As with any drug, you may initially start taking crystal meth occasionally. Whether you do so to boost your mood, feel more energized or increase your sexual performance, you may find that you start abusing meth more frequently to experience the high that it gives you and to avoid the unpleasant effects you experience when the drug wears off. Tolerance to methamphetamine can also encourage you to take the drug in higher doses, as your body becomes accustomed to the drug with time, so you need more to give you the same thrill. The intense hit of meth and its tolerance makes it easy to develop a dependency, and soon addiction can set in.
The signs of an addiction to meth are shown physically, emotionally and through your behaviors. Your body suffers owing to the direct impact taking crystal meth can have on you, though indirect harm can also occur if its effects cause you to neglect yourself or inflict unintentional damage. Meanwhile, you suffer mentally, as crystal meth does more than simply trigger feelings of euphoria; it also brings on disturbing psychological symptoms that can persist long after you quit your habit. When meth hijacks your brain, you also change your behaviors, prioritizing activities connected to drug taking over all others, which means that you life can suffer in many ways. While you might not be able to see the worrying signs of meth use and abuse yourself, these will become increasingly obvious to your friends and family, who will no doubt coax you towards treatment for methamphetamine dependency.
The Effects of Methamphetamine
Addiction is able to develop due to the effects meth has on your brain. Whether you ingest, snort, smoke or inject meth, it enters your blood and is quickly delivered to your brain. As methamphetamine has a similar size, shape and structure to the chemical messenger dopamine, it is able to enter your nerve cells, as your brain mistakes it for dopamine. Once in your brain cells meth triggers the release of huge amounts of dopamine, and as this chemical controls feelings of pleasure, you feel euphoric, which can last for much of the day. However, when these intense feelings of pleasure come to an end, you “crash” and experience unpleasant feelings such as depressed mood, anxiety and panic. It is common among meth users to repeatedly take the drug to avoid experiencing the symptoms of a crash, but with ongoing exposure to the methamphetamine you will soon find that you no longer enjoy other pleasurable activities in your life, so crystal meth is the only thing that can pick you up.
As dopamine regulates more than just feelings of pleasure, and meth can impact on serotonin and norepinephrine production as well, this can lead to a range of symptoms beyond euphoria. You may therefore feel more awake, more active, less hungry, more irritable and even experience feelings of aggression. Beyond the way you feel, methamphetamine also affects your cardiovascular system, raising your heart rate and blood pressure, which makes the drug especially dangerous if you have a pre-existing heart problem, though anyone can suffer an adverse cardiac event after taking meth.
In the longer term the overstimulation of your brain cells by meth leads to damage of those that produce dopamine and serotonin, which can persist even after you stop abusing methamphetamine. This may explain the paranoia and hallucinations seen in chronic meth users and recovered addicts.
Signs of a Meth User
Once you become a regular user of methamphetamine, the symptoms of meth use are clearly visible for others to see, even if you choose to ignore them yourself. As Houston Community College discusses, the main physical symptoms of meth abuse include:
- Skin changes. As crystal meth destroys your blood vessels, this makes your skin more susceptible to damage, as it doesn’t receive the vital nutrients it needs from your blood supply to stay in good health, so your skin appears less lustrous and loses its elasticity. For the same reason this damage takes longer to repair, so sores and acne take longer to heal. You will also find that if you hallucinate, you may believe there are bugs crawling under your skin, which can cause you to pick your skin, leading to yet more sores and scars.
- Meth mouth. This is where your methamphetamine habit leads to discoloration of your teeth, which break and start to rot, though once the process starts it usually isn’t possible to save your teeth. A range of factors are believed to contribute to tooth decay. Meth itself is corrosive, but reduced blood supply to your mouth and drying of your salivary glands can also contribute to poor oral health. Neglecting oral hygiene and relying on sugary drinks and snacks can additionally lead to dental decay.
- Significant weight loss. Even if you originally take meth to promote weight loss, the impact it has on your appetite and activity levels mean that you may quickly lose more weight than you intended to. For crystal meth users who are already a healthy weight, this can leave you looking frail and malnourished.
