Information on Methamphetamine, Detox and Treatment

Created On Wednesday, 25, November 2009
Modified On Friday, 17, September 2021

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Meth is a central nervous system stimulant drug that is highly addictive. The term "meth" is derived from the complete name of the drug, methamphetamine. It is chemically related to a class of drugs known as amphetamines, including drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, but is much more powerful. These drugs all belong to a broader grouping of drugs known as stimulants. A stimulant is any drug that increases the activity of the body's systems. Other examples of stimulants include cocaine, crack, and caffeine. These drugs all produce similar effects of increased heart rate, alertness, respirations, and many other physical and mental functions.

The History of Meth

It is impossible to address the history of meth without first delving into the world of amphetamines. Amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887 in Germany by a Roman chemist. Methamphetamine was next discovered in 1893, but neither substance was used medically until the mid-1900s. The first pharmacological preparation of amphetamine was an inhaler used to treat congestion, known as Benzedrine. By 1943, methamphetamine and amphetamine were used to treat various conditions, including depression, obesity, alcoholism, and narcolepsy. Eventually, amphetamines would be used to treat various perceived mental issues, including some that would later be named conditions like "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder", or ADHD.

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During WWII, both drugs were misused by Allied and Axis forces for their stimulant properties. They created soldiers that didn't need much sleep or food and had plenty of energy to fight, a perceived advantage initially. But as addiction and dependence became known risk factors, governmental restrictions ensued, culminating in the drug being listed as Schedule II on the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1971.

But unfortunately, as is the case with prohibition throughout history, demand for the drug led to illegal manufacturing. This was especially true for methamphetamine which was produced and consumed heavily in the 1980s by biker gangs along the West coast.

Illegal manufacturing usually takes place in small, clandestine laboratories but can also occur on an even smaller scale like personal uses, which became popular in the 1990s. But as demand for the drug grew, larger-scale "super-labs" began to pop up in the Southwestern portion of the United States and Mexico. These supplied the vast amounts of the drug, which contributed to the national drug epidemic, beginning in the early 2000s and still raging today.

What does Meth Look Like?

Meth can take on a variety of colors and consistencies. The most notorious form, Crystal Meth, is called such because the purity level causes it to appear crystalline and transparent. But meth can also commonly have a bluish tint and can be in powder or liquid form as well. Some black-market preparations are pressed into pills or tablets instead. This can make the drug appear more innocuous to a first-time user.

Meth is usually sold in small, clear plastic baggies. These can either be zip-close bags or tied up and melted corners that have been torn off of larger bags. Sometimes the drug is placed in a vial or similar plastic container, mainly crystal meth, because it may dissolve or melt easily.

This is a picture of methamphetamine
METHAMPHETAMINE
This is a picture of methamphetamine in pill form
METHAMPHETAMINE PILLS
This is a picture of Desoxyn, a methamphetamine medication
DESOXYN, METH MEDICATION

Effects of Meth

The most immediate and noticeable effect from consuming meth is a "rush" described as intensely euphoric and energizing. The sensation can be characterized as pleasurable, particularly by those who become addicted to it. Other mental effects include mood elevation, alertness, increased reaction time, and decreased appetite. Neurologically, meth causes these sensations by triggering the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the brain. The exact mechanism of how this occurs is not yet understood by science.

Physiologically, meth can cause many things to occur in the body that are measurable. Immediately, virtually every system begins to function more rapidly. This includes involuntary systems such as the heart, digestion, breathing, etc. This increased activity raises body temperature, triggering a cascade of other systems designed to maintain homeostasis.

Pupil dilation is common, along with sweating, tremors, muscle spasms, and stimulation of the bowels. Where meth really effects the individual is with long-term use, often transforming people into someone unrecognizable. This ghastly phenomenon is so common that posters and internet websites have become dedicated to sharing disturbing photos that compare before and after images of individuals who've been ravaged by meth addiction. This scare-tactic was more popular in the early 2000s but has fallen out of favor as stigma-free groups raise awareness about the insensitivities surrounding such displays.

Meth users are also known as "tweakers," a derogatory term that has been in use for decades. It likely originated because of users' tendency to "tweak" things repetitively, or make small and constant adjustments to their environment. These compulsive, nervous habits and twitches are brought on by the drug and are an aspect of its stimulant effects.

People who consume meth regularly often do not sleep for days. They may quickly become delusional and experience hallucinations. These episodes often follow a subtext of paranoia, which can lead the person to believe that they are being followed or conspired against. Psychosis may stem from such episodes, which can turn violent and dangerous quite easily.

