Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant. It can cause euphoric effects that often lead people to repeatedly use the drug. Because meth has properties that alter brain chemistry, people who use it become more vulnerable to meth addiction.
Addiction is a severe substance use disorder that causes chronic, compulsive drug-seeking. The addiction potential of meth is high.
People addicted to meth exhibit a number of signs and symptoms of meth use, including strong cravings, depression and fatigue. The physical, psychological and social repercussions of meth addiction can last a lifetime.
Meth use changes the brain. When a person uses the stimulant, a rush of a chemical called dopamine floods the brain. This chemical causes feelings of happiness, excitement and alertness.
“[Addiction develops] specifically because of the dopamine part,” Dr. Edward Bednarczyk of the University at Buffalo told DrugRehab.com. “You feel invincible. Your mind really begins to move quickly. There’s a heightened sexual drive. There’s just this feeling of everything feeling good, this euphoric rush that kind of covers you.”
Dr. Kevin Wandler, chief medical officer at Advanced Recovery Systems, told DrugRehab.com that meth is the most addictive drug because it releases much more dopamine than other addictive substances, including tobacco and alcohol.
“Whereas a cigarette or a glass of alcohol releases about 100 to 150 units of dopamine, meth [releases about] a thousand units of dopamine,” Wandler said.
The intense rush from meth lasts from five to 30 minutes, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research. But the residual effects, such as hyperactivity and good feelings, can linger for six to 12 hours.
“It’s not just that meth is binding or hitting the same brain receptors as dopamine,” Bednarczyk said. “It’s also going into the parts of the cells that store up the dopamine and causing just this massive release of stored dopamine within the brain. Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter that’s there. It’s the thing that drives a lot of the things that we normally do.”
After these feelings subside, the body is depleted of energy. This commonly leads to a depressed mood.
The combination of unpleasant feelings experienced when coming down from meth is called a crash. The crash causes fatigue, depression and intense cravings. Individuals often use more of the drug to alleviate these feelings.
Because the highs are intense and the lows are distressing, many meth users binge on the drug. They use it repeatedly to prolong its euphoric effects and to avoid the comedown. During this time, they often avoid eating or sleeping. They may repeat this behavior over and over again in a common pattern called binge and crash.
“As you start using that more regularly, you reach a point where you start binging,” Bednarczyk said. “You go three or four days of using this daily, of multiple doses over the course of a day, where you’re kinda just hitting yourself.”
Repetitive methamphetamine use increases a person’s tolerance to the drug. When tolerance increases, so does the risk for addiction.
Methamphetamine can be snorted, inhaled, injected or eaten. Some methods produce more intense euphoric effects than other methods of use. When smoking or injecting the stimulant, it quickly enters the bloodstream and brain.
“Usually it’s inhaled; therefore, it goes to your brain so quickly,” said Wandler. “Your high is immediate. It doesn’t last forever, but it is immediate.”
|Route||When Effects Are Felt|
|Snorting||3 to 5 minutes|
|Swallowing||15 to 20 minutes|
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the intense rush caused by smoking or injecting methamphetamine can increase the risk for addiction. With repeated use, people are more likely to want to experience the drug’s effects again.
Inhaling or injecting meth can result in immediate, extreme pleasure. Swallowing or snorting meth can also produce a high, but the effects are not nearly as strong and take longer to occur.
Because it is such a powerful drug, methamphetamine can lead to cravings after just one use. Addiction to the drug can develop quickly. Those who repeatedly use the stimulant increase their risk for a severe substance use disorder.
Addiction changes lives. Over time, people experience a number of physical changes, such as meth sores or meth mouth. Mental health, relationships, employment and overall well-being are also compromised.
Getting meth addiction treatment can help. Treatment incorporates evidence-based behavioral approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy and contingency management interventions, to treat methamphetamine abuse.
If you have questions about the addictiveness of meth, its effects or your options for rehab, contact a meth hotline. A representative can answer your questions and provide you with a list of nearby treatment centers.
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