According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamines are a type of highly addictive stimulant amphetamine drug. This drug gives its users a quick “high” and a rapid crash, therefore, it causes a person to get addicted quickly. Often methamphetamine users will binge use for days, using every couple of hours to continue their effects. This can lead to exhaustion from not sleeping and weight loss from a decreased appetite.
Unfortunately, the nationwide use of methamphetamines is rising quickly. This stems from the fact that it can be made in backyard “super-labs” from over-the-counter medications, and is cheaper than other illicit drugs (much cheaper and lasts longer than cocaine). There are also a variety of ways that meth can be used including, smoking, snorting, injection, or pill form. But what makes this drug so popular?
When an individual uses methamphetamines, it increases the release of a natural hormone in the body called Dopamine. Dopamine is the pleasure and reward hormone in your brain. It is what makes you feel happy or gleeful. When the body experiences a rush of dopamine it can cause a person to feel a flood of pleasant feelings in their brain. This is why users become addicted so quickly. Your brain and body naturally crave that rush of Dopamine, but normally at much lower levels than what is created through methamphetamine use, confusing your brain into thinking that you need it all the time. In turn, an addict can be created, even from just one use.
Using Methamphetamines can cause a plethora of short and long-term effects. Short term negative effects include increased heart rate, high blood pressure, faster breathing, decreased appetite, and the inability to sleep. These side effects can lead to other health problems such as exhaustion or heart attack. Methamphetamines can also lead to the use of other drugs such as cocaine or other stimulants.
Long term effects from the use of methamphetamine include depression, severe dental problems (also known as “meth mouth”), uncontrollable itching, which can lead to skin sores, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, confusion, and even violent behavior. Many users have impaired judgement and this leads to risky behaviors, such as sharing needles and having unprotected sex. This puts individuals at risk of contracting diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.
Recent studies have even linked cognitive problems with those who use methamphetamines. Research has proven that individuals who use methamphetamines can have difficulty with thinking, understanding, and learning. Many of the people in the study reportedly had a loss of emotions and memory as well. Some studies have even linked methamphetamine use to Parkinson’s Disease later in life.
While there isn’t an approved medication that can help with methamphetamine addiction, it has been found that currently the most effective treatment are behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral and contingency management therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps individuals learn to identify, avoid, and manage feelings associated with their drug use. Individuals are encouraged to seek out help to manage their addiction. Below is a list of resources for more information on methamphetamines.
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Dr. Chung is a Fullerton psychiatrist, and will post blog articles about all things related to mental health.