Amphetamines are a class of stimulants which have been in use since they were first synthesized in Germany in 1887. Methamphetamine followed in 1919, being marketed as a stronger, less expensive version of amphetamines. This crystalline substance was water-soluble, easily injected, and came into widespread use during WWII. The 1950’s and 60’s saw the drug’s expansion into uses in the field of diet supplements and athletics. Surprisingly, the drug was not outlawed until the 1970’s when it became one of the top illegal drugs in the country1.
By most metrics, methamphetamine use in the United States is declining due to a crackdown on the basic substances used to create the drug. While still very popular, methamphetamine use declined in 2012 to 440,000 regular users, down from 731,000 6 years previous. Similarly, usage among adolescents and other new users has declined over recent years and Emergency Rooms are reporting less methamphetamine-related visits. While this is a heartening set of statistics, methamphetamine is still among the most common illicit drugs, behind cocaine, marijuana, and heroin2.
Methamphetamine addiction has been successfully narrowed down, in terms of demographics, on a statistically significant scale. Meth addiction can hit just about anybody from any walk of life, but there are some commonalities in typical users. The first profile tends to be high school or college students and/or college athletes. The second profile includes white, blue-collar workers or people in their 20’s and 30’s who are unemployed. The most prevalent age groups for meth abuse are 18-23-year-olds, who make up 35% of all methamphetamine use in the United States3.
Methamphetamine is one of the most powerful stimulants available. While it can be smoked, injected, or inhaled, its effects are almost always nearly instantaneous. Symptoms to look for in a person who might be using methamphetamines include:
As with most illicit street drugs, the cost of methamphetamines can vary greatly. The market for street drugs is affected greatly by factors such as location, supply and demand, and local laws. Generally speaking, one hit of methamphetamine will cost roughly $25 but can rise as high as $80. As an addict develops a tolerance, they will need increasing doses to satisfy their craving, and the cost will skyrocket, as a result5.
While the street price for methamphetamines is relatively high, meth addicts are extremely prone to suffering greater costs in the form of legal problems and health issues. Methamphetamine is a profoundly mind-altering chemical, which impairs the judgment centers of the brain, leading even ordinary people to commit gross acts of crime and violence.
Methamphetamine users very often become unable to work as their addiction progresses. Their unpredictability, their aggression, and their paranoia all combine to create extremely unemployable addicts. As a result, they frequently turn to property crime, e.g. breaking and entering. The purpose of these endeavors is typically to fund their addiction. Additionally, methamphetamine produces highly irrational thinking in a user while also limiting their ability to perceive reality and make appropriate decisions. This results in methamphetamine addicts frequently engaging in violent crime unrelated to funding their habit. Both of these crimes carry heavy legal consequences and can destroy the lives of an addict6.
Methamphetamine is a fast-acting stimulant. Even in short-term usage, it has several risks associated with it. Firstly, methamphetamine is an appetite suppressant, which can lead to rapid, unhealthy weight loss. For this reason, it is common for people who suffer from eating disorders to also abuse methamphetamine. This combination can become deadly.
Many of the other short-term effects include psychoactive elements of the drug, which can quickly render a person unemployable and damage their personal relationships. Users will frequently shut themselves in, suffering from paranoia and irrational obsessions which most people would find inappropriate7.
Long-term methamphetamine usage carries plenty of sizeable risks. As users develop a tolerance and use increasing amounts of the drug, the damage they do to their bodies increases significantly. Long-term users frequently suffer from psychosis after prolonged periods of abuse. They experience extreme paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions. In many cases, this psychosis may never fully disappear in a chronic user and can be brought about by stress even after a period of abstinence.
Methamphetamines damage the brain and, over long periods of use, this damage can become severe and sometimes irreversible. The drug impacts primarily the areas associated with motor speed and verbal learning, but also harms the emotion and memory centers of the brain. This can lead to chronic emotional and cognitive disorders in chronic users which persist long after the drug is gone.
Another common effect of long-term methamphetamine abuse is severe tooth decay and tooth loss. This is so common, in fact, that it is colloquially referred to as “meth mouth” in some recovery circles. Addicts typically suffer a combination of poor dental hygiene, dry mouth, and teeth grinding. They also have a tendency to pick and scratch at their skin during psychotic episodes and have permanent scars and pock marks, as a result8.
