Methamphetamine is a drug that stimulates the central nervous system, causing increases in body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. It works by blocking the reuptake of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure. Dopamine normally goes back into cells to be “recycled” once it is released, but methamphetamine prevents this reuptake or recycling, causing the chemical to become more concentrated.
Illegal methamphetamine comes as a powder, which can be transformed into crystals known as “Ice Meth.” People who abuse methamphetamine smoke the powder or snort it or swallow it. They also mix it with water or alcohol and inject it into their veins. The immediate effects of the drug are the rush of euphoria, wakefulness, increased energy, hyperactivity, talkativeness and other personality changes and dilated pupils.
Compared to cocaine, which also blocks the reuptake of dopamine, methamphetamine is a much longer-lasting stimulant. The effects of smoking methamphetamine last 8-12 hours compared to 20-30 minutes for cocaine. Methamphetamine takes about 24 hours to leave the body. It affects each person differently depending on gender, weight, general health and body composition.
Dangers of methamphetamine
Illegal methamphetamine is an extremely addictive drug. Methamphetamine affects the brain and causes poor judgment, so addicts are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors and needle-sharing, which leads to infections such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.
Long-term use of methamphetamine will cause dangerous health problems that damage the body worse than damage caused by heroin or prescription painkillers. Long-term methamphetamine abusers show reduced motor skills, impaired verbal learning, changes in emotional and memory function and problems in cognition. The drug also seems to alter the brain’s reward system and the person’s ability to feel pleasure. One study found that 50% of the dopamine cells of methamphetamine abusers were damaged. For a long time, scientists believed that these changes were permanent and irreversible, but the most recent studies show that some of brain damage can be reversed if the person stops using methamphetamine for at least a year or two.
People addicted to methamphetamine often experienced paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, extreme moodiness, anxiety, severe weight loss, insomnia, poor judgment and dental problems. The drug can trigger mental illnesses that would have remained latent without it. A recent study from the University of Montréal found that teenagers who use methamphetamine are 60-70% more likely to be clinically depressed than their peers.
Psychological withdrawal from methamphetamine can be more difficult to achieve than for other drug addictions. Methamphetamine addicts often believe that their drug is a source of power and creativity. When they stop using the drug, they “crash” down-to-earth and into everyday reality. They often become clinically depressed, and it can take as long as two years for their brains to recover, allowing them to feel normal pleasures once more. A caring counselor working with a recovering addict for at least three months on a one-to-one basis can make all the difference to the person’s success.
The state-of-the-art treatment for methamphetamine addiction is called the “Matrix Model.” This is a holistic approach to recovery and involves cognitive/behavioral therapy, family education, individual counseling, 12-step support meetings and sometimes drug testing. People in recovery who enter residential treatment centers have the highest success rates, because they are living away from their old drug environments, and their treatment program is 24/7 and extremely intense. Once patients leave residential treatment centers, they remain in treatment in their local communities by attending support meetings and continuing in individual and family counseling.