What is Methamphetamine?
In the last decade, the United States has witnessed a sharp increase in the prevalence of methamphetamine addiction. Its influence has swept the nation. As it increases in popularity and more curiosity develops, its devastating effects are hurting thousands of people. Methamphetamine was produced in the early 20th century. It was produced as a product of amphetamines, and was created as a means to treat medical and mental health conditions, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and weight control issues. It is also an active ingredient in nasal decongestants and inhalers.
Methamphetamines are stimulants, and are considered a Schedule II drug by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, considering its high potential for abuse and addiction. Today, it is sparingly used to treat the conditions it was initially created for, due to its highly addictive potential. The medical use of methamphetamine medication is closely monitored by prescribing professionals, and often requires a separate prescription for each refill of medication. Medical dosages of prescribed methamphetamines are typically quite low, but those who abuse and are addicted to methamphetamine use a dangerously high dosage in order to feel its addictive effects.
Why Do People Use Methamphetamines?
Methamphetamines have several street names, including crank, ice, dope, and its most common name, ‘crystal meth’ or crystal for short. It is estimated that approximately 24.7 million people are actively abusing and are either addicted to or at risk of becoming addicted to methamphetamines. Many people tend to be attracted to the drug because it is a stimulant, or an ‘upper’. It causes a high that creates a euphoric feeling while dulling uncomfortable feelings and emotions. A high from methamphetamines will cause attractive reactions like:
- Decreased appetite (which tends to be appealing for those who want to lose weight or have body image and self-esteem issues)
- Pleasurable and euphoric sensations
However, abusing methamphetamines will also cause uncomfortable and detrimental effects, like:
- Itching and skin picking
- Panic attacks
- Depreciated cognitive and motor functioning
- Irregular heartbeat
It also has devastating side effects on a user’s mental health and physical health. Methamphetamines are arguably the most destructive drug that is commonly abused in the United States. It causes side effects that are so severe and permanent that it has the potential to change the entire way a person thinks, feels, acts, and looks, even when not high and after achieving sobriety.
How Methamphetamines Affect The Brain
In order to understand how methamphetamines create such profound effects on an addict, it is important to understand how continued use affects the brain. Methamphetamine can be smoked, snorted, injected, or ingested. Each provides a different modality and speed of intake, and affects how the user feels the drug. For example, one who injects methamphetamines will feel a rush that quickly produces an intense euphoric sensation, while ingesting will produce a gradual feeling of euphoria without a rush.
The euphoric feeling is produced as a result of a flooding of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical in the brain that provides an impulse for the brain to produce a feeling or sensation. Dopamine is responsible for rewarding life-sustaining behavior with a ‘feel good’ sensation, which provides the person with a feeling of pleasure and mild euphoria. These feelings produce an increased motivation for the person to continue to engage in the life-sustaining behavior (exercise, eating, sex, etc.) that was rewarded by dopamine. When a person uses methamphetamine, the brain releases a copious amount of dopamine and prevents the dopamine to be re-absorbed back into its chambers, causing its effects to last for a prolonged period of time, resulting in an overactive pleasure response by the brain.
Methamphetamine use also has an effect on the central nervous system, which is responsible for the regulation of normal body functions. It is as sensitive as it is critical for normal functioning. When stimulated, the central nervous system will put the person at a higher state of awareness and alertness. This will cause feelings like irritability, paranoia, anxiety, and hypertension. The combination of methamphetamine’s effects on the levels of dopamine, coupled with leading the central nervous system into a state of hypersensitivity, results in the erratic behavior one would exhibit when high on the drug. Furthermore, long-term use of methamphetamines will result in the regeneration of neurons, which are responsible for carrying messages throughout the brain. Without healthy, generating neurons, a user’s cognitive and motor functioning will be severely impaired.
Long Term Consequences Of Methamphetamine Use
Addiction to methamphetamine use will lead to severe consequences to the addict’s brain and body. These consequences are often permanent, and the longer a person actively uses the drug, the lower the chances of improving the consequences of methamphetamine use. With treatment and abstinence, it is possible to regain some cognitive functioning, but most neurological and physical consequences are permanent, and are unlikely to recover.
Cognitive and Mental Health Consequences
A person who is addicted to methamphetamine can expect to experience several different cognitive impairments. These cognitive impairments will often lead to different kinds of mental health conditions. Examples of cognitive and mental health consequences include:
- Memory loss
- Attention deficits
- Emotional regulation
- Motor function
- Critical thinking
- Decision making
- Flat affect or emotional stunting
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Mood swings
The physical consequences of prolonged methamphetamine use are often permanent. Most physical consequences severely jeopardize a user’s longevity and depreciate his or her overall quality of life. Physical consequences of methamphetamine use include:
- Damage to the blood vessels (If injected)
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular problems
- Heart disease
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Lung damage (If snorted or smoked)
- Respiratory problems (If smoked)
- Tooth and gum decay
- Early onset dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
It is also important to consider the lifestyle consequences that occur as a result of methamphetamine addiction. Methamphetamine addicts suffer from drastic lifestyle changes, as their addiction affects every aspect of their lives. Areas that will be affected by an addict’s methamphetamine addiction include:
- Deteriorated Relationships. Those who suffer from addiction will lose relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. As friends and family begin to notice and realize the addiction in their loved one, they will need to make a choice as to whether remain emotionally invested in the addict, or cut ties to protect their own mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Most will understandably take care of themselves and their family first, leaving the addict to his or her own devices.
Addiction will also cause an addict to withdraw from friends and family, as they become more invested in feeding their addiction than nurturing their relationships. It will come to a point in which it is too difficult to hide the addiction, so the addict will withdraw from friends and family.
- Legal Implications. Any use of methamphetamines without a legitimate prescription is illegal. Considering that methamphetamines are not commonly prescribed and what is prescribed is not sufficient to produce a high, it is assumed that any methamphetamine use that seems suspicious is illegal use. Legal consequences can lead to imprisonment, which will severely alter the addict’s mental health, physical health, and goals for the future.
- Professional Consequences. It is close to impossible to support a methamphetamine addiction and successfully work a full time job or develop a professional career. Most addicts fail to juggle both, which often leaves the addict jobless and in financial crisis.