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Methamphetamine Addiction Fast Facts

In 2017, approximately 1.6 million Americans reported having used methamphetamine in the previous year. About 774,000 people used the drug in the previous month.

About a million Americans over the age of 12 use methamphetamine to the point that it has a significant negative impact on their lives.

The average age at which users first try methamphetamine is just over 23 years old. About half of one percent of American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders have used methamphetamine in the past year. Methamphetamine is most prevalent in the Western and Midwestern regions of the United States.

Methamphetamine accounted for 15% of drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2017.

What is Methamphetamine Addiction?

Methamphetamine is a strong man-made stimulant drug that is highly addictive. It is often sold in a solid, crystalline form called crystal methamphetamine, crystal meth, or simply meth or crystal. It is chemically related to amphetamine, a drug with some legitimate medical uses, but methamphetamine is an illicit drug that is illegal to use or possess.

Methamphetamine is typically consumed by heating the crystals and inhaling the vapors produced. It can also be ground into a powder and inhaled through the nose, swallowed, or mixed with water or alcohol and injected.

The drug produces a quick, intense high characterized by feelings of euphoria, alertness, and energy. The effects are fast to develop, and they last longer than those of many drugs, with the high typically lasting between 6 and 24 hours. The depressed mood that follows the high, however, often encourages users to consume multiple doses in succession to maintain the high.

Symptoms of Methamphetamine Addiction

Methamphetamine works by increasing levels of a brain chemical called dopamine, a naturally occurring substance that stimulates the brain’s pleasure centers and produces feelings of well-being. As meth use continues, the brain’s response to dopamine changes, causing the user to need higher and more frequent doses of the drug to feel well. A dependency on the drug develops, and if the user stops using, they will have unpleasant and potentially harmful symptoms of withdrawal.

Signs of methamphetamine addiction include:

  • Inability to stop using even when you try
  • Intense cravings or intrusive thoughts about using methamphetamine
  • Continuing to use even when your drug use is causing harm
  • Failing to meet your responsibilities because of methamphetamine use
  • Needing more of the drug as time goes on
  • Taking risks in order to get and use the drug
  • Feeling unwell when you stop using methamphetamine

Symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Psychotic episodes (mental breaks with reality)

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

What Causes Methamphetamine Addiction?

Addiction to methamphetamine seems to occur when repeated exposure to the drug changes the way that the brain responds to dopamine, a chemical that enables communication between nerve cells in the brain. Some studies have suggested that the use of the drug may change the way that different parts of the brain communicate with one another. Eventually, those parts of the brain are unable to communicate normally without the presence of the drug. The result is unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that only go away with more drug use.

Most people who use methamphetamine just once do not become addicted. However, meth has a particularly high addiction liability, meaning that it is more likely than many other drugs to trigger dependency on its users.

Also, some factors increase the likelihood that a given individual will develop a dependence on methamphetamine. These risk factors include:

  • Family history. People who have close relatives who have suffered from drug addiction are more likely to develop an addiction themselves.
  • Abuse of other substances. Methamphetamine abuse often occurs in conjunction with the abuse of other drugs or alcohol.
  • Use in childhood or adolescence. The earlier in life that methamphetamine is first used, the more likely the user is to develop an addiction.
  • Mental illness. Drugs are often used as a coping tool by people with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental illnesses.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Is Methamphetamine Addiction Hereditary?

The reasons that people become addicted to methamphetamine and other drugs are, without question, complex. Some of the most important factors that increase the risk of addiction are environmental; that is, they come from outside the user and influence his or her behavior. Peer pressure may push an individual toward drug use and living in an environment in which drug use is prevalent increases the likelihood of drug use.

Scientists have long recognized, however, that there also seems to be an inherited genetic component to addiction risk. People who have a drug-addicted parent are at a greater risk of addiction themselves, and studies that have ruled out external influences strongly suggest that the increased risk comes from genes.

