Methamphetamine is among the most devastating drugs in the world.
It can turn a kind, well-intentioned person into a monster in a matter of weeks or months.
The main problem with meth is that it feels great. It boosts focus, gives feelings of euphoria, and confidence — It seems to make all your problems go away.
But there’s a dark side to this drug.
It’s highly addictive. Meth hijacks our limbic system — the part of the brain that controls instincts and motivations. It overrides our habits and replaces meth as the master of all intentions and habits.
People severely addicted to meth will do whatever it takes to get another hit of the drug, wreaking havoc on both the body and mind.
In this article, we’ll go over the following:
- What makes meth so addictive
- Why meth is so dangerous
- How to identify someone high on meth
- What the treatment options for meth are
- What to do if someone is overdosing on methamphetamines
What is Meth?
Meth or methamphetamine is a member of the amphetamine family of drugs characterized by their stimulating effects on the brain and nervous system.
In some cases, the stimulation is profound, causing serious side effects such as psychosis, hallucinations, seizures, or heart failure.
People use meth as a recreational drug for these stimulating effects. It causes a burst of neurotransmitter activity in the brain that produces feelings of euphoria and offers a temporary escape from the stresses of life.
These effects are only temporary — meth addiction always leads to an increase of stress symptoms along with a gamut of other serious health consequences.
Meth is a unique drug in that it’s highly stable — this means that it can be smoked, swallowed, snorted, or injected without affecting its potency.
What Does Meth Feel Like?
Youtuber Cg Kid — an ex-drug addict who now makes videos on Youtube to help users seek help for their addictions — says his “drug of choice” was always meth. He discusses what the high was like for him in a video he made in 2016.
Cg Kid describes the drug as “the greatest feeling in the world”. He felt confident, invincible.
It’s no wonder the drug is so addictive.
His first experience felt so good he had a spontaneous orgasm. He suggests that most people who try methamphetamines really enjoy it at first.
The key phrase here is “at first.”
Meth forces the brain to release copious amounts of dopamine.
Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters in the brain — it’s tasked with regulating the reward system.
The reward system is an evolutionary advantage mammals developed to reinforce activities that have a positive outcome for our survival as a species like eating, making social connections, and sex.
When we do something that benefits us, the brain releases a small dose of dopamine, which gives us a brief feeling of euphoria. This makes us want to perform the same activity again in the future to get another hit of dopamine.
Meth completely hijacks this system, forcing dopamine to exceptionally high levels in the brain. This gives us a feeling of intense euphoria.
It also forces another neurotransmitter, norepinephrine into high concentrations in the brain, This causes us to feel hyperstimulated, alert, and focused. This is the same neurotransmitter that activates the “fight or flight” response whenever we experience danger.
Over time, methamphetamines deplete dopamine levels, causing a to crash into all-time lows. We feel fatigued, depressed, and vulnerable. This makes us want another dose of meth to bring us out of the slump and back into the high.
We start to rely on the drug to feel anything at all, nothing we do gives us enough stimulation to make the reward circuit fire again — leaving us feeling down in the dumps and hopelessly unmotivated.
Other Factors That Contribute to the Addictive Potential of Meth:
- It’s closely associated with sex. Couples will often keep take it to enhance their sex life
- Smoking, snorting, or injecting meth becomes a ritual
- Meth makes boring, mundane activities more interesting — so a lot of students end up taking it as a way to boost their efforts
It’s important to remember that while meth may feel great initially, continued use will change the way this feels on the brain. Meth use evolves into something much more serious — it’s often referred to as the devil’s drug.
Cg Kid talks about what he believes is the worst part of meth addiction…
“Meth destroys your moral code — no matter who you are. Many people who are otherwise considered good-hearted people with strong morals eventually turn into animalistic monsters after just a few months of methamphetamine addiction”.
Eventually, the drug takes over all aspects of the reward circuit, nothing else in life matters more than getting more meth to stimulate the brain and escape the pain you feel while not on the drug — even if it means doing things you wouldn’t have dreamt of doing before the addiction.
