the popular TV series Breaking Bad.
Sudafed, Pseudoephedrine, and Sports
One of the primary chemicals that makes up methamphetamine is pseudoephedrine, which is used as a nasal decongestant and stimulant in drugs like Sudafed. Because of its potential for abuse, pseudoephedrine is staunchly regulated.
Just try and purchase some Claritin D for your allergies, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. When you go to the pharmacy, you’ll be required to show a government-issued ID in addition to having your demographic information uploaded to a tracking system called MethCheck. This tracking system alerts local law enforcement to suspicious purchasing activity for pseudoephedrine products. Buy too much, and you might get a visit from the cops.
Think the pharmacy is being strict? The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ban pseudoephedrine use in athletes across an array of sports. A positive test for pseudoephedrine and other stimulants can warrant a permanent ban from professional competition – a tough penalty for some cold and allergy medicine.
History of Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is not a naturally occurring drug like marijuana, the opium poppy, or the Sassafras root used in ecstasy. Its origins are strictly synthetic. Generally, methamphetamine is chemically concocted in illegal labs through a combination of toxic substances and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.
But most people don’t realize that methamphetamine’s precursor, pseudoephedrine, has a deep history. And a plant-based one at that! Pseudoephedrine is derived from the Ma huang plant and has been used medicinally for centuries. In ancient China, the roots of the Ma huang plant were used in teas to prevent drowsiness.
Methamphetamine, on the other hand, is relatively new. Once amphetamine was synthesized in 1887 by renowned chemist Lazăr Edeleanu, the in-vitro creation of methamphetamine was soon to follow. And just like cocaine, the drug was intended to be used medicinally.
Doctors initially used methamphetamine to treat narcolepsy, nasal congestion, asthma – and even depression. In the 1950’s, methamphetamine was prescribed as a weight loss supplement due to its appetite-suppressing power. During WWII and the Vietnam War, methamphetamine and amphetamine use was rampant. World powers gave their soldiers these drugs to increase concentration, prevent fatigue, and bolster the fighting man’s self-confidence.
But as methamphetamine’s use became more prevalent, so did its abuse.
Kamikaze Pilots & Methamphetamine
The fast-paced, hard-working culture of Japan embraced this highly-addictive stimulant in honor of philopon, a Japanese word meaning “love of work.” Methamphetamine-fueled Kamikaze pilots took to the air and companies encouraged employees to use the drug to enhance productivity. With its use becoming engrained in the Japanese culture, the government decided to step in and regulate the drug. Although the country enacted stricter distribution laws, Japan is still feeling the effects of its methamphetamine addiction.
So, what are the effects of methamphetamine use? How does methamphetamine impact my health? And how can I spot the signs of methamphetamine addiction? For those of us impacted by meth addiction and other substance abuse, these are important questions to ask.
The Effects of Methamphetamine Use
When taken, meth produces a surge of energy, euphoria, false bravado, and increased sexual pleasure. There’s even a whole subculture built around taking crystal meth and having sex. And according to a recent report by VICE, underground party and play (PnP) clubs and chemsex parties are on the rise. The highly-addictive stimulant gives users heightened pleasure, increased stamina, and more confidence.
Additional short-term effects of meth use may include:
- Increased physical activity
- Dilated pupils
- Blood pressure spikes
- Accelerated heart rate
- Rise in body temperature
- Uncontrollable jaw clenching
- Erratic behavior
- Loss of appetite
This thrill-seeking behavior doesn’t come without consequences. This drug can cause severe medical issues like cardiovascular irregularities and hyperthermia, also known as heat stroke.
Other long-term side effects of meth use may include:
- Brain damage
- Auditory hallucinations or delusions
- Suicidal ideations
- Psychotic behavior, violence
- Weakened immune system
- Stroke, heart attack
- Skin infections, sores, cracked teeth
- Anxiety and depression
That last bullet point is the most frightening. Although its noted that chronic methamphetamine use can lead to addiction, if left untreated, meth addiction can lead to severe withdrawals, convulsions, and ultimately death. But treatment options are available to prevent this powerful drug from ruining your life. At Stonegate Center, we use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy blended with a high-accountability 12-Step Program to help individuals recover.
What are the Signs of Methamphetamine Abuse?
According to an article published by the National Institute of Health, over half a million Americans use methamphetamine every week. This is a very destructive drug with the average age of methamphetamine users being 20 years old. With its prevalence creeping into American households, it is imperative that we spot the tell-tale signs of meth use and encourage users to seek treatment.
