Methamphetamine Addiction Treatment | Scottsdale Phoenix

Dr. Jack Shier, Psychiatrist in Scottsdale, AZ specializes in the treatment of video game addiction. Our private outpatient clinic offers a comprehensive psychiatric/medical assessment and treatment plan. Treatment may include medications, behavioral therapies or a combination of treatments.

What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that originates from its parent drug, amphetamine. Methamphetamine takes several forms, but its most common street form is a white crystalline substance (crystal methamphetamine) which may be taken by snorting, smoking or injecting. It may also, however, come as a white, bitter-tasting powder or a pill. Methamphetamine differs from its parent drug in that greater amounts of the substance enter the brain, making it more potent. It also has longer-lasting and more harmful effects on the nervous system.
The 12-month prevalence of amphetamine-type stimulant use disorder is .2% across individuals 12 years of age and older, with the greatest prevalence in 18-29-year-olds.

What is Methamphetamine used for?

Classified as a Schedule II stimulant, Methamphetamine was first developed in the early 20th century to be used in nasal decongestants and inhalers. Currently, however, methamphetamine is most commonly used recreationally and in its illegal form.

What are the Effects of Methamphetamine?

When methamphetamine is smoked or injected, the drug enters the bloodstream quickly and causes an intense and pleasurable “rush” or “flash”. Similar to how these effects occur so rapidly, they also disappear relatively quickly as well. For this reason, users are inclined to maintain their high by taking more of the drug, leading to a cycle of binging and crashing.

The immediate effects of methamphetamine include a sense of euphoria, increased wakefulness and attention, increased activity and decreased appetite. Users of methamphetamine may also experience physiological symptoms such as a rapid or irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure as well as symptoms of hyperthermia and convulsions with overdose.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Use?

Several of the long-term effects of methamphetamine are caused by the method it is used. For example, Those who smoke the substance might experience respiratory problems to include coughing, pneumonitis or bronchitis. Users who snort the substance may develop irritation or bleeding of the nasal mucosa, a perforated nasal septum and/or sinusitis. Those who inject the substance into their forearms have a heightened risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis. Methamphetamine users may also be more at risk for cardiovascular problems like palpitations, heart attack and arrhythmias, stroke, seizures, and pneumothorax. Severe oral health effects of methamphetamine may include tooth decay, mouth sores, and “meth mouth” with gum disease. As previously mentioned, methamphetamine is also associated with a suppressed appetite, which often leads to weight loss in chronic users of the substance.

Arguably the most recognized effects of methamphetamine are the mental health symptoms that come with its use. Meth abusers may experience anxiety, confusion, violent behavior, insomnia, mood disturbances, and memory loss. Individuals may also demonstrate deficits in focus and/or motor skills. Some of the more psychotic features associated with methamphetamine use include hallucinations and delusions as well as paranoia. A common delusion in meth users is the sensation of insects crawling under their skin.

Neurologically, long-term methamphetamine use has been associated with neurotoxicity leading to alterations in brain structure and functioning. Such changes occur in the activity of the dopamine system, which are associated with impaired verbal learning and reduced motor speed, and in areas associated with emotion and memory and in the structure of areas in the brain that are associated with memory and emotion.

What is a Stimulant Use Disorder?

In the DSM-5, methamphetamine use disorder falls under the overarching stimulant use disorder. The DSM-5 criteria for stimulant use disorder are as follows:

A pattern of amphetamine-type substance, cocaine, or other stimulant use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:

  1. The stimulant is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control stimulant use.
  3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the stimulant, use the stimulant, or recover from its effects.
  4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use the stimulant
  5. Recurrent stimulant use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  6. Continued stimulant use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the stimulant
  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of stimulant use
  8. Recurrent stimulant use in situations in which it is physically hazardous
  9. Stimulant use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the stimulant
  10. Tolerance as defined by a need for markedly increased amounts of the stimulant to achieve intoxication or desired effect or a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the stimulant
  11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the stimulant or the stimulant (or closely related substance) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms

What Causes Methamphetamine Use Disorder/Addiction?

There are several factors that might influence the development of a methamphetamine use disorder. The pleasurable effects of methamphetamine are caused by the release of dopamine. The use of methamphetamine drastically increases the levels of dopamine in the reward center of the brain that are involved with pleasure and movement. In a normal brain, the release of dopamine is not an issue, as the chemical is reabsorbed into the cell that released it. In methamphetamine users, this reabsorption does not take place, causing build up of the chemical which disrupts cellular communication that happens within the brain. As a person builds up tolerance to meth, the effects of the substance are reduced, influencing the user to increase the frequency in which they use and the amount of methamphetamine used. Some individuals naturally produce higher levels of dopamine and may receive greater pleasure from using methamphetamine. These individuals tend to be more at risk for addiction.

Other risk factors that may increase one’s risk of developing a methamphetamine use disorder include comorbid mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder or other substance use disorders, as well as impulsive personality traits. Environmentally, exposure to community violence, unstable home environments and associations with other individuals who use meth are also predictors of methamphetamine use disorder.

What are the Symptoms of Methamphetamine Withdrawal?

After long-term meth use, the brain adapts to the influx in neurochemicals like dopamine caused by its use and adjusts to functioning with these chemicals present. Symptoms of withdrawal from begin around 24 hours after the user’s last dose. The first symptom that might appear is extreme fatigue, followed by depressive indications. Individuals may also experience hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia/ hypersomnia, as well as anhedonia (difficulty experiencing pleasure). The user may feel inclined to use methamphetamine again to relieve symptoms like these.

The physical symptoms of methamphetamine are considered relatively minor when compared to withdrawal symptoms of other serious drugs. The primary physical symptoms include lethargy and headache. Once off meth, some might gain significant amounts of weight or spend a lot of time sleeping, as these two processes are suppressed during meth use.

What is the Treatment for Methamphetamine Addiction/Use Disorder?

Treatment for methamphetamine use disorder may include cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management therapy, support groups, 12-step programs and therapeutic communities. There are not currently any FDA approved medications to treat methamphetamine addiction.

How to Cope?

  1. Maintaining a balanced lifestyle can help an individual manage addiction.
  2. Relaxation techniques – Mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises can reduce an individual’s overall stress level and may help curb maladaptive urges to use methamphetamine.
  3. Exercise routine – 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise may help manage methamphetamine addiction by reducing anxiety and diverting an individual’s attention away from its use.
  4. Good sleep hygiene – Healthy sleep patterns promote a stronger ability to maintain emotional equilibrium, making it easier to maintain stress and avoid the use of methamphetamine.
  5. Avoid activities surround methamphetamine use – Engage in activities that are not associated with methamphetamine use in order to prevent urges. Increase number of social contacts that are not associated with methamphetamine use/that do not promote the use of methamphetamine.
  6. Find new interests – Partaking in hobbies, interests or work that you find fulfilling will strengthen self-esteem and self-concept and may reduce the appeal of methamphetamine use.

Last update: March 9, 2018

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