The exact genetic mechanism that increases addiction risk, however, has not yet been determined. Many different genes may be involved, and addiction may stem from a complicated interaction between multiple genes and other factors.

One study has identified a gene that may be linked specifically to methamphetamine addiction susceptibility. According to a Boston University School of Medicine study, heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein H1 (Hnrnph1) gene seems to produce a sensitivity to the effects of methamphetamine. The gene has not been linked to a sensitivity to other stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Methamphetamine Addiction Detected?

In the early stages of chronic abuse, meth users will often attempt to hide their drug use. As the addiction progresses and the drug use becomes more intense, the abusive behavior typically becomes more apparent. Early detection of dependence is important because the sooner a user gets treatment, the better the chance of recovery.

Warning signs that a loved one may be abusing or addicted to methamphetamine include:

  • Loss of interest in social interaction or pleasurable activities
  • Hyperactivity or restlessness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Irritability, moodiness, or agitation
  • Insomnia or altered sleep patterns
  • Reduced appetite or weight loss
  • Paranoia
  • Burns on the fingers or lips
  • Bouts of lethargy, depression, fatigue, or sleepiness

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Methamphetamine Addiction Diagnosed?

To determine whether or not a patient has an addiction to methamphetamine, a doctor will look for indications that the patient is using the drug, as well as a pattern of use that suggests dependency. Diagnostic steps can include:

  • Blood and laboratory tests. These tests will look for indications that the patient is using methamphetamine. They will also look for conditions that may be caused by methamphetamine use.
  • Medical and psychological history. The doctor will determine whether the patient has a history of substance abuse or mental illness. The doctor will also ask the patient directly about the frequency and intensity of methamphetamine use or the presence of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Family history. The doctor will look for evidence of abuse of drugs among the patient’s family members.
  • Psychological evaluation. A formal diagnosis of abuse of methamphetamine is made by comparing the patient’s condition with criteria contained in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition (DSM-V).

The symptoms that indicate methamphetamine abuse include:

  • Strong desire to take the drug
  • Tolerance (a need for an increased amount of methamphetamine to maintain its effects)
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Use of more of the drug than the user initially intended to use
  • Desire to quit, or unsuccessful attempts to quit using the drug
  • Spending significant time, effort, and money to acquire the drug
  • Drug use interferes with important activities or obligations
  • Drug use continues even when the user knows it causes harm
  • Drug use in dangerous locations or situations

The presence of the symptoms will determine whether the user can be diagnosed with a mental illness called stimulant use disorder. The presence of 2-3 of the symptoms will indicate a mild form of the disorder. The presence of 6 or more symptoms indicates a severe disorder.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Methamphetamine Addiction Treated?

Researchers are looking for medications that may counter the changes that methamphetamine makes in the brain or that will alleviate some of the cognitive impairments caused by chronic methamphetamine use.

In addition to drug-based therapies, behavioral or group-based psychotherapies are also commonly used to treat methamphetamine addiction. In general, drug-treatment organizations recommend that dependent users enter a treatment program that lasts at least 90 days.

  • Medications. The antidepressant bupropion (brand name Wellbutrin) has shown the ability to improve the drug-use behavior of patients who are low-to-moderate users of methamphetamine. Modafinil, a drug used to treat narcolepsy, has shown promise in helping methamphetamine users to avoid relapse once they have begun a treatment program.
  • Contingency Management Therapy (CM). This type of therapy, also called motivational therapy, rewards patients for successfully abstaining from drug use. The rewards, monetary or otherwise, are given to patients when they successfully reach milestones of abstinence. This approach is also used to treat cocaine dependence, and it’s especially useful as the first step in a broader treatment plan.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This type of psychotherapy helps drug users to recognize the triggers that prompt their drug use. The therapy also focuses on developing strategies and techniques for dealing with those triggers when they occur. CBT is effective at preventing relapses once the patient has begun to abstain from drug use.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Does Methamphetamine Addiction Progress?

