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Methamphetamine Addiction

The popular image of the Methamphetamine addict is that of the wild eyed ‘tweaker’, up for hours and days at a time and commonly ingesting a noxious drug that is cooked in a kitchen laboratory. While it is true that the drug is easy – if highly dangerous – to make in a relatively simply equipped laboratory the origins of it are from the laboratories of some of the most highly respected drug companies and it was used from 1944 for many different cures including Chronic Alcoholism and mild depression. In the last few years it has become a trendy drug for the rave generation, often used in conjunction with MDMA (Ecstasy).

Methamphetamine – origins and legal status

The drug was first synthesised from Ephedrine in 1893 by the noted Japanese chemist Nagai Nagayoshi and given the name Methamphetamine from its constituent parts: methylalpha-methylphenyletylamine. It was further synthesised into a crystallised form in 1919, again in Japan, and then in 1943 Abbot Labs in the US applied for approval from the USFDA for a drug to treat narcolepsy, mild depression, parkinsons, chronic alcoholism and even hay fever. It was approved for all these as well as cerebral arteriosclerosis but gradually the approvals were removed, until it is now only approved for use in treatment of ADHD and exogenous obesity – it is also still recognised as being highly effective in the treatment of narcolepsy.

It was used by both Allied forces and the Axis powers in WWII – the German army gave it to tank and aircraft crews to aid concentration and it is rumored that it was given to Adolf Hitler although whether it was to cure his parkinsons or was actually a cause is unclear.

It has been illegal to possess the drug and to own the materials for ‘cooking’ the drug since 1983 and subsequent acts in the US, Canada and the UK have increased the penalties for manufacture or f use. In the UK it is a Class-A drug, ranked with Heroin and Crack Cocaine

Methamphetamine addiction: usage and effects

Methamphetamine addicts use the drug in a number of ways:

  • Oral Ingestion
  • Inhalation as a crystal
  • Inhalation from smoke
  • Injection

It directly stimulates the brain cells by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, and in so doing creates euphoric feelings with high levels of energy and a restless mood. The high generally lasts between 2 and 18 hours but can be ‘topped up’ to keep the users going for up to 72 hours before exhaustion sets in.

The drug is considered to be highly addictive and although many users are occasional imbibers they tend to become more and more dependent on the highs from the drug and so fall into a physical dependency.

Because of the nature of the drug – specifically its variable length of effect – users may often find themselves using a significant amount in a short period which will often result in a very rapid dependency.

Methamphetamine’s effects on the body are many including:

  • Calcium deficiency which in turn leads to brittle bones
  • Brain damage to the cells that create dopamine and serotonin
    • Dopamine loss can cause the symptoms of Parkinsons Disease
    • Serotonin deficiency is often found in schizophrenics
  • Damage to blood vessels, especially in the brain, causing poor circulation and low blood oxygen levels
  • Respiratory problems, especially if smoked, as the smoke is extremely toxic
  • Irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia
  • ‘Crank Bugs’ – the body will try to eliminate the toxins contained in Methamphetamine and the addict will frequently scratch the areas that itch as the body attempts to defend itself, causing open wounds and running sores
  • ‘Meth Mouth’ – the typical Methamphetamine addict will suffer from a high number of oral problems including bruxism (teeth clenching and grinding) leading to excessive wear on the enamel, hyposalivation (dry mouth), poor oral hygiene and consumption of a high number of carbonated and sugary drinks. All these can lead to a very poor state of tooth decay, damaged or missing teeth and halitosis.

It also has severe effects on the mental health of the users:

  • Anorexia – it is often taken by anorexics to reduce appetite but its use has also been known to create anorexic symptoms
  • Schizophrenia as a direct result of reduced levels of dopamine
  • Paranoia – a common side effect of use of many illegal drugs, partly fuelled by the illegality of the drugs and an understandable fear of discovery
  • Irritability – because methamphetamine stimulates the nervous system the addicts often become highly strung and subject to very short swings from placid to violent or aggressive behaviour
  • Confusion – in part because of the damage caused to blood vessels in the brain of the addict
  • Insomnia – after long term use the addict will often find themselves unable to follow any normal pattern of sleep and will commonly stay awake for extended periods as the nervous effects linger in the body

Profile of methamphetamine addiction

The typical methamphetamine addict is – virtually anyone. It was commonly used by bikers and the young unemployed in the States but its use has spread across almost all strata of society around the globe, to the point where it is now commonly used by:

  • Weekend ravers – use of methamphetamine in conjunction with ecstasy is common where young people will be dancing for hours at a time and need the stimulant to keep energy levels elevated
  • Students – both school and university age – will use Methamphetamine both socially and alone as an aide to study and as a ‘party’ drug
  • Female dieters – are attracted to methamphetamine due to its properties in reducing the natural bodily functions of hunger and the desire for food
  • Young professionals – methamphetamine has become fashionable due to its, relative, cheapness and fashionability
  • The unemployed – mainly young and living at home use the drug as an escape from reality

Methamphetamine addicts do tend to be young – 40 year old users are unusual – and, due to the highly addictive nature of the drug, they are likely to be heavy users. In common with crack cocaine the drug is cheap to produce and easily passed from hand to hand.

Recognising methamphetamine addiction and addicts

Methamphetamine addicts tend to group together and ‘Tweak’ in groups (Tweaking comes from the common compulsion of stripping and rebuilding pieces of equipment as the drug causes hyperactivity and a need to be doing something, anything, just a form of activity).

The signs that someone is a methamphetamine addict will include:

  • Fidgety and obsessive behaviour
  • Constant and rambling conversations – rarely dialogues and generally difficult to follow as there is no apparent connection between the subjects
  • Rapid and darting eyes with dilated or ‘blown’ pupils
  • Sweating and high body temperature
  • Tooth decay and halitosis
  • Running and bleeding sores and constant scratching
  • Sudden and sharp weight loss

A combination of more than one or two of these symptoms may well indicate that someone is a methamphetamine addict

Treating methamphetamine addicts

The treatment and assistance for methamphetamine addiction is complex and must be approached both at the physical level and holistically to solve the personal and emotional issues that will lead to and be the effect of the addiction. The aid and support of friends and family will be essential in helping the addict stay off the drug and recover a sense of worth and socialisation.

It is important that the methamphetamine addict be treated in a sympathetic clinic or rehab center where their wide-ranging problems can be addressed.

Because the additional chemicals used in creating methamphetamine each have their own complex problems, it is necessary to develop an individual treatment regime for each addict.

As stated above, methamphetamine addicts will typically be suffering from dopamine shortage, will often be extremely irritable – even violent, and suffer from mood swings and periods of depression. It will not be unusual to find that they are suffering from sores and scratches where they have scratched at their own skin and ‘Meth Mouth’ where the teeth are literally rotting in the mouth is common due to the calcium deficiencies and the grinding of the teeth caused by the drug. All these physical symptoms are treatable but the underlying problems that caused the initial use and eventual addiction are individual and particular only to the addict and must be treated as such. Meth addicts are notorious for reverting to their previous addictive habits once the physical addiction is cured.

The methamphetamine addict will need advice, counseling and support to get over the physical addiction, and then a period of constant vigilance to help them avoid their previous associates and haunts. A level of tolerance is necessary due to their mood swings and depressions.

Methamphetamine addicts will exhibit a truly heartfelt desire to get away from their habit, but they do suddenly revert to old habits – this will not mean that they were not sincere initially but the sudden mood and emotional swings of the addict are part and parcel of the drug itself.

Use of physical assistance such as Acupressure to relieve nervous tension and yoga for whole body healing are effective as is substitution therapy to refocus their activities.

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