The Rat Study: Drug Addiction Hijacks Our Brain
A rat study published in 2013 gives us powerful insight into the overriding of the reward system, and the habits and desires that come along with it when taking addictive drugs like meth and cocaine.
Here it is in more detail:
This particular rat study used a similar drug, cocaine , but the effects are easily translated to meth addiction as both involve changes to the reward system in the brain. Cocaine and meth both stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain — but the cocaine high is much shorter and causes less stimulation of dopamine than meth.
This study gave rats the option between either a dose of the dopamine-boosting cocaine, or food. Most of the mice in the study chose the drug over food.
The researchers concluded that dopaminergic drugs were able to override the normal reward system. They also highlighted differences in rats that didn’t behave this way. What this suggests is that not everyone has the same potential for addictive qualities.
How Long Does Meth Last?
One of the main reasons meth is so popular as a recreational drug is its long-duration of effects. Meth can las between 14 and 24 hours depending on the person and the purity of the meth.
This is very long when you compare it to most of the other common stimulants like cocaine (2 hours) or caffeine (6 hours).
The Horrors of Meth
Meth use usually begins with innocent intentions. People try the drug at parties or festivals purely for recreation or through prescription medications for treating ADHD (like Adderall).
Initially, the drug doesn’t seem so bad and users think they can stop using whenever they want. They start taking it frequently more often “for fun”.
Eventually, they reach a point where they feel “off” whenever they aren’t taking the drug, so they start taking it to feel normal again. When this happens, it means the user is becoming dependant on the drug. Without meth, users experience side-effects that can range from mildly uncomfortable, to debilitating.
This is when the real problems begin.
As dependency gets worse, the side-effects of not being on the drug become increasingly severe.
Common Side-Effects of Meth Dependency Include:
- Severe depression
- Psychotic symptoms
- Mood swings
- Inability to concentrate
- Loss of libido
- Severe cravings for the drug
Once dependency forms, most users take the drug in binges. It’s common for meth addicts to go on 10 or 15-day binges without eating, sleeping, or taking care of personal hygiene. They smoke meth for weeks at a time riding a continual high. As soon as the effects start to wear off and withdrawal symptoms appear, another dose is taken to avoid it.
Users will never experience the same euphoric high they felt the first few times they took the drug. They’re seeking a feeling they will never fully achieve.
Meth users feel brief moments of euphoria and release, followed by several hours or feeling just shy of happy. Many users describe this experience as torment.
After running out of money, many meth addicts crash and go without the drug for a while. This is when the withdrawals come in, often with debilitating results.
Meth withdrawals are particularly uncomfortable. Here are some user reports on meth withdrawal:
“You feel gross, your body feels like it’s been sweating meth out the pores, giving you acne and sores all over your body”.
“It makes you solitary, you feel weird and spaced out, often paranoid of other people, even your close friends, and especially your family.”
Side-Effects of Methamphetamine Withdrawal Include:
- Loss of moral code
- Severe depression
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Unending cravings for more meth
- Flu-like symptoms
- Weight loss/gain
- Social isolation
Meth is highly addictive — hijacking the reward center of the brain responsible for controlling our urges and habits.
Some people become addicted to methamphetamines after just one dose of the drug; others need to take it a few times before their brain starts craving the euphoric high it produces.
Signs of Meth Addiction
1. Physical Signs of Meth Addiction
- Loss and discoloration of teeth
- Visible sores on the face and neck
- Lean build
2. Behavioral Signs & Symptoms
- Changes in behavior
- Erratic patterns of coming and going
- Changes of associates
- A weakening of social or work obligations
Meth Addiction Treatment Options
An addiction to meth can be treated with the care and support of experienced health professionals and the application of a few drug therapies or group therapies.
The gold standard of meth addiction treatment is to stay at a rehabilitation center.
