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What is the scope of methamphetamine abuse in the United States?

In 2017, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that over 1.6 million Americans were using methamphetamine in the past year.  The average new age of methamphetamine drug users in America is around 23.3 years old. An estimated 964,000 people aged 12 or older had a methamphetamine use disorder in 2017.  A substance use disorder is classified as clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet responsibilities with work, school, and home life.  In 2016 the number of persons who had a methamphetamine abuse disorder was 684,000, which was much higher in 2017. The 2018 Monitoring the Future survey of adolescent drug use showed that 0.5% of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders had used methamphetamine in the past year. 

Methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system.  The drug was developed in the early 20th century from amphetamine.  Methamphetamine causes increased activity and talkativeness, decreased appetite, and euphoric well-being.  Methamphetamine is a more potent stimulant than amphetamine and is also longer lasting and more harmful. Methamphetamine is classified as a schedule II drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency and has been making a resurgence in many states.  Prescription opioid abuse is still a widespread problem throughout the country. However, since many states have cracked down on illegal prescriptions, drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin have been in demand. Many experts believe that meth had always been an ongoing issue, but was overshadowed by the current opioid epidemic.  

Much of the meth being used in the United States is coming from Mexico and large super labs south of the border.  At one time in the nation, homegrown meth was a regular problem seen by local law enforcement. However, Mexican drug cartels are meeting the current demand for methamphetamine.  Making meth is a multi-step cooking process, and the primary ingredient is ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Both of these chemicals are found in over-the-counter cough and allergy medicines, which are often abused for this reason.  There are many other chemicals used in the production of meth to isolate the pseudo or ephedrine. Many of the chemicals are everyday household items, such as lye, ammonia, and red phosphorus.

Most meth addicts in the United States are only using meth and are not typically mixing other drugs.  Meth addiction is challenging to treat, and most addicts do make more than one attempt at treatment before they achieve any level of sobriety.  When searching for drug treatment programs in the nation for meth addiction, long-term inpatient centers will offer better results. Meth addiction does require detox before treatment.  The detox process is not always easy from meth, but not as dangerous when compared to other types of drugs. Throughout the country, methamphetamine is a growing problem, and some states have seen significant increases with meth-related crime and drug addiction.

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How is methamphetamine used, and what are its effects?

Methamphetamine can be used in many different ways because it is produced in several various forms.  Methamphetamine can be smoked, snorted, injected, or swallowed. Smoking methamphetamine is the most common method of use.  However, the preferred method of use does vary from region to region and has changed over time. When a drug user smokes or injects methamphetamine, the drug quickly enters the bloodstream and brain.  This causes an immediate intense rush and amplifies the drugs addiction potential. Injecting and smoking drugs also increase the risk of severe health problems. The high that is felt when you use meth this way lasts only a few minutes.

When methamphetamine is snorted or ingested orally, it produces euphoria, but not an intense rush when the drug is smoked or injected.  Methamphetamine is most commonly used as a binge and crash pattern of abuse. The pleasurable effects of methamphetamine disappear even before the drug concentration in the blood falls significantly.  Most methamphetamine drug users will continue this high with consistent and regular use of the drug. When a drug user binges on meth, they may forgo eating and sleeping and only using the drug. When this happens, there is increased paranoia, anxiety, aggression, and unpredictable behavior.  The binge and crash pattern of drug abuse does make it hard to get an addict help. However, the most successful way to help someone who is abusing meth is through professional intervention.  

When the family organizes a professional intervention, it should be planned out when the addict is on the crashing from a lengthy binge.  During this time, most addicts feel guilt, shame, remorse, and are more reasonable to recognize the problems with their addiction. When an addict is abusing methamphetamine, they will not respond to any talk about treatment, and will more than likely be somewhere else when using the drug.  When meth is used, it causes so much dopamine to be released, it contributes to the drug’s harmful effects on the nerve terminals in the brain. The short-term effects of meth use are increased attention and decreased fatigue. Drug users will have a reduced appetite, feel an intense euphoria and rush, and increased respiration.  

