Meth, short for methamphetamine, is a stimulant drug. It primarily affects the central nervous system, but also has a variety of short and long-term effects on the body. It is a synthetically produced chemical, and is a variant of the medication amphetamine. The main difference between the two lies in how they affect people. While amphetamine’s side effects are generally mild and can help treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), methamphetamine produces a much stronger effect in the patient. Since meth has such a potent impact, the Drug Enforcement Agency has classified it as a Schedule II drug.
Meth has limited medical applications with a high possibility of abuse, and it is rarely prescribed. However, individuals will sometimes abuse methamphetamine to experience a number of its short-term effects, but may fail to realize the long-term impact of the drug. Long term use and exposure to meth can lead to a swath of health complications, including increased risk of contracting HIV, and developing psychosis. Crystal meth, the most commonly manufactured and used form, looks similar to bluish-white crystal or shards of glass. It is consumed in a variety of ways, from smoking, swallowing a pill, injection, and snorting. The high from meth doesn’t last very long, and this leads many users to take multiple doses in a short period of time.
How Meth Affects the Brain and Body
Individuals who abuse meth usually do so for the short term effect it has on the brain and body. While it is in someone’s system, meth causes the brain to produce an abundance of dopamine. Dopamine plays a major part in the brain’s motivation, movement, and reward centers. As a result of increased dopamine, individuals who use meth experience strong positive reinforcement. Since meth directly impacts the brain’s reward center, it can be incredibly habit-forming and addictive. A meth high often comes with a number of immediate side effects:
- Boosted wakefulness and physical activity
- Low appetite
- Rapid Breathing
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Raised blood pressure and body temperature
While these side effects may not be inherently alarming, most of the danger comes from two interlinking factors: the long-term health impacts of using meth, and its strong potential for addiction. Because meth is so addictive, individuals may find it increasingly difficult to stop once they begin using. As they consume more and more of the drug, the long-term health impacts may begin to take a toll:
- Severe weight loss
- Increased risk of contracting HIV/hepatitis
- Extreme dental decay
- Skin sores from scratching
- Memory loss
- Problems sleeping
- Violent behavior
- Extreme, unreasonable distrust of others (paranoia)
- Sensations or images that appear real though they aren’t (hallucinations)
Violence, paranoia, and hallucinations are key symptoms of meth-induced psychosis. This complication develops when an individual’s normal brain function is altered by the impact of meth. This alteration leads to unpredictable, and potentially dangerous, behavior.
How Does Meth Psychosis Develop?
This specific kind of psychosis is unique because it develops in individuals who are not necessarily at-risk for mental disorders. Even someone with no pre-existing cases of psychosis may suffer from it after becoming addicted to, or withdrawing from, meth. Meth’s presence in the brain and body can eventually lead to a number of mental changes and disorders, even after the individual stops using.
Some early indicators of meth psychosis coincide with the drug’s direct side effects. Irritability, anxiety, and mood disturbances are all common symptoms. As psychosis develops further, patients may be prone to more serious symptoms, including:
- Auditory and tactile (Physical) hallucinations
- Ideas of reference (Thinking things are correlated when they aren’t)
- Paranoid delusions
- Violent behavior
People who suffer from any of these symptoms may experience problems in connecting with other humans, working, or forming relationships. Meth-induced psychosis is also problematic in that it persists even after individuals stop taking meth. Alterations to the brain linger during withdrawal, and patients who suffer from addiction and psychosis may need professional help treating both. When a patient suffers from both a mental disorder and a substance abuse addiction, it is known as a “co-occuring” disorder.
Is Meth Psychosis Permanent?
There is no definite way to know how long methamphetamine-triggered psychosis will last. Many people experience it weeks or months after quitting meth, and a few suffer from it for years on end. Factors that can influence chronic meth psychosis include medical history, family history, and the severity of an individual’s drug abuse. However, it is still a highly-treatable condition. The sooner someone seeks medical and psychological help, the higher their chances are for full recovery.
Treating Addiction & Psychosis
Most of the time, the symptoms of meth psychosis manifest while an individual is actively using meth or experiencing a withdrawal from it. Psychosis can also persist even after an individual has stopped using meth, however. The primary method used by professionals to treat meth-induced psychosis is the same process as treating any other kind of psychosis. While most treatment methods have proven effective in helping patients who are suffering from psychosis, treating a patient who suffers from both psychosis and meth addiction can be complex. Since psychosis treatment sometimes involves prescribing depressants like benzodiazepines, it can be challenging to treat both simultaneously.
Benzodiazepines often mix very poorly with meth, and the combination can be dangerous. Since this is the case, professionals usually focus on helping the patient with behavioral training, working to help them overcome the meth addiction first. Once a patient no longer suffers from an active substance use disorder, the mental disorder caused by meth can be re-evaluated.
At Mountain View, we understand each case is different, and recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. We believe each person is unique, and our treatment reflects that. Our clinicians work to understand and treat co-occurring disorders and other important factors. If you or a loved one needs help, contact us today. For further information, you can also read more about our programs and explore our educational resources.