Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug that can lead to severe physical and psychological dependence, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA labels meth as a Schedule II controlled substance, which means that there is some appropriate medical use for the substance, but it also has high abuse potential.
As a Schedule II drug, meth is in the same category of addiction potential as Vicodin, cocaine, hydromorphone, methadone, OxyContin, Adderall, Ritalin, and fentanyl. Drugs that are considered more addictive than meth, according to the DEA, include heroin, ecstasy, methaqualone, and peyote.
Meth is a stimulant substance that can be used in some medications for ADHD and weight loss, according to the National Library of Medicine. Even when taken as prescribed, it can become habit-forming.
In illicit markets, meth is sold in either powder or rock form known as crystal meth. The powder is snorted or eaten, and it can be mixed into an injectable that is used intravenously. Crystal meth is smoked from a pipe.
The method of ingestion can affect how quickly a person becomes addicted because some methods of consumption have more rapid and potent effects in the brain. While people receive a quick high from taking the drug, they also experience a rapid crash after, which leaves them craving more of the drug. This crash often triggers a binge that can last several days for some users.
How Does Meth Actually Cause Addiction?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), meth increases the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a natural chemical that is involved in the brain’s reward system. When the brain is flooded with dopamine, it creates a high that triggers the brain to reinforce the behaviors that brought the pleasant feeling.
Meth functions in the same way as some other stimulant drugs in the body and brain. In small amounts, it produces an energetic effect that increases alertness and decreases appetite. In large amounts, it can trigger a euphoric high that induces the flood of dopamine associated with addictive triggers in the brain.
The increased dopamine in the brain reinforces drug-seeking behavior. When this cycle continues over a prolonged period of time, the brain becomes less sensitive to the presence of the neurotransmitter, decreasing its effectiveness.
Tolerance and Dependence
Addiction can develop quickly in people who abuse methamphetamine. The brain drives a compulsive desire to consume more of the substance, while the body develops a tolerance to the drug and needs increasingly larger amounts to experience the same effect.
As tolerance increases and people need more meth to achieve the same high, they will also begin to experience withdrawal symptoms when dopamine levels drop. The presence of withdrawal symptoms is a sign of dependence.
Withdrawal Symptoms from Methamphetamines Include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Anxiety and unease
- Depression and persistent sadness
- Drug cravings
- Drug-induced psychosis
Research supports the connection between the function of methamphetamine in the brain, neuroplastic changes, and inflammation in the striatum area of the brain.
A study published in the journal Psychopharmacology examined changes in the brains of meth-consuming rats. It concluded that meth exposure causes changes in gene expression and structural plasticity that leads to addiction and cognitive dysfunctions.
This supports much of the addiction research that has documented the changes that occur in the brain during substance abuse that reinforce addictive behavior. Research in addiction science has found that the impact of addictive substances triggers cycles in the brain that drive compulsive drug-seeking behaviors and affect the function of natural brain chemistry.
Another symptom of addiction is the inability to feel pleasure from other normal life activities. As the brain demands more meth to receive pleasure, activities that usually provide a natural reward response, such as spending time with loved one or engaging in previously enjoyed activities, will no longer bring pleasure.
The brain has lost the ability to produce dopamine during other activities because it now requires the presence of meth to trigger that dopamine This is why people with addictions often lose interest in doing things they used to enjoy. Instead, they choose to spend increasing amounts of time and effort seeking and using methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine abuse can cause long-term damage to the brain. According to NIDA, some of the negative effects of meth use on the brain cells are partly reversible with abstinence. However, brain imaging studies have found that some of the functional changes in the brain after methamphetamine abuse did not recover even after a period of 14 months of abstinence.
How Widespread Is Meth Abuse?
It is difficult to say for sure what the rates of addiction are among methamphetamine users because some people are using methamphetamine as prescribed medication, while others are abusing illicit meth purchased from street markets.
Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behaviors that accompany a physical dependence on the drug. Some people may misuse their medication by crushing and snorting it or consuming it in other ways that are not intended by the manufacturer. Other people may go on drug binges that last several days.
Approximately 1.2 million people used meth in the prior year, according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which amounts to 0.4 percent of the population. This does not mean that all of these users are addicted, however.
