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Your Brain and Body on Meth

Meth Use

The last time Sam used meth was following a breakup. She was terribly depressed and lonely, and she thought that meth would help her feel better. Instead, she said, it turned her into a “monster.” She recalls that when she was using meth she felt invincible and like she could do no wrong. In reality, she says, she was letting down the people she loved. The high she had experienced didn’t last and became more and more elusive.

In reality, she explained, meth turned her into a selfish, horrendous person. When you are high on meth, you can go for several days without sleep or food. You can’t hold a job when you use meth, she says, because your thinking and behavior becomes completely erratic and frequently violent. When your high wears off, you frequently feel depressed, anxious, extreme fatigue, and intense cravings for more meth so you won’t feel depressed, anxious, and exhausted. And so the cycle continues. Also, meth users can lose the ability to feel pleasure from daily activities. The only thing that brings them pleasure is the drug.

What Is Meth?

Meth, short for methamphetamine, is a synthetic drug made from pseudoephedrine, a nasal decongestant used in cold and allergy medicine, and common household substances like acetone, drain cleaner, brake cleaner, battery acid, lithium, and others. According to the Department of Justice, meth can be produced in two types of labs: “superlabs,” which produce large quantities of the drug and supply organized drug traffickers or small labs that can be in homes, motel rooms, and cars, among other locations. (Meth labs also produce incredible amounts of toxic waste and are an environmental hazard.)

Methamphetamine comes in several forms (crystal, rocks, powder, and tablets) and can be swallowed, snorted, smoked, or injected. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the drug goes by a number of names on the street including meth, speed, ice, shards, bikers coffee, and crank, among others. Meth is also referred to as “poor man’s coke.”

Scope of the Problem

Meth use is prevalent in the United States. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 14.7 million people, or approximately 5.4% of the population, have tried meth at least once, 1.6 million people actively used meth in the year before the survey was conducted, and 774,000 people used in the past month. Meth is more widely available in the West and Midwest. The NSDUH is directed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the information gathered is used to guide public policy concerning drug use. According to staff members at Enlightened Solutions, a drug and alcohol rehab center located in New Jersey, meth addiction frequently co-occurs with depression and anxiety.

Meth’s Effect on the Body and Brain

According to a report published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the effects of meth on the body and brain can be devastating and long-term. 

Perhaps the most common physical problem associated with meth use is the severe dental problems that can accompany the addiction. Commonly known as “meth mouth,” meth users frequently experience severe tooth decay and tooth loss. Meth users are frequently malnourished and lose unhealthy amounts of weight. In addition, meth users frequently have sores and scabs on their face, arms, torso, and legs. These sores come from users scratching nonexistent insects that they imagine crawling under their skin. Meth also leads to cardiovascular problems including rapid and irregular heartbeat and elevated blood pressure. In addition, meth users are at an increased risk of having strokes or developing Parkinson’s disease.

Meth’s effects on the brain are damaging as well. People who use meth experience severe anxiety, confusion, insomnia, and mood disturbances and can become violent. People who use meth can develop psychotic features including paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, and the sensation of insects crawling under their skin. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these psychotic symptoms can occur months or even years after the person has stopped using meth.

Research discussed in the report has shown that meth causes structural and functional changes in parts of the brain. Imaging studies have shown changes in the dopamine system associated with “reduced motor speed and impaired verbal learning.” These studies have also shown that there are changes in areas of the brain associated with emotion, memory, decision-making, and the ability to stop engaging in “behaviors that have become useless or counterproductive.”

Signs That Someone May Be Using Meth

If you think that someone you love is using meth, there are indicators to watch for. Overall, he or she will lose interest in activities and people that used to be important, like career, family, and hobbies. Signs to look for include the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Periods of no sleep followed by periods of excessive sleep, like 24-48 hours
  • Profuse sweating
  • Sores that won’t heal
  • Skin breakouts
  • Visible dental problems 
  • Non-stop or rapid talking
  • Short temper
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Shaking
  • Twitching
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Repetitive, compulsive behavior

Help for Meth Addiction Is Available

While meth is a very dangerous drug, the good news is that treatment is available. Treatment begins with detox. It is best if detox from meth is done in a treatment facility so the user will have medical supervision and be away from the environment where he or she was using. Following detox, treatment can begin. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been found useful for meth recovery. CBT focuses on learning new ways to think about and cope with environmental stressors.  A type of treatment called contingency management interventions is also helpful and involves providing incentives for people in recovery to stay in treatment and abstain from drug use. The woman mentioned in the opening paragraphs sought treatment for meth use. She says that recovery was difficult but worth it. She also says that she will never touch meth again.

Meth is a dangerous drug that can destroy lives because of its devastating physical and psychological effects. Enlightened Solutions is licensed to treat co-occurring disorders, which means that we can treat the anxiety and depression that frequently accompanies meth addiction. One of the treatment modalities we offer is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has been shown to be one of the effective treatments for meth addiction. We also offer a range of holistic treatment modalities including art and music therapy, equine therapy, family constellation therapy, yoga and meditation, acupuncture and chiropractic care, and sound therapy. In addition, we offer traditional psychotherapy and support groups rooted in the 12-Step philosophy. We develop a treatment plan for each individual client. If you are struggling with a meth addiction and the devastation that it causes, please call us at (833) 801-5483. We are located on the picturesque New Jersey’s southern shore for optimal healing and relaxation.