What Makes Meth Addiction So Hard To Beat?
An instant flooding of the nervous system paired with a burst of energy leaves people who try meth for the first time thinking about where they’ll get their next fix as soon as the high fades. Meth is an incredibly addictive drug that can have long-term consequences on both the brain and the body.1
For many people, meth, or methamphetamine, sparks addiction at first use. Using meth can damage the brain instantly, affecting receptors in the brain and making it impossible for users to feel good without using meth.
Meth: The Basics
Methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.2 The drug is available in a legal prescription form to treat ADHD and obesity. Typically, methamphetamine is prescribed at a much lower dose than that which is used to create a high.
To understand how meth works, it’s key to understand the role that dopamine plays in the brain. This neurotransmitter provides the brain with a sense of accomplishment for a job well done. Social connections, sex, affection, love, good food, and exercise are all-natural ways to boost the dopamine output of the brain.
When a person uses meth, the brain releases an abnormal amount of dopamine. Since the brain can’t release the same amount of dopamine naturally, many users find themselves constantly thinking about using meth, since they aren’t able to recreate the same level of good feelings in any other way.
Meth doesn’t just act by allowing the brain to release dopamine – over time, it also destroys the brain’s dopamine receptors, making it impossible for people who use meth to experience pleasure through other means. Many people who use meth find that over time, their work/school performance diminishes, their relationships become troubled, and they find themselves in extreme financial duress.
Meth comes as a pill or powder and may be altered into crystals (known as crystal meth) for illegal use.3 Crystal meth looks like small shards of glass and is created by altering the prescription form of the drug by cooking it with over-the-counter drugs.
Common street names for methamphetamine include:
- Stove Top
- Bikers Coffee
There are several ways that users consume crystal meth. Meth can be taken as a powder or a pill, or it may be injected, snorted, or smoked. Some users may vary the way that they take meth to intensify the drug’s effects.
How Does Meth Affect The Mind and Body?
Many people who try crystal meth become addicted after the first use. Each time they begin to come down from the high, they may seek out more of the drug, before eventually falling asleep/crashing.
Immediate effects of meth may include:4
- Extreme energy
- A false sense of well-being
- Insomnia and hyperactivity
- Hallucinations and delusions of power
- Anxiety, aggressiveness, and irritability
- Lack of appetite and nausea
What Are The Physical Signs and Symptoms of Addiction to Methamphetamine?
While the mental and psychological effects of meth addiction are intense, the drug also affects the body in several ways.
Short-term physical effects of methamphetamine use include:
- Sleep deprivation
- Elevated body temperature
- Skin infections/ abscesses
- Decreased libido
Long-term physical effects of methamphetamine include:4
- Liver, lung, and kidney damage
- Respiratory problems (for people who smoke meth)
- Destruction of nasal tissue (for people who sniff or snort meth)
- Severe tooth decay
- Weight loss/ malnutrition
- Damage to the heart and brain
- High blood pressure/ heart attacks
Not everyone experiences addiction in the same way, and while some people experience many of these effects, some will only experience a few. The number of physical and psychological effects experienced doesn’t necessarily indicate the degree to which a person is addicted to a drug.
Chasing the Dragon: Why Meth Is So Hard To Quit
Meth addiction sets in fast. As stated, many people are hooked after the first time they try the drug. During the first time using meth, many people find that they feel a sense of euphoria and hyperactivity for up to 12 hours. While they feel great, their brain is changing from minute to minute. During the first use of meth, the brain’s reward pathways change quickly.
Healthy activities that release dopamine leave the brain with memories, much like a fingerprint left behind after someone has spent time in a room. Drugs like methamphetamine figuratively crush the brain’s reward systems. Research has shown that the dopamine produced by the brain after a hit of meth up to 1,250 times the amount of dopamine produced by the brain during sex.5
A user’s first experience with meth is always the most intense. Many users spend the rest of their lives “chasing the dragon.” This term refers to the relentless pursuit of the same sensation experienced during the first use. It’s impossible to recreate the initial flood of dopamine experienced at the start of meth use, and sadly, many people die trying.
Psychosis and Anhedonia: The Scary Side of Meth Addiction
People who suffer from anhedonia struggle or are unable to experience pleasure.6 Activities that the brain once perceived as pleasurable no longer register in the same way. Meth addiction can cause anhedonia due to its effect on the brain’s dopamine receptors and may cause additional similar issues such as hopelessness, fatigue, and loneliness. Anhedonia is a key factor in relapse for many people who suffer from meth addiction. A recovery plan with a strong social support network can be helpful for people who suffer from this condition as a result of addiction.