Meth was cited as a factor in about 103,000 emergency room visits in 2011, which made it the fourth most common illicit substance in emergency department visits behind cocaine, marijuana, and heroin.
Overdoses involving psychostimulants such as methamphetamine have risen in the past two decades. According to NIDA, there were 10,333 overdose deaths in 2017 involving all psychostimulants, up from 547 in 1999.
How Is Meth Consumed?
Many people wonder – how is meth consumed? Well, the drug comes in various forms, meaning users can consume it in different ways. Meth is consumed in the following ways – it’s either smoked, snorted, injected, or orally ingested, all dependent on geographical location. For example, meth is eaten orally as a pill called “Yaba” in Asia, but in the United States, users opt for any of the ways we just described.
Is meth addictive when used in different ways? Smoking or injecting the drug causes it to enter the bloodstream much faster than other methods causing an immediate or intense rush and amplifying the effects. If you’re wondering how addictive meth is, well, the drug’s addiction potential is amplified when used in this manner. The rush lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable.
Snorting meth or ingesting it orally produces euphoria, but it’s not an intense rush like other ways of using the drug. When snorting the drug, you can experience effects in as little as three to five minutes. When taking it orally, effects will appear 15 or 20 minutes later. As with many stimulant drugs, meth is misused in a binge and crash pattern, similar to cocaine. This is because the pleasurable effects disappear before it reaches peak concentration in the blood. To bypass that, users take more to maintain their high, leading to people using meth for days at a time and going on a “run.” They’ll forego food, sleep, and stay up for several days high on meth.
Why Do People Try Meth?
There are many reasons people actively use the drug. Those who use meth report feelings of arousal, euphoria, reduced fatigue, loss of inhibition, and increased sociability. Many people report using it to reduce their inhibitions and increase their confidence. In contrast, others use it to self-medicate and manage their mental health issues, such as depression or the lasting effects of trauma. Others take meth to enhance physical sensations and increase pleasure during sex, known as “chemsex,” but why do people try meth?
Some people try meth because they have a prescription. Methamphetamine is sometimes used in medical settings to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. In some cases, it’s also used as a short-term treatment for weight loss. However, the uses of this drug are extremely limited due to the potential for addiction, so they’re not often prescribed. However, this is one reason people try meth.
Another reason people try meth is curiosity. If they see others they know using the drug, their natural curiosity might get the best of them and cause them to experiment. While some won’t become addicted to it, others will continue using, begging the question – how long does it take to get addicted to meth? If someone likes it, they could get addicted the first time they try it. While they may not become physically dependent on it for a few weeks, they’ll continue using it until they do because of that first time.
Peer pressure is another reason people try meth. Unfortunately, if you’re young, you’re heavily influenced by your peers. If they tell you to try something, even though you know you shouldn’t, you’ll do so because you feel pressure to fit in.
Unfortunately, this could lead to immediate addiction – if you try it and like it, you’ll keep using it, which can lead to a life of misery. Meth is an extremely dangerous drug. If you’re with friends using the drug, but you don’t want to do it, don’t. It might be time to find new friends if they don’t understand your reasons for not trying it. If your friends don’t have your best interests at heart, you shouldn’t be around them.
Meth remains a highly addictive and dangerous drug, particularly when obtained from illicit street markets. Illegally manufactured meth could contain any number of toxic and dangerous substances.
Users often don’t know what the substance they are buying has been cut with. This can lead to overdose more quickly and substantial harm to the body.
When methamphetamine is used as prescribed, it can still become habit-forming. People who take medications to address ADHD, narcolepsy, or weight loss should only take their medication as prescribed to prevent neurological changes in the brain that can lead to addictive behaviors.
The addictive potential of meth is increased when the drug is snorted, smoked, or injected intravenously. These methods cause a more rapid and potent reaction in the body that can make the drug even more addictive.
No Illicit Use Is Safe
People who try meth for recreational purposes can quickly become addicted, particularly those who have a personal or family history of substance abuse.
There is no safe level at which illicit methamphetamine can be consumed. Each individual will react differently. Meth use can quickly spiral out of control, causing serious damage to virtually every area of life.