A rehabilitation center has the tools and trained staff needed to support the recovery process — which can be harrowing for most. The side-effects of withdrawal on meth are extremely uncomfortable.
Treatment usually involves a few different stages.
Stage 1: Detox
The first stage is to detox the drug from the body. This is the most uncomfortable part as it involves tapering off the dosage of the drug gradually over time until the body is no longer dependant on it. This can take anywhere from a few days to about 4 weeks depending on the severity of the addiction.
Stage 2: Rehabilitation
The second stage takes much longer but is arguably the most important step. During this stage, the user goes through workshops, support group meetings, and separation from the original triggers surrounding drug use.
By taking the user out of their normal environment and placing them into a rehab facility, they can gradually eliminate old habits and cravings that lead kept them in the cycle of drug addiction.
For best results, most rehabilitation centers suggest a 90-day stay in a rehabilitation center. Some users choose to stay for shorter durations, while others stay longer.
Stage 3: Continued Support
The third stage is a continued consultation with psychologists or counselors and regular support group meetings. This stage is also incredibly important to maintain sobriety.
Many meth users relapse after leaving rehab when they’re surrounded by the same people and triggers. Keeping the new habit gained during rehab takes some effort and continued support.
What to Do if Someone You Love is Addicted to Meth
You can’t make anybody go to rehab unwillingly (unless they’re considered a minor, of course). And oftentimes, meth addicts don’t’ want help. All you can do if this is the case is to make it clear that the support is available if they need it—prepared to jump in to help when they show an interest in quitting. They need to make this decision for themselves for treatment to be truly effective.
You can’t change the mind of someone addicted to meth. Their brain is so deeply attached to the drug it can be impossible to let go. Treatment won’t work unless those affected make the decision to seek help for themselves. You need to remain available and ready to give them as much help as they’re willing to take when and if the time comes.
Meth can easily result in overdose. The intense stimulation in the central nervous system as a result of the drug can lead to heart attacks, strokes, or kidney failures — all of which can lead to death.
Meth overdose can happen unexpectedly. As users take the drug in ever increasing doses due to the formation of tolerance, it can eventually reach lethal doses without any warning.
Signs of a Meth Overdose
- Rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Weakness on one side of the body
- Slurred speech
- Inability to understand the speech of others
Summary: Meth Addiction & Overdose
Methamphetamines are one of the most commonly abused drugs in the world. By increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, the drug causes intense feelings of euphoria and mental stimulation.
Meth addiction usually begins innocently as users take the drug at parties or music festivals to be able to stay awake longer. Some people even use it to improve their performance at work or school, thanks to its ability to increase dopamine.
The problem begins after just a few days or a few weeks after starting with meth. The drug quickly hijacks the reward center in the brain—overriding survival instincts. Instead, it forces higher regions in the brain to seek more meth. Users become increasingly ill and emotions can change dramatically. Many users isolate themselves from friends and family, are financially inept, and oftentimes homeless.
Treatment for methamphetamines is possible and highly effective — but only if the user accepts treatment. The best thing to do if you know someone addicted to meth is to have a plan in place to send them to rehab and make yourself available whenever they show any indication that they want to recover.
- Schwendt, M., Rocha, A., See, R. E., Pacchioni, A. M., McGinty, J. F., & Kalivas, P. W. (2009). Extended methamphetamine self-administration in rats results in a selective reduction of dopamine transporter levels in the prefrontal cortex and dorsal striatum not accompanied by marked monoaminergic depletion. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 331(2), 555-562.
- Weissman, A. D., & Caldecott‐Hazard, S. (1995). Developmental neurotoxicity to methamphetamines. Clinical and Experimental pharmacology and physiology, 22(5), 372-374.
- Paratz, E. D., Cunningham, N. J., & MacIsaac, A. I. (2016). The cardiac complications of methamphetamines. Heart, Lung and Circulation, 25(4), 325-332.
- Sheff, N. (2009). Tweak: Growing up on methamphetamines. Simon and Schuster.