Items of meth paraphernalia are also a giveaway of your habit. For instance, if you leave the triangular corner cut bags that you get your methamphetamine in lying around, along with their twist ties, this may alert others who are clued up on how meth is distributed. If you snort meth, the cut-off straws and hollowed pens are also an indication of your drug use. Alternatively, meth smoking equipment, such as the aluminum foil and glass tubes melted at one end, is another clue to family and friends that you are abusing crystal meth.
Not all the signs of using meth are visible though. You may notice yourself that your heart rate speeds up after taking methamphetamine and you may feel hot and flushed. You may find that you come down with more infections as you aren’t taking such good care of yourself. Over time more serious signs of meth may become apparent, such as damage to your heart or liver, but if you neglect to visit your doctor if feeling unwell or experiencing unusual symptoms, these problems may go undetected till they are more advanced. When meth abuse becomes addiction, it certainly increases your risk of lasting health problems.
Crystal Meth Addiction
Figures from 2012 reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate that 1.2 million Americans abused meth during the previous year. While more than 400,000 people were using the drug each month, this is a decline from more than 700,000 monthly users in 2006. However, worryingly, a typical new meth user is just 19 years old. A survey by the CDC indeed shows that for some people methamphetamine use starts in high school, with 3.2% of students from grades 9 to 12 reporting they had taken the drug at least once. While not all users of meth become addicts, certain factors increase the risk that young people will abuse methamphetamine and become addicted. As a study published in the journal BMC Paediatrics points out, risk factors for methamphetamine abuse include a family history of substance abuse, poor mental health, personal use of heroin, other opiates, alcohol or tobacco, and taking risks during sex. Young women also appear more likely to abuse meth, possibly owing to its potential as a weight loss aid.
As an addiction to meth leads to users taking increasingly high doses of the drug, you are more likely to experience adverse effects, including an overdose, that requires hospital admission. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s DAWN report, which was published earlier this year, investigated emergency department visits due to meth and showed that more people are accessing emergency medical care due to methamphetamine use. Emergency department visits rose by around 50% over a four year period to almost 103,000 and the majority of cases involved use of meth with another drug, most commonly marijuana and alcohol. While around 60% of methamphetamine users were treated in the emergency department and discharged, the remainder required admission for treatment of more serious symptoms of methamphetamine abuse.
Meth Addiction Signs
As an addiction to methamphetamine quickly develops, it becomes harder to hide your habit from others, as symptoms of addiction are easy to recognize. As a Government resource reports, common meth addict symptoms include:
- Dilated pupils, which are typically accompanied by fast eye movements
- Evidence of weight loss and an unhealthy frame
- Significant tooth decay
- Skin sores and scarring, though the face may also appear pale and sweaty
- Strong and unpleasant odor from the body due to the release of chemicals from meth via the skin
Looking beyond the physical signs of methamphetamine addiction, once dependent on the drug it becomes increasingly hard to function normally, which can take its toll on your life in many ways. For example, as with other drugs, meth reduces workplace productivity and increases the chance that you will be absent from work. Either may lead to you losing your job, as may obvious meth addiction symptoms. Once unemployed this can lead to financial hardship, as your drug habit will make it increasingly hard to find work. For some addicts this may lead to homelessness and conditions on the streets can reinforce your habit even more, using meth to suppress your appetite and stay awake at night. A meth addict’s family will also suffer, not just from the pain of seeing a loved one in the grip of meth addiction, but also from the neglect that is likely to accompany methamphetamine abuse. Getting help with crystal meth is the only way to successfully break this habit and regain control of your life.
Crystal Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
When dependent on crystal meth, your body protests during drug withdrawal as it no longer has its usual supply of methamphetamine. While not usually life-threatening, these meth withdrawal symptoms can make you more likely to relapse due to their severity, which is why it is recommended that you should take part in a supervised program of meth detox so that your symptoms can be monitored and you get the support you need to stay on track. The symptoms when withdrawing from meth tend to be psychological in nature rather than the physical symptoms you may experience when going through an alcohol or opiate detox, though you may find that during a detox from meth that you experience extreme tiredness and hunger. Research shows that methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms tend to peak within the first day of abstinence, with depression and psychosis improving during the course of the first week to the point where they have largely resolved. However, cravings for crystal meth persist for longer, with meth cravings remaining significant for the initial fortnight and persisting for around five weeks. Although currently no medication is available to help with the symptoms of meth withdrawal, research continues to find one that will help addicts get over the withdrawal symptoms of methamphetamine use.
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