Other short-term effects include rapid and irregular heartbeat and hyperthermia.  The long-term effects of methamphetamine can often be more damaging than other drugs.  Methamphetamine can produce some adverse long-term health effects that are irreversible.  Drug users will develop a tolerance to the effects of meth and will need to take higher doses of the drug.  Chronic meth users develop difficulty feeling any pleasure other than that provided by the drug. The regular abuse of meth also creates withdrawal symptoms such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, and intense cravings for the drug.  Chronic meth users will also exhibit signs of anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood problems, and violent behavior as a result of not eating and not sleeping.

What differentiates methamphetamine from cocaine?

Both methamphetamine and cocaine are stimulant drugs; however, methamphetamine is man-made, and cocaine is synthesized from a plant.  When methamphetamine is smoked it produces a long-lasting high, and smoking crack cocaine yields a short-lived high. Roughly 50% of methamphetamine is removed from the body in 12 hours, and around 50% of cocaine is removed from the body in one hour.  Methamphetamine use causes increases in dopamine release and blocks dopamine re-uptake, whereas cocaine blocks dopamine re-uptake. Both methamphetamine and cocaine have a limited medical use, and meth is used to treat narcolepsy and help people with weight loss.  Cocaine is used as a local anesthetic in some surgical procedures.    

When methamphetamine is broken down, it is similar to amphetamine and to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays an essential part in the reward center of the brain.  However, the way methamphetamine and cocaine reward this part of the brain is different. Both of these stimulants have similar behavioral and physiological effects but are different in how they work.  Cocaine is also mostly entirely metabolized within the body and quickly removed. When methamphetamine is used, it has a much longer duration of action and remains unchanged within the body. Methamphetamine remains in the brain longer and leads to prolonged stimulant effects.  

Both methamphetamine and cocaine increase the levels of dopamine in the body, but both act differently with how they increase the level of dopamine in the body.  Both drugs are highly addictive and create devastating drug addictions. Meth users and cocaine addicts are both reluctant to get help, and most will have a professional intervention done to convince them they need treatment.  Intravenous methamphetamine and cocaine use do increase the drug users chances of contracting HIV and other diseases such as hepatitis. Meth and cocaine use is linked to risky sexual behavior, and both drugs can worsen the progression of HIV if a person continues to use it after being diagnosed.    

Treatment for both cocaine addiction and methamphetamine use starts with detox and then should progress into a residential drug rehab center.  Relapse rates are often high with cocaine and methamphetamine drug users because they are not taking enough time for proper recovery. Long-term residential drug rehab centers offer better options for a meth addict.  Following this type of treatment, aftercare programs will help a meth user make a gradual transition back to society again.

What are the effects of methamphetamine on the mind and body?

Some of the common side effects of using methamphetamine are nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, anxiety, and depression.  Long-term meth use causes increased paranoia, anxiety, aggression, and psychosis. When methamphetamine is injected or smoked, it immediately produces an intensely pleasurable sensation.  When this happens, it releases high levels of dopamine in the brain, whereas when meth is ingested, the effects are not as intense. Generally, stimulant drugs create a feeling of pleasure, agitation, increased sociability, physical alertness, decreased appetite, and mental confusion.  Even a small amount of methamphetamine has neurotoxic effects, which damage the serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain.    

Long-term or daily meth users will suffer from brain damage, and this brain damage lingers for months even after use has stopped.  Research has shown that the neurological effects of meth use can be permanent, even after someone has stopped using meth when they have gone for treatment.  Methamphetamine abuse has also been known to produce extreme anorexia, and short-term use of meth can cause drastic changes in physical appearance. Some of the common side effects of meth use are increased heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure.  The drug does cause hyperthermia and irregular heartbeat increasing the risk for cardiovascular collapse. The effects of meth use on the body extend to the central nervous system and can produce symptoms such as irritability, confusion, anxiety, paranoia, and aggressiveness.  

Some meth users will suffer from prolonged insomnia and tremors, and the convulsions caused by meth use can be fatal.  Overdose caused by methamphetamine is also possible and is a result of a rapid onset of physiological deterioration leading to a heart attack or a stroke.  Death caused by methamphetamine does occur suddenly and unexpectedly. When a drug user is overdosing because of meth, there is profuse sweating, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and dilated pupils.  Someone who has overdosed will potentially have kidney failure, cardiovascular collapse, and all of this happens quickly. The prolonged use of methamphetamine does create dependency and tolerance, and it is a severe addiction to treat.  Someone who is addicted to methamphetamine requires lengthy physical and psychological treatment and rehabilitation.

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