Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that was developed by pharmaceutical manufacturers for use in inhalers and decongestants. Also referred to as “crank,” “glass,” and “crystal meth,” methamphetamine is a crystalline powder that can dissolve in liquid. It is highly addictive and is classified as a Schedule II drug in the United States.
1.9 million Americans reported using methamphetamine in 2018. More than half of those people categorized their use of the drug as a disorder–that is, that their habit was causing significant negative consequences in their lives, including problems in health, career, school, and personal relationships.
Methamphetamine can be injected, snorted, smoked, swallowed, or dissolved into liquid and drunk. As with other drugs, injection produces the quickest and strongest high, with intravenous methamphetamine taking effect instantly. Smoking also delivers a fast, intense high, while snorting or oral ingestion leads can take several minutes longer to take effect.
Methamphetamine produces an intense, short-lived high, sometimes lasting only a few minutes. The high is euphoric, producing feelings of bliss and excitement throughout body and mind. Because the effects fade quickly, many users find themselves ingesting increasing amounts of the drug in order to reproduce and maintain their high and, in doing so, can rapidly develop a tolerance which forces them to use much larger quantities within a short timeframe.
Methamphetamine overdose occurs whenever a person takes enough of the drug to induce intense negative side effects. While overdose on methamphetamine is not as commonly fatal as overdose on certain other drugs, a overdose can lead to permanent brain damage, coma, stroke, or heart attack.
Because of the rapid tolerance buildup that a user experiences, the cravings to continue using the drug can drive them to use more and more in a short amount of time. This behavior can lead directly to overdose. Depending on the amount ingested, the effects of methamphetamine overdose can include:
Methamphetamine has gained a reputation for making its users’ teeth rot and fall out. This is for good reason: “meth mouth” is a real, irreversible consequence of smoking, snorting, or orally ingesting the drug. The drug also suppresses a user’s appetite, over time leading to extreme weight loss and dangerous levels of malnourishment. Other physical effects include lasting damage to the lungs, liver, and kidneys, and intensely high blood pressure in the heart and brain, which can cause fatal heart attacks, strokes, convulsions, and other forms of bodily shutdown.
On the mental level, methamphetamine is just as deadly. Short-term side effects include insomnia, hyperactivity or manic episodes, increased aggression, and extreme mood swings including anger, depression, anxiety, and panic. Continued methamphetamine use causes bizarre, erratic behavior, violent and aggressive tendencies, delusions and hallucinations, extreme paranoia, and long-term psychosis. Those who use the drug are at risk for developing permanent, untreatable brain damage similar to that caused by Alzheimer’s, epileptic fits, and strokes.
The process of methamphetamine withdrawal is fairly predictable and will vary in intensity and duration depending on the length and depth of an addiction and the quantity of the drug present in a user’s system. Many users begin to experience the onset of withdrawal symptoms within a day of their last use.
Methamphetamine withdrawal is marked by extreme fatigue, depression, strengthening drug cravings, and, in some cases, psychosis. This is one of the reasons it’s vital to go through detox and withdrawal under professional medical supervision. Psychosis causes powerful hallucinations, disorientation, and delusions similar to the effects of the drug itself. The acute phase of withdrawal can also include an intense desire for carbohydrates as the body regains an appetite that has been consistently suppressed by drug use.
As the initial withdrawal symptoms begin to subside, a patient will move into post-acute withdrawal, in which the more intense physiological symptoms have disappeared but the psychological symptoms linger on. For many, the post-acute phase lasts for several weeks, although for some these symptoms continue for months or years. This is known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. It can include anxiety, depression, and mental cravings for methamphetamine even when a person has been through treatment and is determined to get well. Dedicated care for Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome comes as part of a treatment program at most recovery facilities.
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