Another strange aspect of meth addiction is the tendency to cause users to "pick" at themselves. Many people on meth will become fixated on their skin and proceed to dig and pick and cause many open sores that can easily become infected. Episodes like this can become chronic with continued heavy use of the drug and may involve hallucinatory perceptions that something foreign is on or under the skin. Many long-term meth users have lifelong scars on their body and face from picking at themselves repetitively until they bleed.

Because meth is such a potent stimulant, those who are addicted to it rarely eat food. Stimulants severely curb appetite, so the person begins to waste away and experience malnutrition. They also stop taking care of themselves in other ways, such as sleeping and basic personal hygiene. Visibly they may begin to appear emaciated with sunken, dark eyes, bad or missing teeth, and open sores. When a person has been using meth heavily for years, it is very noticeable. The drug destroys the body's systems.

Long-term effects include:

  • addiction
  • psychosis, including paranoia, hallucinations, repetitive motor activity
  • changes in brain structure and function
  • deficits in thinking and motor skills
  • increased distractibility
  • memory loss
  • aggressive or violent behavior
  • mood disturbances
  • severe dental problems
  • weight loss

Meth Overdose

Overdose from meth used to be a relatively uncommon experience. Not just because meth use was less widespread, but mainly because the drug was less powerful. The meth of today is more abundant, and, unfortunately, much stronger.

When meth saw its first "peak" in popularity across America in the late 1990s and early 2000s, much of the available substance was derived from pseudoephedrine, an ingredient commonly found in cold medicines as a decongestant.

Once extracted from pseudoephedrine, the compound ephedrine can then be changed into meth through a relatively simple process. Many people were making meth this way at home or in small scale rudimentary "labs."

The resulting product was relatively low in quality and purity, resulting in greater side effects but fewer overdoses.

But the restriction of medicines that contain pseudoephedrine, which was initiated to curb meth production, was only temporarily effective. Ultimately this only served to drive production of the now popular drug south of the border, where drug cartels now produce most of our country's meth. And their production of the drug is not only on a larger scale but is much more precise. They utilize other chemicals like propanol to skirt authorities' attempts to restrict pseudoephedrine and turn out a massive amount of a dangerously pure product. It can also flow along the cartel's already existing drug trafficking lines, which have been used to bring other drugs into major cities across the US in great quantity for decades.

The scariest part?

This stuff is now cheaper than it ever was. It is also much more likely to be laced, or have other substances added to it like the deadly and inexpensive drug, Fentanyl.

This recipe for disaster has led to a second meth epidemic, which many argue is going unnoticed thanks to the country's simultaneous opioid epidemic. And while meth overdoses are on the rise across much of the country, opioid overdose death rates are declining. Yet, Americans still seem to fixate on the problem of opioids and leave those who struggle with meth addiction largely ignored.

Meth overdose can be quite deadly. The drug mainly kills by causing a major cardiovascular event such as heart attack and multiple system failures, due to its extreme stimulant properties and ability to elevate heart rate and blood pressure. It can also cause the person to overheat and die. Meth overdose may also cause a stroke or liver failure.

Meth Addiction

This is a picture of pure methamphetamineAddiction is perhaps the most noticeable consequence of chronic stimulant abuse, and meth is particularly effective at creating crippling addiction in users. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting brain changes. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness. Addiction is the most severe form of a full spectrum of substance use disorders and is a medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances.

Meth addiction can occur much more easily than one might think. For many, it begins with dependence on prescription and even over-the-counter medications.

Prescription amphetamines are chemically very similar to methamphetamine. People who are prescribed drugs like Ritalin, Vyvanse, Adderall, and many others may discover that they do not feel well without the medication. They must decide to either live a life under the influence of stimulants or get off them at some point. But for many, this is easier said than done, and they may discover that they are misusing them and cannot stop. This can lead to seeking healthier versions of the drug in illegal meth, especially if their prescription is discontinued against their will.

The above is an example of the cycle of addiction, which first begins with a problem. The person struggles with something mental or physical, and the drug initially provides a solution to that problem in their life. But as they enjoy the escape that the drug offers more and more, reality becomes harsher and more painful each time they come down. The person begins to use more and more drugs to escape the feelings of guilt and shame associated with drug use, and eventually, they are completely addicted. Another example of this is a person who begins taking over the counter diet pills to lose weight.