Research has shown that many people who are working to get off of meth experience psychosis as a part of their withdrawal.7 While these symptoms passed within about a week), this time can be difficult for people who are suffering from meth addiction to get through without professional and social support.
Treatment for Meth Addiction
Deciding to enter treatment for meth addiction is a big step. There are several levels of treatment available to people who are ready to begin the path to recovery.
Levels of treatment for meth addiction may include:
For many people, the beginning of recovery is the completion of a medically-assisted detox program. The idea of detox scares many people away from treatment. A medically-assisted detox program helps people who are struggling with meth addiction to complete the detox process as comfortably, quickly, and safely as possible.
Going through detox alone isn’t just scary – it can be dangerous, uncomfortable, and even fatal. Many people who choose medical detox move straight to an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility.
During inpatient treatment, patients have access to around-the-clock care. It can be hard to go through the recovery process while dealing with the stresses and pressures of everyday life. Inpatient treatment offers a respite from family and relationship issues that can make it hard to get and stay clean.
During inpatient treatment, people who are beginning their recovery have the opportunity to get to know others who are at the same phase in their sobriety. This can provide a safe network of support that can complement other aspects of the treatment process.
Some people aren’t able to get away from work and family responsibilities to get meth addiction treatment. No matter how busy or stressful life may be, it’s still important to get treatment to enter recovery.
Intensive outpatient programs and partial hospitalization programs can provide patients with many of the same aspects of treatment as residential programs, but on an outpatient basis. During these types of outpatient programs, patients spend a significant amount of time at the facility during the day but are still able to attend to work and family responsibilities.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
There isn’t currently an effective medication-assisted treatment protocol for people who suffer from meth addiction, but some doctors prescribe anti-anxiety medications (such as benzodiazepines) to help people who are struggling with agitation or panic as they adjust to a life in recovery.
After the completion of an inpatient or outpatient rehab program, patients must have an aftercare plan in place to help them lower the chance of relapse. Aftercare plans may include living in a sober living facility, attending 12-step meetings, going to behavioral therapy, using stress management techniques, and more.
Recovery is a lifelong process, and people who are dealing with meth addiction must continue to work the steps of their recovery to maintain their sobriety. While relapse is common, it doesn’t have to be a part of the recovery process, especially with a comprehensive aftercare plan in place.
Therapy for Addiction: What To Expect
Many factors go into creating an effective treatment plan for someone who is suffering from meth addiction. Many facilities create individualized treatment plans for patients. While many people who suffer from substance use disorder suffer from past trauma, the exact issues that lead to addiction are unique. Each patient must have a treatment plan that can address the individual factors that led them to choose methamphetamine.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an excellent method of treatment for people who are suffering from addiction. CBT works to identify the thoughts that lead a person to use and then works to change the behaviors that go with those thoughts.
Many people who struggle with meth addiction also find that group therapy is helpful. This can be especially true for people who come from families that struggle with addiction, as it can be hard to see that a different way of life is possible. Learning from the experiences of others can create a strong support network that helps pave the path to recovery.
You Can Recover From Meth Addiction – And We Can Help
If you’re searching for more information on treatment for meth addiction, you likely feel anxious, scared, and like you’re in over your head. At Harmony Place, we understand, and we’re here to help.
We offer a non-judgemental safe place for you to begin the healing process, and we’ll be with you every step of the way as you work to get well. We know that change happens one healthy decision at a time, and we’ll support you as you begin the path to sobriety.
You deserve a healthy and happy life, and we want to help. Reach out to us today to talk with one of our intake staff members about how our programming can help you begin your recovery.
1National Institute on Drug Abuse. Methamphetamine Research Report.
2U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. Drugs of Abuse.
3Drug Enforcement Agency. Methamphetamine.
4Foundation For a Drug-Free World. The Truth About Crystal Meth and Methamphetamine.
5Frontline. How Meth Destroys the Body.
6Gorwood, P. (2008). Neurobiological mechanisms of anhedonia. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience.
7Zorick, T., Nestor, L., Miotto, K. (2011). Withdrawal symptoms in abstinent methamphetamine-dependent subjects. Addiction.