Even in the short term, methamphetamine use can have detrimental effects on the user, including anxiety, paranoia, and aggressive or violent behavior.

An overdose of methamphetamine can be fatal and is a risk even for the casual or first-time user. Overdoses often occur when an inexperienced user mimics the behavior of an experienced user or when a user relapses after a period of abstinence. Signs of a methamphetamine overdose include:

  • Chest pain
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Hyperthermia (high body temperature)

Long-term health consequences of methamphetamine use can include:

  • Depressed mood. A “crash” after each high typically leads to a period of lethargy and low mood.
  • Withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include lethargy or restlessness, depression, increased appetite, suicidal thoughts, and intense cravings for the drug.
  • Learning disabilities
  • Motor function problems
  • Attention-deficit
  • Planning, organizational, and reasoning deficits
  • Pulmonary arterial hypertension (damaging high blood pressure in the lungs)
  • Psychosis or other mental illness
  • Dental problems. Methamphetamine users typically neglect oral hygiene.
  • Skin problems
  • HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. Methamphetamine users often engage in risky sexual behavior.

Many of the severe health problems caused by chronic methamphetamine use can take years to resolve after the patient stops using the drug. Some of the effects may be permanent.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How Is Methamphetamine Addiction Prevented?

Research suggests that drug-education programs can reduce methamphetamine use and abuse among young people, particularly in communities where the drug is prevalent. Studies of education and drug-abuse-prevention programs in rural Iowa, for example, showed the programs appear to have reduced methamphetamine use among high-school students after those students participated in the programS as middle-schoolers.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Methamphetamine Addiction Caregiver Tips

  • Don’t support abusive behavior. You may be tempted to try to protect your loved one from the consequences of their drug use. However, the insulation you provide can get in the way of their motivation to quit. Instead, be loving and encouraging, but don’t help them to get away with the behavior that’s hurting them.
  • Protect yourself. If your loved one is violent or abusive, remove yourself from situations that put you in danger. Take steps, too, to prevent your loved one from exploiting you financially to support their drug use.
  • Be firm and consistent. Your loved one will almost certainly move repeatedly between blaming you for their problems and expecting your help. The vacillations are difficult to cope with, but you’ll do best if you stay consistent in the way you respond to your loved one’s behavior.
  • Find the support you need. Don’t spend all your energy on taking care of your loved one without taking care of yourself. Pay attention to your physical health, and get help from a therapist and/or a support group when you need it.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Methamphetamine Addiction Brain Science

Methamphetamine creates feelings of euphoria by increasing the levels of dopamine in the user’s brain. Dopamine is a chemical called a neurotransmitter, a kind of compound that helps the brain’s nerve cells communicate with each other. Dopamine is released when we do something pleasurable–like eat our favorite foods or have sex–so the artificially high level of the dopamine produced by methamphetamine results in an intense good feeling.

The problem is that long-term use of meth changes the way that the brain’s nerve cells respond to dopamine, making it more and more difficult for the user to experience good feelings. Eventually, the drug promotes a rewiring of the brain’s nerve circuitry that prevents parts of the brain from communicating with each other effectively.

It’s this rewiring that causes long-term neurological effects in methamphetamine users, including depression, anxiety, and problems with decision-making, memory, and motor skills. It may take years for the damage to improve even after the user entirely abstains from drug use, and in some cases, the impairments may be permanent.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Methamphetamine Addiction Research

Scientists are working on several research projects to expand on what is known about Methamphetamine Addiction.  The research will improve knowledge about the factors that increase the risk for Methamphetamine Addiction, as well as the causes, and best treatments, and will aid people living with Methamphetamine Addiction and their caregivers.

We are currently gathering the information required to support projects such as Pharmacogenetics of Naltrexone for Stimulant Abuse, and Study of Antibody for Methamphetamine Outpatient Therapy (STAMPOUT)and rTMS for Craving in Methamphetamine Use Disorder.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

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