Methamphetamine: Highly Addictive and Highly Dangerous


According to the World Health Organization, methamphetamine is second only to marijuana as the most widely abused illicit drug in the world, and it is the most prevalent synthetic drug manufactured in the United States.

"Meth" is a highly addictive stimulant that can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally. Users, particularly during the withdrawal, or "tweaking" phase, may experience acute psychosis and commit acts of extreme violence. The manufacture of methamphetamine exposes humans, animals, and the environment to toxic and explosive chemicals. Because the manufacture and use of meth may result in adults neglecting children in their care, the drug is increasingly a factor in many child protective services cases.

Even those who are not affected by meth use in their personal lives pay for the problems it causes. Although research is providing good evidence that those addicted to meth can regain their lives and function productively, treating them burdens the health care system. Other expenses include cleaning up environmental poisons resulting from meth production and jailing methamphetamine manufacturers and traffickers.

What Is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine--commonly known by such slang names as speed, meth, chalk, ice, crystal, crank, glass, and uppers--is a powerfully addictive stimulant that dramatically affects the brain and the rest of the central nervous system. Easily made with relatively low-cost materials, meth is an odorless, bitter-tasting, white crystalline powder that dissolves in water or alcohol. The active ingredient is either ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Both are found in over-the-counter cold medicines. Meth "cookers" use products such as drain cleaner, lithium batteries, and engine-starter fluid to make a powder that can be smoked, snorted, injected, or added to a beverage.
Methamphetamine has a high potential for abuse and may lead to psychological or physical dependence. Its accepted medical uses are severely restricted.

Why Do People Use Methamphetamine?

On the surface, methamphetamine may seem attractive. Thus, many people are tricked or lured into using meth for the initial good feelings it brings. Immediately after smoking or intravenous injection, the meth user experiences an intense sensation, called a "rush" or "flash." While that rush is described as pleasurable, it lasts only a few minutes. The rush is followed by a high that can last 6 to 8 hours. Oral or nasal use produces the same long lasting high, but not the intense rush.

Some people start using meth to reduce fatigue and maintain productivity-particularly for tedious, repetitive, or physically demanding tasks or when working long hours. Some people hope it will increase sexual desire and activity. Others want to lose weight.

Typical psychological effects of the methamphetamine high include:

· Euphoria

· Alertness or wakefulness

· Feelings of increased strength and renewed energy

· Feelings of invulnerability

· Feelings of increased confidence and competence

· Intensified feelings of sexual desire

Whatever the excuse to use meth or whatever the perceived short-term attraction to the drug may be, the meth high is predictably followed by a devastating low. The depression that follows meth use can be so exceedingly uncomfortable and unpleasant--and can become so intolerable--that, despite the awareness of how dangerous the drug ultimately is, the individual makes the decision to start using meth yet again.

What's the Downside?

The "benefits" of meth are more than matched by the drug's ill effects-both immediately and over time. Methamphetamine is an addictive drug that causes physical harm throughout the body. In addition to that physical damage, some people looking for temporary relief from long-term conditions like depression and AIDS-related fatigue may try meth and ignore their prescribed treatments.

After the initial rush, individuals typically experience a state of great agitation that can lead to violent behavior. As the drug leaves their systems, users can experience:

· Irritability/aggressiveness/frustration

· Anxiety

· Depression

· Fatigue

· Paranoia (sometimes extreme, leading to thoughts of homicide or suicide)

· Hallucinations or delusions (e.g., sensation of insects crawling on the skin) Intense cravings for the drug.

The pleasurable effects of the drug vanish even before it disappears in the blood. As a result, meth users often follow a "binge and crash" pattern and may continue taking the drug over several days. They may go without food and sleep and inject the drug every 2 to 3 hours to prolong the high and postpone the inevitable crash.

The crash phase, commonly referred to as "tweaking," often overwhelms the user with feelings of anxiety and emptiness. When tweaking, people can be extremely irritable and paranoid. They may exhibit unpredictable and dangerous behavior when startled, confused, or confronted. To reduce or counter withdrawal, meth users frequently resort to alcohol, heroin, or marijuana.

The length of time before long-term effects become noticeable and the severity of those effects vary from person to person. People who report control of the drug at first may lose that control over time and become addicted. Meth addiction is caused by the changes in the brain produced by the drug. People addicted to meth experience a powerful physical and emotional withdrawal. The user's lifestyle changes to focus on getting and using meth. Even after chronic use has stopped, the meth user may experience depression, anxiety, fatigue, paranoia, aggression, and an intense craving for the drug.