Several indicators exist to tell whether someone is abusing methamphetamines. Chronic users typically have a pale complexion and skin sores, poor hygiene, and exhibit erratic behaviors. Other signs include picking at the skin, increased talking, and the performance of repetitive, meaningless tasks. But, once the initial high wears off, methamphetamine users enter a 3-15 day phase known as tweaking.
Tweaking occurs after the users stops using the drug or one’s natural dopamine becomes depleted. At this point, the user starts to crave more of the drug. They may experience intense itching as if there are bugs crawling under the skin, hallucinations, and insomnia. Because of this erratic behavior, users tend to become violent and unpredictable. Their eyes start darting rapidly, their voice quivers, and muscle twitches increase.
This phase is often followed by an intense crash where the meth user may sleep for days as his body tries to recover from the drug-induced effects. Subsequently, a user may start to exhibit withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, lack of pleasure, and deep depression. As such their body starts to develop a dependence on the drug, which catapults them into a vicious cycle of addiction.
But, if you want to spot chronic meth use, look no further than someone’s mouth. Long-term methamphetamine use causes what’s known as “Meth Mouth” or “Crank Decay,” which is characterized by gum disease, tooth decay, cavities, and missing teeth. Due to the drug’s acidity, meth addiction can leave you with one serious dental bill. Dentists at the American Dental Association (ADA) have commonly treated patients with blackened, rotting, and crumbling teeth.
From teeth to the brain, let’s learn how methamphetamine works and the biochemistry behind these powerful highs.
Methamphetamine & The Brain
Meth is extremely addictive due to its interactions with the brain. Just like cocaine and other stimulants, methamphetamine promotes the release of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter in the Reward-Learning Pathway. This neurotransmitter is responsible for the “feel good” effects your body promotes when you exercise, eat chocolate, have sex – and even gamble. Although the physiological effects of these drugs are similar, the underlying mechanism is quite different.
Cocaine and methamphetamine both increase dopamine levels by blocking the re-uptake of dopamine in the neural synapse. By binding to and inhibiting the use of dopamine transport (DAT) proteins, these drugs increase the concentration of dopamine in the brain. But methamphetamine takes this pharmacological interaction one step further.
In addition to dopamine, methamphetamine causes the release of norepinephrine and serotonin. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter found in the central nervous system that increases alertness, sexual arousal, and mood. Researchers have found that low levels of this hormone may lead to ADHD and other symptoms such as lack of impulse control and problem-solving ability.
Moreover, serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that is responsible for emotion, social behavior, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Methamphetamine changes the body’s sensitivity to this hormone. Too little serotonin, and you might be depressed. Too much serotonin, and you might have something referred to as Serotonin Syndrome (SS). Serotonin Syndrome is a group of symptoms that results in high body temperature, diarrhea, rapid heart rate, loss of muscle coordination, and sweating – the same signs of crystal meth abuse.
The interplay of these three neurotransmitters makes methamphetamine one of the most powerful, illicit substances. By promoting a drastic increase of these neurotransmitters, methamphetamine use may lead to neurotoxicity and prolonged post-acute withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment for Meth Addiction
Meth addiction is a serious issue, but there is hope for getting clean. At Stonegate Center, we have a multi-pronged approach to help you achieve long-term sobriety. Our recovery family is made up of masters-level clinicians, experienced recovery advocates, and top-notch medical personnel. Our program is designed to be tough, but caring. And it works – just look at some of our testimonials.
To help you overcome your meth addiction, we will utilize an all-encompassing therapeutic approach which incorporates individual therapy, group therapy, equine therapy, and 90-day core curriculum. Upon admission, your primary clinician will tailor an individualized treatment plan to meet your personal needs and treatment goals.
We firmly believe a long-term stay at a residential treatment facility will best improve your chances for success, and our data supports that.
Often times, meth addiction leaves our clients lost, in complete despair, and full of guilt. Therefore, it is imperative we use a model that focuses on improving one’s mind, body, AND spirit. Since we are founded on Christian principles, we are one of the few residential treatment centers in the state of Texas that is able to incorporate your faith – wherever you’re at in your relationship with God – into our treatment program.
If you or a loved one is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and needs help, give us a call. We are situated just outside the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex. Our Admissions Specialists are available by phone 24/7 at (817) 993-9733 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Come join the Stonegate family and start your healing process today!
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction & pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center to the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.