What Makes Meth So Addictive?

Methamphetamine, often shortened to “meth,” is a widely available illicit substance with a high addictive potential. In some parts of the United States, meth addiction exceeds the rates for addiction to both cocaine and heroin. This condition is debilitating, but recovery is possible. Today, we examine the addictive properties of methamphetamine, along with how to identify if a loved one has begun using amphetamines.

About Methamphetamine

Like many drugs, meth has its origins in the field of medicine. Originally prescribed as a decongestant, weight loss aid and antidepressant, this substance was once legally available and even provided by doctors.

Today, it is produced in illegal laboratories or is imported into the United States. Using ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, which can be found in many commonly available medications, meth is “cooked” in remote homes and made into a consumable form, either in the form of crystalline powder or coarse crystals. The substance may be smoked, snorted, or injected.

Meth’s Addictive Properties

Like cocaine, meth is considered a central nervous system stimulant. However, meth is three times more powerful than cocaine and triggers chemical dependency more rapidly than other drugs. Its consumption creates a rush of dopamine and adrenaline (also known as norepinephrine) in the brain’s reward center.

Consistent use of methamphetamine rewires the brain. While the first few experiences are generally voluntary, decisions made through the prefrontal cortex. Afterwards, the urge to use moves to the hindbrain: the same area responsible for non-voluntary actions like breathing and blinking.

The intense euphoria of a methamphetamine high is often enough to push someone to return to the drug after their first experience, even though they are not explicitly “addicted” yet. The brain becomes dependent on the drug very rapidly.

Signs of Meth Use

While there are general signs of addiction that hold true for most substances, such as social isolation and dedicating more and more time to drug use, there are some that are specific to meth. In addition to a gaunt appearance, users may exhibit…

  • – Oral issues: bad breath and tooth decay
  • – Dilated pupils
  • – Anorexia
  • – Feelings of insects crawling on or under the skin
  • – Haggard appearance, poor personal hygiene, ill-fitting clothes
  • – Signs of premature aging (loss of skin elasticity, facial wasting, wrinkling skin, rough texture)
  • – Sores and scarring on the face
  • – Depression and anxiety
  • – Hyperactivity
  • – Hallucinations and paranoia
  • – Urges to perform repetitive or meaningless tasks
  • – Behaving erratically
  • – Fidgeting, appearing unable to sit still

Changes in Appearance

Many people have seen before and after photos of those in the throes of meth addiction, but they may not know the reason for these dramatic changes in appearance. Because meth is an anorectic – an appetite suppressant – severe weight loss and undernourishment can create significant differences in those who have developed a chemical dependency. Dramatic weight loss is one of the surest signs of meth use. This malnourishment can also cause facial wasting, which occurs when the body begins to consume facial fat and muscle tissue, resulting in a gaunt appearance.

Even the lowest level of drug use can change a person’s skin significantly. Dry skin and itchiness, coupled with the common hallucination of bugs crawling beneath the skin, can promote skin picking, which in turn results in sores and facial scarring. Meth users will also exhibit a pale or waxy complexion, caused by the physical stress of drug use.

Finally, the combination of skin problems, facial wasting, oral decay and neglected hygiene, along with the intense physical stressors of substance use, mean that advanced signs of aging become apparent.

Treating Meth Addiction

The longer someone uses meth, the more severe their dependence will be. However, according to the National Library of Medicine, the sooner someone accepts help for their addiction, the better their likelihood of recovery. Today, cutting-edge behavioral therapies are available. By working with a team of professionals, individuals can learn to overcome their addictions and develop healthy coping mechanisms. Don’t wait to seek treatment.

With more than 50 years of recovery, Cumberland Heights is Tennessee’s premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. Our addiction specialists can help you to get your life back. Call 800-646-9998 to learn more today.