Damaging effects of methamphetamine include physical, emotional, and mental destruction, including:

· Memory problems

· Insomnia

· Decreased appetite and anorexia

· Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature

· Tremors or convulsions

· Breathing problems

· Lung, kidney, and liver damage

· Irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain, which can produce strokes

· Increased risk of getting or transmitting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and other diseases for users who inject meth and share needles

Meth's effect on the brain and the brain's ability to recover are not entirely clear. However, injury to brain cells can be seen months after a person quits using meth. This damage affects the supply of chemicals important to physical and mental well-being. Whether addicted or not, meth users risk brain damage that may be permanent.

Research is continuing, but studies also have connected prolonged use of meth with symptoms similar to those experienced by people with Parkinson's disease. Another outcome may be brain damage that appears similar to that caused by Alzheimer's disease, stroke, and epilepsy.

Who Uses Meth?

Meth use has grown greatly in recent years. The 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), estimated that 8.8 million Americans had tried meth at least once. This number was more than double the level of use found in the 1994 survey.

Among high school seniors, 7.9 percent reported taking meth at least once. More than 4 percent of these seniors disclosed use in the past year-about twice the rate of a decade ago (2000 Monitoring the Future Survey).

Several groups may be especially susceptible to the illusion that using meth is beneficial:

· Truck drivers trying to remain awake and alert during the long hours involved in cross-country hauls

· Restaurant, construction, and factory workers hoping to reduce fatigue

· People trying to lose weight

· White-collar workers wanting to become more competitive and able to work longer, more productive hours

· Athletes, both in and out of school, seeking temporary bursts of energy and feelings of increased physical endurance

· Youth partying all night

· Students enduring marathon study sessions

· Men in some gay populations wanting to boost sexual performance or alleviate depression

· People with AIDS seeking temporary relief from AIDS-related fatigue and depression

· People manufacturing meth at home as an income source and/or to support their addiction

How Are Children Affected?

The child protection services in communities coast to coast are showing increased caseloads because of the manufacture and use of methamphetamine. Parents using meth often do not supervise children's activities and hygiene. Also, they may not provide enough food or good nutrition. Children may suffer malnutrition or go without appropriate medical attention. People in the tweaking phase can be abusive and violent to their own children.

Setting up a meth lab requires little more than a stove and some pots. Home labs are common. This means that the drug's toxic ingredients may be stored, left open, or spilled within easy reach of children. Tables, sinks, counters, and floors present opportunities for children to touch and taste chemicals and to inhale poisonous fumes. Children living in a meth lab or in the community are not aware of toxic wastes that have been dumped and may play in those polluted areas. Children also may be victims of fires and explosions in meth labs.

What Treatments Are Effective for Methamphetamine Addiction?

The effectiveness of treatment generally increases when the program draws on a variety of components. Because of the inability of many meth users to recognize problems related to their drug use, techniques that promote change in patients' thinking, expectations, and behaviors are emphasized.

The length of the treatment program also is important. Many users have a tendency to quickly drop out of treatment, but those who continue in treatment can achieve long-term, drug-free recovery.

Strategies to prevent relapse may include drug education, family and group therapies, and self-help groups. These strategies often include teaching abusers to identify behaviors that put them in situations where they are at high risk for using meth. This form of treatment provides a structure for actively involving patients in treatment and helping them stay off meth.

Treatment is often provided in intensive outpatient programs. Therapies may be combined with techniques to strengthen coping skills for stress and with medications, as needed. The clinical challenges related to paranoia, psychosis, agitation, and severe craving usually require knowledge and skills beyond those involved in traditional alcohol treatment.

More research is needed to focus on concerns related to sexual behavior, weight issues, and ongoing paranoia. Studies examining special treatment issues associated with pregnant women, women with small children, the gay community, and homeless populations also are needed.

How Can Parents and Caregivers Prevent Young People From Using Methamphetamine?

What adults say--or do not say--about alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs can profoundly influence decisions young people make regarding their use of substances. Surveys show that the likelihood of youth using substances is reduced when parents have information and talk to their children regularly about drugs. Knowing the reasons that young people may be interested in meth helps adults discuss these concerns and offer safe and healthy choices.

Parents and caregivers can help children avoid substance abuse in several important ways:

· Establishing and maintaining good communication with children

· Being involved in a child's life-spending time together and acknowledging good behavior

· Making clear rules and enforcing them with consistency and appropriate consequences

· Being a positive role model

· Helping children learn to choose friends wisely

· Monitoring children's activities-knowing their friends and communicating with other parents

Parents and Caregivers of Teens Should:

· Have a basic understanding about meth and its risks to help educate young people.

· Realize that methamphetamine may appeal to teens who are worried about weight control or who are eager for maximum endurance at sports, studies, and play

· Recognize possible signs of methamphetamine use. Intervene at the earliest stages and deter further use

Source: The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information