They're unhappy with their appearance, so take a legal stimulant as a solution. The drug works and they even get a boost of energy and euphoria. Perhaps they even discover that they are now getting more work done and feeling less sluggish. As their body becomes used to the effects of the drug, it stops working as well. They decide to take two next time, and it works really well.

Now the person knows they aren't doing the right thing, but they justify this by explaining to themselves and those around them (if they get caught) that it's helping them be healthier, etc. These justifications work to remove guilt, but they also make the activity more right in their own eyes. Now, making the jump to illegal meth is not such a stretch when they are already misusing OTC medications and are okay with it.

When a drug like meth becomes more available, stronger, and cheaper, it's a perfect storm. It is even worse when the nation's attention and its drug enforcement efforts are aimed elsewhere entirely. This combination has allowed meth to return with a vengeance. From 2008 to 2015, amphetamine-related hospitalizations jumped by almost 250%. Statistics related overdose deaths from psychostimulants like meth had been trending downward previous, but these jumped more than 250% during that same time range. This makes apparent how serious the problem is.

In 2017, approximately 1.6 million people reported using meth in the past year. Sadly, this likely falls far short of the actual number since this statistic relies on a few shaky factors. The first being the implication that all persons interviewed reported honestly. Stigma is a common and well-documented aspect of addiction that frequently prevents people from admitting drug use out of shame and guilt. The next factor which makes this an underestimation is that everyone in the United States was not individually polled. This would be impossible, so the only way to estimate such a number would be to take a sample survey.

It would also require polling people from different locations and demographics to not be influenced by regional bias or other factors. This figure would then be multiplied out to represent the US population, based on the most recent census or estimates. Any errors, omissions, or mistakes also get multiplied out, leading to gross inaccuracies. Because of the above, we can safely assume that the meth problem in America was much worse in 2017 than represented, and is even worse now.

How to help a loved one addicted to methamphetamine

If someone you know is addicted to Meth, there are some do’s and don’ts that will help you give them the most support. But first, let’s dispel some of the myths that exist when it comes to meth addiction.

It’s not uncommon to hear that meth addiction is “untreatable.” This is completely false. People recover from meth addiction every day, and this does not mean that they will relapse multiple times along the way necessarily. While everyone’s path is different, many people get their lives back and move on from meth addiction.

Another myth is that after recovering from meth addiction, life will never feel the same. Stories like these only serve to scare people, and instead of discouraging meth use in the first place, cause current users to lose hope and surrender to addiction. There is a definite period of “anhedonia” after the person stops using, which is explainable by withdrawal. Anhedonia is characterized by a loss of pleasure and enjoyment of daily life. But as the person’s neurochemistry readjusts, they will begin to experience a normal range of emotions and feelings again. The amount of time this takes is individual and depends upon many factors, including the length and severity of the addiction. But it is important that the person does not give up on recovery and relapse because they believe a myth and think there’s no hope.

If you suspect your loved one is addicted to Meth, the first thing to do is confront them. This does not mean that you should be confrontational necessarily. But the issue must be addressed. Instead, try to be patient, understanding, and approachable. If they are hiding it from you, it’s because they already know that you don’t approve. Getting angry will do nothing to further trust or communication.

Instead of asking them and giving them the opportunity to lie, try letting them know what you’ve noticed and what your concern is, and that you want to help. They may still lie and deny using Meth and may even become angry. This is quite normal and is a strong sign that your suspicions are correct. Do not react to their anger. Stay calm and listen. They may become critical of you and lash out, but this is all part of the process. If they continue to lie, they will probably try to get away from the talk and leave. What you are doing is bringing the issue to the forefront and letting them know that you know.

Ideally, they will eventually open up to you and ask for help. But their life is at stake, so if they continue to lie and use Meth, you must intervene. Intervention can be a complex process, but there are many options for professional assistance and education should it come to that. You can always call us at the number on this page for assistance in locating intervention and treatment services for meth addiction.

Meth Treatment

Methamphetamine addiction is one of the most challenging forms of stimulant addiction to treat. What makes things even worse, stimulant addiction is one of the least understood and most challenging forms of addiction.

The relapse rates are incredibly high, and there has been little research done in this area, relative to other forms of substance abuse like alcoholism and opioid use disorder. Consequently, little has been discovered in the way of treatment and intervention strategies specific to stimulant addiction. Because of this, those who struggle with meth addiction are usually lumped into the generality of "substance use disorder" and referred to the industry standard prevailing treatment model. For years this has been 12 Step based inpatient treatment programs, where no specific medical interventions are utilized. Unlike opioid addiction and alcoholism, there are no approved pharmacological treatments for methamphetamine addiction.

