What Does Meth Addiction Look Like?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) crystal methamphetamine is a form of the drug d-methamphetamine, a manmade stimulant drug.
Crystal meth, or just meth, goes by a number of street names including glass, crank, shards, and ice. It presents as small bluish white rocks or shards of glass, and it is highly addictive.
Meth produces long-lasting euphoria, and it is typically smoked or snorted. The drug is often manufactured in makeshift home labs using ephedrine or pseudoephedrine and other substances, such as ingredients from cold medications or cough syrup, batteries, drain cleaner, antifreeze, etc.
NIDA reports that crystal meth is highly addictive and extremely dangerous. It is a powerful stimulant that results in massive increases in the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. According to the book The Everything Guide to the Human Brain, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in the experience of being rewarded for an action, feeling pleasure, and feeling motivated. It is also crucial in the performance of a number of motor functions. The massive release of dopamine as result of using meth produces the euphoria that individuals who use the drug experience. Because dopamine is a crucial neurotransmitter in the experience of reinforcement for repeating an action, its release also results in the drug being particularly prone to repeated abuse. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter that is involved in all forms of substance use disorders, and drugs that directly increase its release are known to be highly addictive.
As a result of crystal meth’s ability to release massive amounts of dopamine in the brain, users feel extreme euphoria, a heightened sense of wellbeing, and an increased sense of energy. They become extremely talkative and will continue to chase the chance to repeat those feelings by using meth repeatedly.
Like many stimulant drugs, tolerance to crystal meth develops rapidly, and individuals who use it find that they will need more and more of the drug to achieve the effects that were achieved previously at lower doses; however, achieving the initial feelings of euphoria is never really accomplished once an individual begins to chronically abuse the drug. Instead, individuals experience some euphoria that is short-lived, but they actually find that they can never reproduce the initial sense of euphoria they achieved in the early stages of their addiction. Thus, wanting the drug is a far more salient feeling that the actual experience of using the drug for these people, a theory known as the incentive sensitization theory of drug abuse. Meth users often binge and chase the initial effects that they can no longer experience and keep repeating this behavior over and over until it physically drains them.
The physical signs of meth abuse include:
- Significant weight loss without attempts to lose weight
- Dark circles under the eyes and a gaunt and unhealthy appearance
- Dilated pupils or bloodshot eyes
- Odd ticks or twitches, such as an eye twitch
- Dry skin, cracked skin, acne that occurs especially around the lips, or dried skin on the fingertips
- Issues with the nose, such as nosebleeds, chronic runny nose, etc.
- Skin sores, burn marks around the mouth or fingertips, or red spots or abbesses on the skin (Meth users often pick at their skin.)
- Meth mouth, which is rapidly advancing tooth decay that begins rather quickly and presents as rotting teeth and extreme tooth loss (due to the corrosive nature of the drug)
- Chronic bad breath, dry mouth, or significant clenching or teeth grinding
- Being very fidgety, an inability to sit still, talking excessively, or rambling on excessively They may often appear
- Appearing overheated and perspiring excessively
- Periods of insomnia
- Mood swings that alternate from being extremely happy to irritable
- The development of compulsive or repetitive behaviors
- Becoming suspicious, acting paranoid, or beginning to see or hear things that are not there
- A number of cognitive issues, such as issues with attention, short-term memory, and problem-solving abilities
Behavioral problems associated with meth abuse include:
- Isolation and failing to fulfill major obligations in one’s personal life, at school, or at work
- Major declining performance in various areas of the life
- Major financial issues
- Issues with personal hygiene, neglecting personal appearance, and appearing not to be aware of these changes
- Selling personal possessions and borrowing money from others
- Engaging in a number of dishonest behaviors, such as stealing, lying, and so forth to either finance their drug use or to cover it up
- Displaying signs of withdrawal, such as paranoia, irritability, extreme lethargy or sleepiness, increased appetite, major depression, apathy, mood swings, and a major lack of motivation
The timeline and progression of withdrawal from methamphetamine is relatively well documented. The withdrawal process does not appear to result in potentially dangerous physical symptoms as occurs in withdrawal from alcohol, and it does not appear to include severe nausea and vomiting as occurs in withdrawal from opioid drugs. However, the withdrawal symptoms from meth can be rather intense and result in severe emotional distress, leading to relapse or to an emotionally unstable condition that can result in individuals harming themselves.
Because stimulant medications are typically relatively fast-acting with shorter half-lives, their withdrawal symptoms often begin rather quickly once a person has stopped using a drug like meth. This rapid appearance of withdrawal symptoms may in part account for why many individuals continue to binge on meth.
- A relatively quick onset, usually within 24 hours following discontinuation
- The usual lethargy, fatigue, excessive sleepiness, increased appetite, and dry mouth that occurs with withdrawal from stimulant drugs
- Feelings of depression and apathy that may be associated with thoughts of suicide
- Strong cravings to use meth again in order to deal with the depression and apathy
- Potential psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia, hallucinations, and even delusions (must be addressed medically)
Symptoms of withdrawal from crystal meth appear to peak within the first 7-10 days after an individual discontinues use of the drug and then decline. The duration of the withdrawal process appears to last anywhere from 14 days to 21 days with the most common duration observed in research studies being 14 days. Feelings of depression and apathy are the most concerning symptoms that occur during crystal meth withdrawal. These symptoms are responsible for early relapses in recovering individuals and, as mentioned above, are even responsible for individuals becoming emotionally distraught and developing suicidal ideations.
Over the long run, there appears to be a number of lingering cognitive issues associated with individuals who had abused crystal meth and recovered from their substance use disorder. These typically include issues with attention, mental processing speed, and memory.
Individuals attempting to recover from a crystal meth use disorder will be more successful if they seek professional help from a professional addiction treatment program. These individuals will benefit from withdrawal management protocols where they can use medications to ease the symptoms of withdrawal; therapy resources to address the issues that drove their addiction and to develop coping skills; relapse prevention techniques learned in therapy and in social support groups; social support including involvement in social support groups such as 12-Step groups; and the development of a long-term aftercare treatment program to address future issues that may increase the risk of relapse.