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Meth and amphetamines are stimulants, and people in the "high" stage of the drug have excited speech and increased physical activity, which may include compulsively cleaning or disassembling mechanical devices (even cars). They may also have high blood pressure, nausea, chest pain, diarrhea, and fever.
As the high wears off, the user may suffer withdrawal symptoms including weakness and shaking, difficulty breathing, hallucinations, and aggressive behavior.
Over time, an untreated meth addiction can lead to heart and neurological problems, psychosis, poor skin condition, sexual dysfunction, and a weakened immune system. One common symptom is "meth mouth," rapid and severe tooth decay common among meth users. Addicts often grind their teeth, consume sugared sodas to quench drug-induced thirst, and practice poor oral hygiene. Dental treatment of meth users has become a significant expense for some public health and prison systems.
Amphetamines began to be prescribed in the 1920s as a stimulant, and under various names both amphetamines and meth were used by the armed forces on both sides in World War II. Adolf Hitler is said to have received meth injections from his personal physician.
In the 1950s, meth and amphetamines were widely prescribed to Americans for treatment of everything from obesity to alcoholism. The illegal recreational use of meth began to grow in the 1960s, skyrocketed in the '80s, and may be continuing to grow today. Amphetamines are still prescribed for weight loss in some countries, but their use is regarded as dangerous and ineffective in the U.S. They are sometimes used illegally by long-haul truckers and others whose jobs require long periods of wakefulness.
At the same time, amphetamine-related drugs have found new, legitimate medical uses in treating attention-deficit disorder and narcolepsy.
Most health insurance policies cover only 30 days of inpatient drug treatment, but those who work with meth addicts say that may not be enough. One reason is that meth addicts spend months or years without getting enough sleep. In the initial phases of drug detox all the patient wants to do is sleep, an impulse that gets in the way of putting time into therapy and self-help that can lay the foundations for recovery.
There are no known medical treatments for meth addiction. The best known treatments involve a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and 12-step groups, including the rapidly growing Crystal Meth Anonymous. Inpatient treatment will include behavioral therapy to encourage drug-free patterns, and self-help groups can introduce a spiritual approach to healing and put the addict in touch with a community of recovering addicts.
Methamphetamine has been available for decades, but between 1993 and 2003, the number of people seeking treatment for meth addiction quadrupled. What's going on?
To start with, meth can be readily made using commonly available materials including cough medications. This means that meth addicts -- who once tended to be white, blue-collar males, but now increasingly include white-collar workers, young "ravers," gay men in urban settings, and rural teens -- often make their own supplies or trade in small, local groups. While some meth is imported by drug cartels, stopping this trade will not stop the demand for, and use of, the drug.
Increasingly, the drug is injected rather than smoked, snorted or taken in pill form, which provides a more intense euphoric experience, but also exposes users to greater risks of infection and unsafe sexual behavior. In addition, consumption of stronger forms of the drug may snare more casual users into addictive patterns.
Meth users say the drug makes them feel smarter, happier, more confident -- feelings they miss when the meth wears off in their systems. Recreational users who have quit the drug say they feel dull and stupid when it wears off. Yet over time, the drug actually destroys brain cells and induces depression. These effects become part of the addictive pattern -- "the vampire life," some call it -- as the user requires more and more of the drug to recapture the bright and shiny feelings.
Meth detox and initial residential treatment can take up to 30 days and should be conducted in a medically supervised environment, with treatment for underlying depression and other conditions. During meth addiction, users are likely to stop taking good care of themselves, so a meth detox program also includes proper nutrition, dental care, and treatment of any infections.
Treatment with antidepressants is common, and some people may require anticonvulsants to get through withdrawal.
Amphetamines are stimulant drugs that have been around for more than a century. They have some legitimate medical uses -- the U.S. Army, for instance, prescribes "go pills" (Dexedrine) for pilots who need to stay awake while flying long missions. Paradoxically, some amphetamines cause a calming reaction in people with attention-deficit disorder. It wasn't until 2006 that Major League Baseball explicitly banned amphetamine use by players and began testing them for the drugs, which were once common in clubhouses.
Amphetamines -- particularly methamphetamine, a stronger derivative of the standard "speed" pills -- are addictive, meaning a patient develops a physical dependence and a set of drug-seeking behaviors. They also have significant physical and emotional ill effects.
Meth addiction has become a growing cause of concern in drug detox programs and law enforcement settings, particularly in western states.
Yes, it will. Meth is the most commonly abused, and most dangerous illegal drug in the United States. It is made with several poisonous chemicals that you would be putting into your body by injection or smoking. The effects of meth are horrifying. If you're twenty years old, you'll look like a seventy-year-old. Your skin will atrophy and age rapidly. Your teeth and gums will rot in a condition called "Meth Mouth." You will be dangerously underweight and malnourished. You will become addicted to meth by your second use; you will commit crimes in order to obtain meth. You'll have sores all over your body. The average life span of a meth addict is five years after the addiction begins. Meth addiction is extremely difficult to treat, and relapse rates are very high. Yes, meth will harm you. In fact, it will destroy you.
New research is showing that successful meth treatment needs to last three months to a year, including both inpatient and outpatient components. One program currently being studied, the Matrix Model, is a framework for behavioral therapy that positions the therapist as teacher and coach in a positive, encouraging relationship, and includes elements of family therapy to involve supportive relatives in the patient's recovery.
Because meth addiction can virtually destroy the addict's life, research shows that effective treatment programs often include access to educational, vocational, and employment opportunities so that the addict has a chance to establish a stable existence.
Several medications for meth addiction are currently in the clinical trial phase, but none has yet been demonstrated to be effective.
In recent years, many children (most of them boys) have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). These behavioral problems make it difficult for them to sit still in class or focus on tasks. Some people with these disorders are not diagnosed until adulthood, by which time they may have suffered significant social and economic problems because of their illness.
Amphetamine-based medications, which are stimulants to most people, have paradoxically been found to have a calming effect on people with ADHD and ADD. Their use must be properly supervised because of the risk of dependency, but many patients experience significant increases in confidence, work and school performance, and ability to sustain relationships.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|