Methamphetamine, more commonly known as meth – in all its many forms – is a very potent stimulant used both medically and illegally for recreational purposes. At the pharmacist’s, methamphetamine is known as Desoxyn, a rare prescription for severe cases of ADHD where amphetamine (Adderall) is not effective enough. Methamphetamine is known as a dangerous drug, ravaging the lives of men and women throughout the Midwest and in cities from coast-to-coast – yet it can potentially save lives.
Like other drugs found both in illegal labs and in the pill boxes of honest and law-abiding Americans, methamphetamine is neither evil nor virtuous. It’s a substance that can be highly addictive, with a few limited medical uses, and a long history of abuse and overdose – much like opioids, cocaine, and sedatives.
Most cases of methamphetamine addiction do not begin with prescription drugs, though. They begin with meth off the street, sold either in crystal or powder form, and often with uncertain purity. To understand why this substance – which many cook from home – can do so much harm, it’s important to know why meth is dangerous.
Why Meth is Dangerous
Despite its positive effects – including improved mood and focus – methamphetamine is incredibly addictive and can lead to substantial amounts of brain damage.
Taken recreationally or in larger doses, methamphetamine is an aphrodisiac and a neurotoxin, leading to damaged serotonin neurons and a reduction in the brain’s grey matter. Methamphetamine also heavily affects the release of dopamine into the system, as well as epinephrine – two chemicals that are linked to euphoria, happiness, and addiction. Unnatural levels of dopamine – such as those released during a “high” – can lead to drug tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and physical dependence.
Overuse of methamphetamine can lead to psychosis (hearing and seeing things that aren’t real), anxiety, muscle spasms, cerebral bleeding, violent behavior, and wild mood swings.
Long-term methamphetamine users often suffer self-inflicted skin lacerations and struggle with bad hygiene due to overuse of the drug. Dental problems are also often associated with methamphetamine use, due to nervous bruxism (teeth grinding), xerostomia (dry mouth), and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Used recreationally for sex, methamphetamine can increase the risk of sexually-transmitted diseases due to open sores in both the mouth and genital area.
While generally taken to improve academic or athletic performance, too much can lead to several psychological issues including extreme anxiety, severe depression, suicidal thinking, suicide, and psychosis. In some individuals, meth use can lead to violent behavior.
Going into Recovery
The recovery process for methamphetamine is like other drugs, albeit with certain unique risks. Methamphetamine poses a higher risk of post-acute withdrawal symptoms, which means that after the initial withdrawal period, it is possible to experience a reoccurrence of cravings, shivers, nausea, and more.
Because meth is a highly addictive substance with a high risk of relapse (and high availability in many parts of the country), it’s generally recommended to seek out residential treatment at a rehabilitation clinic or a sober living facility. Both are helpful for facilitating recovery, as they provide drug-free environments and access to several different programs and amenities to improve the recovery process.
Therapy is a big part of recovery, whether one-on-one, in groups, or both. While the first phase of recovery is meant to help people break free from their addiction and regain a clearer sense of reality, the rest of the recovery process is spent tackling cravings and stress, finding ways to stay clean despite life’s challenges and temptations.
It all starts with getting help. Doctors and therapists can refer you to special clinics and facilities in your area, and there are many organizations who specialize in addiction treatment and sober living.
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine has two uses: a medical use and a recreational use. Medically, prescribed methamphetamine taken in very low doses can elevate mood, improve alertness and concentration, and reduce appetite (and induce weight loss). It is sometimes prescribed for severe narcolepsy, a dangerous disorder that causes people to fall asleep at random, even while standing (usually leading to falls, and possible head trauma).
For decades, highly competitive school environments have also led to some students utilizing methamphetamine and amphetamine, to improve studying and lose weight. Historically, combat pilots used meth and amphetamine to stay awake and stay sharp, as late as the Persian Gulf War.
The production of methamphetamine is incredibly hazardous. Each pound of pure meth produces about six pounds of toxic waste – if produced in the outdoors, methamphetamine production kills off nearby vegetation and contaminates ground water. Most meth on the streets is produced in specialized “super labs”, smuggled in through Mexico or China, created in controlled environments that regularly test for purity.
However, a lot of meth is produced in poorly ventilated run-down buildings, suburban houses, cars, trailer homes, and a variety of other areas, often leading to health issues in meth “cooks”. Meth is rarely sold in its pure form, and most meth on the street is mixed with filler to maximize profits.
Unlike a few other common illicit substances, methamphetamine is entirely synthetic and requires no plant matter. Genuine marijuana, heroin, and cocaine all require a source for the base product: cannabis, poppy, and coca. Methamphetamine, on the other hand, is derived from precursors – select over-the-counter medicines, as well as chemicals that are often shipped internationally for research and/or industrial use. Because it requires very little material to produce – much of which is legally available – homemade meth is common in America, leading to fires and worse.
Methamphetamine and Amphetamine
Despite being chemically similar, methamphetamine and amphetamine are quite different. Methamphetamine is much more potent, and far more hazardous to the brain, although the effects are similar. Due to its increased potency, methamphetamine is also much more addictive. While amphetamines are usually used illicitly in their prescription drug form, most meth is illegally produced and sold in powder form, usually mixed with inert or potentially dangerous filler.
Neither drug is meant for recreational use – but many people walk down the road to a meth addiction without fully understanding all the risks, or what it can do to them. There are many treatment facilities that specialize in drug addiction, and a methamphetamine addiction can be treated through detox, recovery, therapy, and a long-term treatment plan to avoid relapses.
The road to long-term sobriety is different for everyone, both in length and nature. But with the right treatment, you can get clean and stay clean.