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by Ken Bachrach, Ph.D., Clinical Director

Methamphetamine is a long-acting stimulant.

The high can last from 6 to 16 hours. The initial euphoria lasts 5 to 30 minutes and produces an increased heart rate, metabolism, and blood pressure. There is an explosive release of adrenaline and the neurotransmitter dopamine. The psychological attraction of methamphetamine is that it increases or improves confidence, alertness, mood, energy, sex drive, and talkativeness.

Methamphetamine is highly addictive.

Some people get addicted the first time they use methamphetamine, while others take longer for this to occur. Like many drugs, the euphoric effect is due to the release of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, to the reward center of the brain. Methamphetamine releases 3 to 4 times more dopamine to the reward center than cocaine.

More and more people are seeking drug treatment for methamphetamine.

There was an 81% increase between 2000 and 2004 in the number of people seeking drug treatment for methamphetamine in California, and methamphetamine represents approximately one-third of all treatment admissions for substance abuse. At Tarzana Treatment Centers in 2005, methamphetamine represented 38% of all outpatient drug treatment admissions and 46% of all residential drug treatment admissions. In 2007, methamphetamine declined to 35% of residential admissions, but remained almost unchanged at 35% of outpatient admissions.

Females use methamphetamine more than most other drugs.

Usually 2 to 3 times as many males use specific drugs (e.g., cocaine, heroin) compared to females. However, with methamphetamine, as many females use methamphetamine as males. For teenage girls and women under the age of 25, nearly twice as many females as males use methamphetamine. The primary reasons women report using methamphetamine is to get high, for more energy, to improve their mood, to lose weight, and to feel more attractive.

The long-term physical effects of methamphetamine are detrimental.

Meth destroys tissues and blood vessels, inhibiting the body’s ability to repair itself. Common signs of meth use include acne, sores taking longer to heal, poor diet, poor oral health, and teeth grinding. Skin loses its luster and elasticity, making users appear years, even decades older. Meth mouth refers to severe tooth decay characterized by broken, discolored, and rotting teeth seen in some long-term meth users. Speed bumps refer to the sores on arms and other parts of the body that develop due to skin irritation from meth use and the meth user picking at them.

Methamphetamine increases one’s sex drive more than other drugs.

Many meth users become obsessed with sex. In one survey, 67% of meth users agreed that they were obsessed with sex, compared to 40% of cocaine users and 16% of alcohol users. Women become obsessed with sex as well as men, which is different than cocaine, where the vast majority of obsessed users are men. Meth is attractive to men because it can produce a prolonged erection, especially when compared to cocaine. However, long-term use can result in impotence, just like cocaine.

Methamphetamine has many chronic psychological effects.

These effects include confusion, concentration difficulties, hallucinations, fatigue, memory loss, irritability, paranoia, panic reactions, depression, anger, and psychosis. Sleep problems or insomnia may make these symptoms worse.

Methamphetamine Intoxication symptoms usually diminish one to two days after drug use has stopped.

Symptoms include euphoria, grandiosity, restlessness, hypervigilance, talkativeness, repetitive behaviors, and hallucinations, which can be visual, auditory, or tactile (e.g., feeling that bugs are crawling on you).

Methamphetamine use is often associated with violence.

This usually occurs at the end of a binge, when the meth user is starting to crash and feeling sadness, emptiness, extreme frustration, and irritability. Paranoia and hallucinations may be present. In many cities in the Western United States, 30 to 40 percent of male arrestees tested positive for methamphetamine in 2003.

Methamphetamine users have cognitive deficits, particularly after they stop using.

Actively using meth addicts have difficulty learning and recalling information. The ability to recall and recognize information is more impaired 12 weeks after stopping use than at the time the person was an active user. Six months after stopping use, verbal memory (e.g., remembering what people say) remains impaired, while visual memory (e.g., remembering what you see) returns to normal. It can take up to two years for cognitive functions to return to normal.

Methamphetamine withdrawal is an uncomfortable state.

While meth users usually don’t need medication to help them withdraw, they are often experiencing symptoms of depression, fatigue, agitation, confusion, lack of energy, paranoia, anxiety, and cognitive impairment. These acute withdrawal symptoms can last from two days to two weeks.

Drug Treatment for methamphetamine addiction is as effective as for other drugs.

It is a myth that drug treatment for methamphetamine is not effective. A recent evaluation of Proposition 36 individuals referred to drug treatment showed no difference in any of the outcome measures when compared to users of other drugs of abuse. This included drug treatment completion rates, urinalysis data, and retention in drug treatment rates.

Methamphetamine users may have difficulty engaging in drug treatment.

While engagement is an issue for most people entering drug treatment, it may be particularly difficult due to the withdrawal symptoms and cognitive impairment specific to methamphetamine use.

It’s important to address the specific needs of methamphetamine users early in drug treatment.

* Monitor withdrawal symptoms, discuss nutrition and sleep needs, and address medical and dental problems. Assess psychological symptoms of withdrawal and treat, if necessary.

* Address cognitive deficits

  • Recognize that verbal memory may be impaired
  • Present information visually
  • Use a flip chart/white board to write things down in group settings
  • Show videos
  • Use techniques to compensate for poor verbal memory (e.g., daily schedules, writing down things)
  • Use active rather than passive learning techniques (role-playing, reading out loud, writing)

* Create explicit structure and expectations

  • Be concrete
  • Develop a defined daily schedule
  • Be repetitive
  • Go slow
  • Assess whether the individual remembers things

Teach information about meth and recovery

  • Meth and the brain
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Long-term effects
  • The need to abstain from all drug use, since secondary drug use is the number one cause of relapse for individuals on stimulants

Address sexual issues.

This is an area most often neglected in drug treatment, but it is a huge issue for meth users.

  • Identify sexual relapse triggers (people, places, things)
  • Sexual issues/dysfunction
  • The thought of having sex without meth

Be aware of long-term drug treatment issues.

  • Depression
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Continuing paranoia
  • Anhedonia (lack of pleasure)
  • Behavioral /Functional impairment

Continue to incorporate the usual components of quality treatment for substance abuse.

  • Motivational interviewing/counseling
  • Relapse prevention
  • Family involvement
  • Drug testing
  • 12-step education and involvement

Tarzana Treatment Centers provides these facts as a service to the general public. We also hope they serve to motivate meth addicts to seek drug treatment and start on the road to recovery. If you know someone who is a meth addict, you may possibly save a life with a suggestion to read this web page.

Knowing the facts is just the beginning. Drug detox and drug treatment for methamphetamines are needed for long term recovery.

Tarzana Treatment Centers offers specialized treatment programs to address the various aspects of methamphetamine addiction and recovery. Please call us at 888-777-8565 or contact us here.

Southern California Locations for Alcohol and Drug Treatment

Tarzana Treatment Centers has locations all over Southern California in Los Angeles County and Orange County. Other than our central location in Tarzana, we have facilities in Lancaster in the Antelope Valley, Long Beach, in Northridge and Reseda in the San Fernando Valley, and in Santa Ana.

Related Articles

Methamphetamine Addiction
Methamphetamine Treatment

© 2006, K. Bachrach, Ph.D.