The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that roughly 1.2 million people had used methamphetamine in the last year.
Methamphetamine (also known as meth, crystal meth, crank, speed, glass, ice, stove top, and more) is what’s known as an ‘upper.’ This means it stimulates the central nervous system, giving the user the feeling of having a lot of energy. However, that energetic boost comes with a very high cost.
Methamphetamine Timeline: Use and Abuse
Methamphetamine was originally developed in Germany, then refined in Japan in 1919. It was originally used in World War II, when both sides gave it to soldiers to stay awake. In the 1950s, doctors prescribed methamphetamine to fight depression, and as a diet aid. As it became more easily available, people began using it as a stimulant, including college students, athletes, and truck drivers.
By 1970 the government made methamphetamine illegal, at which point American motorcycle gangs began to control its production and distribution. Mexican cartels have since set up large meth labs in California, and smaller private labs can operate out of kitchens and apartments, earning the drug one of its names, “stove top.”
A cheaper alternative to cocaine, meth use is now a major problem in many rural as well as urban areas of the United States.
The Meth Addiction Cycle and Withdrawal
Meth can make you feel wide awake, confident, invincible, uninhibited, and less likely to feel pain. Meth also stimulates the brain in a similar way to real accomplishment, so it creates a rewarding feeling that can be very addictive.
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, there are two primary user categories when it comes to meth: first, low-intensity users, who are not dependent on the drug, but use it as extra stimulation to stay awake or finish a job (i.e. truck drivers, people working the night shift, etc.). These people usually snort or swallow meth.
The second category is binge users, who either smoke or inject meth to get a rush and a high. Binge users are physically and psychologically addicted, and follow a cycle of abuse:
- Rush: (5-30 minutes) The person’s heart races and blood pressure becomes extremely elevated. The release of epinephrine (adrenaline) puts the body in a state of "flight or fight", while an explosive release of dopamine in the brain leads to a giant rush.
- High: (4-16 hours) The person feels smarter and more confident than usual. They often become aggressive and argumentative, sometimes interrupting others or finishing their sentences.
- Binge: (3-15 days) Sensing the end of the meth high, the person seeks more of the drug to get the rush back. However, the euphoria diminishes after the initial dose, since tolerance happens immediately. During the binge phase, meth users become hyperactive (including not sleeping), and continue using until absolutely no rush or high is experienced.
- Tweaking: The most dangerous stage, this is when users pose a threat to those around them (including medical professionals or law enforcement). A "tweaker" is irritable, paranoid, and can easily become violent. The severe lack of sleep, paranoia, and frustration at not being able to get high again leads to extreme unpredictability and potential for violence.
Chronic users who have taken meth over a long period of time are most likely to experience extreme withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using (this is especially for those who inject meth, as opposed to snorting it). Withdrawal symptoms can include fatigue, heightened hunger, agitation, insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations, red, itchy eyes, and sometimes suicidal thoughts.
Meth withdrawal can be agonizing if done on your own. Going through detox under medical supervision makes the process far safer and more comfortable. Inpatient rehab programs are equipped to give patients round-the-clock care throughout detox. Experienced doctors and nurses are on standby to help minimize patients’ pain and tailor treatment plans as withdrawal symptoms begin to improve.
How do you know you need treatment for methamphetamine addiction?
If you use methamphetamine and have some of all of the following symptoms, you may be addicted:
- Fast heart beat
- Rotting teeth
- Feeling physically sick when you aren’t using meth
- Not being able to function without meth
- Hoarding meth or keeping a constant supply on hand
In addition to extracting a heavy psychological toll, methamphetamine abuse is extremely hard on your physical body. Meth damages all the major organs of the body, and some of that damage can be irreversible (including to the brain. In addition, babies born to meth addicts can be scarred both physically and mentally for years. Getting treated quickly is critical.
What is a methamphetamine treatment center?
Methamphetamine rehab facilities have programs that are specifically designed to help those dependent on or addicted to methamphetamine. They are skilled at helping individuals detox from the drug itself, as well as treat the symptoms associated with addiction, and the root causes of it.
Why go to a methamphetamine treatment center?
In 2012, the average age of new methamphetamine users was just shy of 20 years old. Similarly, the age group of those most prone to meth use is 18-26. Research also shows that methamphetamine users tend to have lower socioeconomic status, and male users are more likely to have fathers who were or are currently in prison.
This is relevant because one reason to attend a methamphetamine-specific program is to be around others going through the same thing at the same stage of life. Attending a treatment program with others who really “get it” can lead to deeper connections, enhanced learning, accelerated healing, and a more sustainable recovery in the end.
Similarly, therapists at methamphetamine-specific rehab programs have a lot of experience dealing with the precise issues facing meth addicts, including the combination of meth addiction with other addictions. A large percentage of meth users have also used other substances, and often face addiction to more than just methamphetamine. The mental health professionals at methamphetamine treatment centers know how to address and support this, in both individual and group therapy settings.
What else does a methamphetamine-specific program offer?
An effective methamphetamine rehab program is responsive to the side effects specific to methamphetamine abuse. For example, in the short-term, meth use can lead to cognitive impairment such as limited verbal memory (as opposed to visual memory). In other words, meth addicts may not be able to remember words as well as before they were addicted, but they’re just as good at seeing and understanding pictures.
Knowing this, a good methamphetamine rehab program would know to use graphics more than vocabulary for recovering addicts. For example, when explaining a concept, they might create a handout with lots of pictures instead of words.
In addition, many meth abusers have had an encounter with law enforcement, and may have been court-ordered to receive treatment. It’s helpful to know that those sent to treatment through the criminal justice system do just as well (sometimes even better) than those without court referrals. This is another factor therapists at methamphetamine programs will have their eye on and be able to speak to, since it impacts many of those at their center.
What happens during treatment?
If you attend an inpatient rehab methamphetamine treatment center, you will stay on site for the duration of the program (usually 30, 60, or 90 days). You’ll go through routine medical testing and then enter the detox process, when the drug is slowly and safely weaned out of your body. This is an important step to take with medical supervision, since detoxing from methamphetamine can be painful.
Once detox is complete, therapy and the rest of the program begins. Most methamphetamine rehab centers include both individual and group therapy sessions, where you learn to identify the root causes of addiction. You begin building new coping strategies, bond with others facing the same challenges, and start to build a new life based on new skills, resources, and connections.
Once treatment is complete, most facilities offer aftercare programs to help patients integrate their newfound success in the outside world. Aftercare can include living in a halfway house, having a plan to attend 12-step program meetings, attending outpatient programs, and more.