Methamphetamine has one of the highest relapse rates of any of the illicit drugs on the market. This is due in many cases to certain similarities between meth and cocaine, which also has a high relapse rate. Methamphetamine addicts are often deeply immersed into the culture of the drug world and, in order to escape, they usually have to re-arrange their entire lives, from social circles to changing where they live or hang out.
Like other stimulant drugs, methamphetamine has a profound impact on the chemistry of an addict’s brain. This can become another hurdle for addicts in early stages of recovery. Acute withdrawal effects from methamphetamine can last as long as six months after abstaining from the drug. Some lingering effects can persist for years. Since withdrawal symptoms are a very common relapse trigger for addicts, this simply creates a much larger window in a methamphetamine addict’s recovery where they are particularly vulnerable and susceptible to relapse9.
Methamphetamine has a moderate withdrawal phase. Detox symptoms will begin within a few hours of the last dose and persist for up to two weeks. Most symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal are mood-related and not particularly dangerous. Of course, withdrawal varies from person to person and the route by which they were administering the drug can also have an impact on the detox phase.
Users most commonly experience the following withdrawal symptoms:
While methamphetamine withdrawal on its own is not inherently dangerous or life-threatening, complications can arise. As with most addictive drugs, there is a significant tendency for the addict to succumb to cravings and return to the drug before they have fully detoxed. For this reason, it is often recommended that the detox procedure is supervised and completed in a dedicated medical facility10.
In a medical detox facility, methamphetamine addicts are most commonly prescribed muscle relaxants or benzodiazepines to alleviate tension and anxiety. They may also receive intravenous fluids and electrolyte repletion to reverse the dehydrating effects of the addiction. Finally, they are often prescribed medication in order to help with insomnia11.
The most difficult element of methamphetamine recovery is typically the long-lasting impact of the drug. Even after weeks or months of abstinence, addicts may still experience withdrawal symptoms or other persistent mental issues. For this reason, methamphetamine recovery is a particularly long process.
Recovering from methamphetamine use typically requires a dramatic shift in the addict’s life. Having been deeply embedded in the meth world, they will usually need to create an entirely new social life, find new environments, and learn to live in an entirely different way. This alone takes time. When compounded by persistent health and mental issues, the process is undeniably a difficult and lengthy one.
As with many other addictions, there are dozens of support groups which are available and effective. Most of these incorporate elements of therapy, spirituality, and community and can range from 12-step programs to religious groups, all with the same aim.
American Rehab Centers recommends Adult & Teen Challenge rehabs for recovery from methamphetamine addiction due to the length of time these programs give to addicts to allow them to get past their addiction. It takes a good year of abstinence in a controlled environment for an addict to get past the addiction to methamphetamine. Most other rehab programs are not able to give that much time and attention to the addict or are too costing for most people to afford over an extended period of time.
1Foundation for a Drug Free World. “History of Methamphetamine”. http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/crystalmeth/history-of-methamphetamine.html
2National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is the scope of methamphetamine abuse in the United States?”. September 2013. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-scope-methamphetamine-abuse-in-united-states
3Rehab International. “Crystal Meth Addiction Statistics”. http://rehab-international.org/crystal-meth/addiction-statistics
4DrugAbuse.com. “Crystal Meth Abuse”. Lauren Brande, MA. http://drugabuse.com/library/crystal-meth-abuse/#signs-and-symptoms
5PBS. “Frequently Asked Questions – The Meth Epidemic”. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/meth/faqs/
6MethamphetamineAddiction.com. “5 Most Common Crimes Meth Users Commit”. December 9, 2013. Paul Onart. http://www.methamphetamineaddiction.com/5-most-common-crimes-meth-users-commit/
7National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the immediate (short-term) effects of methamphetamine abuse?”. September 2013. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-methamphetamine-abuse
8National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse?”. September 2013. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-long-term-effects-methamphetamine-abuse
9Rehab International. “Crystal Meth Addiction Statistics”. http://rehab-international.org/crystal-meth/addiction-statistics
10Addiction Center. “Meth Withdrawal and Detox”. https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/meth/withdrawal-detox/
11MentalHelp.net. “Meth Detox Symptoms, Timeline, Medications and Recovery”. Nov. 24, 2015. Ashley Rooks, M.S., LASAC. https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/meth-detox/