Due to protracted mental and physiological problems caused by the drug's impact on neural pathways, those recovering from meth addiction can be among the most treatment-resistant populations. Often, psychiatric medications are utilized for initial periods to "stabilize" the person mentally. Benzodiazepine tranquilizers may also be used to mitigate aggressive or combative behavior; however, this cannot be recommended to be therapeutic or serve as an aid in the rehabilitation process. It is simply a common way to address symptoms.

The consensus seems to be that with meth addiction, the longer the person can maintain abstinence from the drug, the better their chances are. Time allows the person's brain, body, nervous system to heal from the damages caused by meth. Much of the known damage caused by long term meth use has been observed to heal and reverse with enough time. Estimates vary, with some sources indicating a significant neural recovery in anywhere from 6 months to two years.

Treatment programs which are long term with retention of at least 90 days, and use minimal pharmacological interventions necessary, are likely to give a person the best possible chance of complete recovery from meth addiction. Follow-up treatment services such as support group meetings and anything which keeps a person involved in recovery are highly recommended. This includes outpatient treatment after one has completed an inpatient stay, regardless of length.

 

1.6

million people reported using methamphetamine in 2016

964,000

people aged 12 or older had a methamphetamine use disorder in 2017

15%

of all drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved the methamphetamine category

Meth Statistics

This is a picture of drug overdose deaths involving psychostimulants including methamphetamine from 1999 to 2017

  • Over half a million (600,000) Americans use meth every week.
  • An estimated 12.3 million Americans, or 5% of the adult population, have used methamphetamine at least once.
  • From 1992 to 2002, admissions to drug treatment facilities for misuse of the drug increased from 10 to 52 per 100 000 people.
  • The federal government estimates that more than 10,000 people died of meth-related drug overdoses last year.
  • An estimated 964,000 people aged 12 or older (about 0.4 percent of the population) had a methamphetamine use disorder in 2017. This number is significantly higher than the 684,000 people who reported having methamphetamine use disorder in 2016.
  • About 0.5 percent of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders had used methamphetamine within the past year (2017).
  • While methamphetamine is available across the US, the highest availability is in the US's western and midwestern regions; more than 70 percent of local law enforcement agencies from the pacific and west-central regions of the US report methamphetamine as the greatest drug threat in their area. Treatment admissions for methamphetamine as the primary substance of use were less than one percent in sites east of the Mississippi River but ranged from 12-29 percent in the areas west of the Mississippi.
  • Nationwide, overdose deaths from the category of drugs that includes methamphetamine increased by 7.5 times between 2007 and 2017.

Key Word List for Meth

Term Definition
Methamphetamine The full name of the shortened term, "meth." See full description in the first section, "What is Meth."
Amphetamine A class of stimulant drug which speeds up the central nervous system and can cause addiction if overused.
Stimulant Any drug which speeds up the activity of the central nervous system. Examples include meth, cocaine, caffeine, and amphetamines.
Central Nervous System The complex system of nerve tissues that controls the activities of the body. In humans, it comprises the brain and the spinal cord.
Speed A slang term used primarily for meth, but also may refer to amphetamine drugs in some circles.
Crank A term that was initially slang for meth but has become synonymous with an impure product, usually in powder form, and which may come in various colors.
Crystal A term for a very pure form of meth, which appears translucent or transparent and crystalline in texture. This appearance is usually indicative of potency and perceived quality.
Glass Another slang term for crystal.
Tweak A term that has a variety of uses in relation to meth. It can be used as a slang name for the drug. It can also be used as a verb to describe that act of "tweaking" or being extremely high on meth and behaving in a psychotic, erratic, or repetitive manner. A "tweaker" is also someone who uses meth regularly.
Meth Mouth A condition that occurs when someone uses meth frequently and chronically. Poor hygiene and the corrosive nature of the drug decay the teeth rapidly, and its stimulant properties cause muscle tension in the jaw and repetitive grinding. This damage is worsened by poor nutrition and dry mouth and the meth user's tendency to consume sugary foods, if they eat at all. The result is an extreme and rapid level of decay, which is unique to meth addiction.

CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE

Marcel Gemme, DATS - Author

More Information

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.


Michael Leach, CCMA - Medically Reviewed on September 17, 2021

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Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.

Truth about Meth