The Menace of Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug that remains a major burden on users, their families, communities, and law enforcement agencies in the United States. It's commonly called meth.
According to recent surveys, nearly 5% of the U.S. population, or 12 million Americans ages 12 or older, have used meth at least once in their life for nonmedical purposes. Fortunately, less than 1% of adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 and 25 are current or regular users. Usage rates have declined over the past 10 years.
Meth is a Schedule II controlled substance that can be prescribed. But most meth that is abused is made in illegal labs. It is related to the legally prescribed stimulant amphetamine but has stronger effects. Known on the street as speed, meth, tweak, uppers, or black beauties, the drug is taken in pill form, or snorted or injected in powdered form. Crystallized meth, a more powerful form of the drug, is smoked. The drug causes an immediate feeling of increased activity or a "rush" along with decreased appetite.
The stimulant lures people wanting to get high, but it also appeals to women trying to lose weight or seeking a burst of energy to get through life. Unlike many other illegal drugs which are mainly used by men, women use meth at rates that are about equal to men. When the drug starts to wear off abusers face two options:
Suffer through what can be a 3 day bottoming-out period of irritability, listlessness, and headaches.
Take another dose to relieve their temporary suffering and risk the beginning of addiction.
More and more people are taking that second dose. People hear the myths that the drug does good things and lasts 12 hours a dose. They feel they can work longer hours, study more, and lose weight.
It also can be easily found. Unlike other stimulants, meth can be made in the kitchen sink using cheap household ingredients. However, it is a potentially explosive and dangerous process.
Addiction sets in quickly because of the way the drug is taken. Most meth users either smoke or inject the stimulant; both methods of ingestion rapidly bring on euphoria. Addiction is closely tied to how quickly a user feels a drug's effect.
The euphoria is followed by up to 12 hours of what feels to the user like endless energy. Everything speeds up; there is a decreased need for sleep. Users talk a lot and lose their appetite.
The stimulant coaxes the body to work harder. The heart rate increases and metabolism speeds up. The brain's ability to balance sedation and activity is altered. The increase in heart rate can lead to aneurysms and heart failure, even in the very young, as the drug drives the heart to exhaustion.
Although people who abuse cocaine also get a feeling of euphoria, cocaine has a different effect on the body. The body quickly gets rid of cocaine, and the good feeling that follows taking the drug rapidly diminishes. Meth, however, remains in the body far longer, prolonging its effects.
People who are chronic meth abusers can suffer long-term health effects. In particular, areas of the brain that control speed of muscle movement, verbal learning, emotions and memory can be damaged. Meth use can also cause malnutrition, aggression, psychotic behavior, and severe dental problems. Some of the damage may be reversed if a person quits abusing the drug, but recovery can take years. Meth abuse also increases the risk for stroke, and this damage can be irreversible.
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
- Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN