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Meth Addiction Facts You Need To Know

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Methamphetamine, also known as meth or crystal meth, is a stimulant that has a high rate of abuse in the United States. For loved ones or those close to someone that is addicted to meth, finding out more information about the drug itself and the effect it has on the body of the user is an important step towards gaining greater insight into the nature of their loved one’s’ addiction.  

In this article, we’ll break down some of the most important meth addiction facts that will hopefully help those close to an addict, or an addict themselves, approach the addiction with a broad and informed perspective.  Through this article, we’ll outline what meth is, how it is produced, what it looks like, and how it interacts with the body.  

These topics will shed light on why addiction to meth can develop quickly and remain so powerful over a long period of time. Additionally, we’ll also look at how common meth abuse is in the United States, and examine the different ages at which individuals first try meth. Through these topics we will show how addiction to meth often happens at a very young age, when the body and brain are still developing, causing large amounts of damage to both the mind and body that often persist throughout the course of one’s life.

What is Methamphetamine?

Meth is a powerful type of amphetamine that interacts with the body to stimulate function and produce a high that is quick to occur and lasts over a long period of time.  Amphetamines are a stimulant that were first synthesized in Germany in the late 19th century.  By the early 20th century, methamphetamine was first synthesized in Japan.

For decades, meth was not regulated, but use of meth was predominantly seen in the realm of militaries.  Meth was used widely in World War II, when it was given to pilots and others to aid them in battling fatigue during long missions.  In the post-war era, meth was legally prescribed to patients to aid in appetite suppression and weight loss.  Although legal prescriptions for meth continue under the brand name Desoxyn, these are exceedingly rare in the modern United States.  

As patterns of abuse and illicit drug addiction began to be made clear by the 1960’s and 1970’s, regulatory changes in the United States made meth an illegal Schedule II drug. After meth had been made illegal, a surge in production and distribution occurred on the black-market that continues to this day.  

Although meth is still prescribed in very rare cases, the vast majority of meth produced and consumed in the United States is illegally produced and sold.  The “War on Drugs,” begun in the 1980’s under the Reagan administration, first brought meth abuse and addiction the forefront of public consciousness.  

Although the focus of Reagan’s drug enforcement policy was centered on battling a surge in the use of cocaine, and its refined form crack, the abuse of meth was experiencing a startling rise in popularity.  The factors that influenced the popularity for meth are largely the same today as they were in the past.  

Meth is cheap and easy to produce, making the street value of meth lower than other substances. Meth is also more popular in certain vulnerable communities, often in poor or rural areas. Lastly, meth itself produces a high quickly, but can last in the system for up to 12 hours.  In contrast to this, other abused drugs such as cocaine and heroin have a high that fades faster and are generally more expensive.  

How is Meth Produced and What Does It Look Like?

Unlike other commonly abused substances like cocaine and heroin which are refined from plants, meth is a synthetic stimulant that must be manufactured. The manufacturing of meth is a lucrative business that is integrally tied to the worldwide drug market. In the United States, the majority of meth is produced in “superlabs,” or large-scale manufacturing facilities that require a relatively large amount of capital to start and enough resources to maintain continued production.  

Many of these superlabs are located in the United States, but others are located across the border in Mexico. The reality, however, is that the production of meth does not require sophisticated equipment or a large amount of capital to begin.  Small-scale production of meth is common, both in the United States and in Mexico.  Small-scale meth production facilities can be quickly built, produce a relatively large quantity of meth, and then be broken down and moved to a different location.  This helps small-scale producers avoid detection and limit exposure to local and national law enforcement agents.

Most of the meth produced and sold in the United States is manufactured by using pseudoephedrine, a drug that is commonly found in over the counter cold medicine.  Pseudoephedrine became heavily regulated following the passage of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005.  

This act requires pharmacies to limit the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be sold to an individual on a daily basis, and set thresholds for the purchasing of drugs that contain pseudoephedrine.  While these efforts have made the production of meth in the United States more difficult, they have not appreciably slowed the manufacturing and abuse of meth.  Aside from pseudoephedrine, meth is also produced using a variety of caustic and dangerous chemicals, which include certain types of fertilizers, acetone, red phosphorus, lithium, and ether.  

The chemicals used in the production of meth, in part, contribute to the danger of the drug and the speed and extent to which it ravages the human body.  These chemicals also contribute to the dangerous conditions of the meth labs themselves, which often emit dangerous chemicals into the surrounding air, and sometimes explode due to carelessness or negligence.  The dangers to the environment and health of those near a meth lab are so pronounced that cleanup efforts are structured according to Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Once produced, meth is in the form of a crystalline structure, hence the street term crystal meth.  Often white or bluish-white in color, meth is most commonly seen as small rocks or a powder.  Meth is most often consumed through smoking, where a rock of meth is placed in a glass pipe, combusted, and inhaled.  

Other forms of consumption include snorting and injection.  Meth is also less commonly consumed orally, although meth consumed in this manner is most often in pill form.  Each of these consumption methods has a variety of health impacts on the user.  Smoking meth results in rapid decay of the mouth, teeth, and bones of the face, resulting in teeth that are blackened or yellow, missing, and have compromised function.  

Injection of meth can quickly lead to collapsed veins, severe infections, and HIV/AIDS if needles are shared with other drug users.  Snorting meth will quickly erode the membranes in the nasal passages and have a pronounced destructive effect on the teeth, mouth, and esophagus.  

How Does Meth Interact with the Body?

Once meth is consumed it interacts powerfully with the central nervous system and brain. In the brain, meth interacts primarily with the dopamine receptors, to which it binds.  By binding to the dopamine receptors, meth slows down the transfer and breakdown of dopamine between neurons.  

Meth use side effects results in extremely high levels of dopamine to persist for long levels of time within the brain. Dopamine is the primary chemical in the human body responsible for creating feelings of pleasure.  Things such as food, interaction with a loved one or pet, sex, or other pleasurable activities are experienced as pleasurable because of the production of dopamine that they create within the brain.  

While these create normal levels of dopamine that help define our everyday experiences, meth interacts with the dopamine production and transmission system so powerfully that it results in dopamine levels up to 10 times higher. These excessively high levels of dopamine are what cause the extended feeling of euphoria that meth users feel upon taking the drug.

While the first use of meth may produce unparalleled feelings of pleasure in the user, the downsides of meth’s interaction with the body are immense. First, this intense and long-lasting feeling of euphoria will quickly lead to chemical dependency and addiction. It is currently believed that chemical dependency on meth can occur in as little as one or two uses of the drug.  Second, when meth binds to the dopamine receptors in the brain, it also over time decreases their function and eventually destroys them.  

Although these dopamine receptors can regrow, this process can take years and is not fully understood.  The decreased function, or destruction, of the dopamine receptors in the brain result in a state for many meth users where they cease to feel pleasure from any normal situation in life.  This further pushes them to continue to take meth, in order to feel a state of normalcy and pleasure.  Lastly, the destruction of the dopamine receptors in the brain causes an extremely difficult withdrawal and rehabilitation process.  

Former addicts may have difficulty experiencing pleasure in normal, everyday activities for months or even years after they have stopped using meth.  This is one of the little-known facts of meth addictionthe destruction caused by meth, not only on the dopamine receptors but on other parts of the central nervous system, can continue for long periods of time after use of the drug has ceased.  This fact makes recovery an extremely long and difficult process.

Prevalence of Meth Use in the United States

Although the use of crystal meth has declined in the last decade, the drug continues to be one of the most abused and destructive illegal substances that currently exists. The fact about meth addiction is that it is much more common than many people realize.  Additionally, one under-appreciated crystal meth addiction fact is that first use often occurs from a very young age, making addiction an almost inevitable outcome.  

For data on current usage facts, we will be utilizing the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a yearly survey sponsored by the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality that seeks to provide statistical information regarding illegal drug use in the United States.  It should be noted that the NSDUH surveys populations that are 12 years and older, does not survey incarcerated populations, and data is gathered on a volunteer basis.  The missing data for meth use in prison is of considerable importance, as meth abuse is extremely common among prison populations.  

Additionally, many long-term meth users end up incarcerated due to the violent behavior and criminal acts that meth addiction leads to.  Rather than prison serving as a time where they get clean from the drug, instead many addicts continue to abuse meth while serving their prison sentence, only to continue their abuse once they are released. When the data that is not present in the NSDUH is taken into consideration, the numbers for actual meth usage in the United States are probably significantly higher than the report indicates.

According to the 2015 NSDUH, the most recent survey available, there were 897,000 people ages 12 and older who had used meth within the last month.  Although this number does not seem significant, as it represents about .3 percent of the population, there are a number of striking meth addiction facts that come forth.  The first is that according to the survey, there were approximately 13,000 teens from ages 13-17 who were currently using meth.  

The survey also reports that 128,000 current meth users were ages 18-25, with the remaining 757,000 ages 26 and older.  What this survey indicates is that meth use spans a wide variety of ages.  Importantly, it also suggests that many users begin from a young age.  This is a disturbing fact of crystal meth addiction, given the powerful way that meth interacts with the brain and can quickly lead to chemical dependency and severe health complications. The reality is that children and teens that use meth from a young age will almost certainly develop a chemical dependency and addiction that will alter their development and change the course of their life.

But, there is hope in overcoming your meth addiction. Drug treatment centers like Luminance Recovery have helped many people conquer their addiction and life a life free of substance abuse. If you or a loved one is struggling with meth addiction, call Luminance Recovery today and start your journey towards sobriety.

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