While the country is focused on the fight against opioids, government officials and those in charge have overlooked the severity of an epidemic that is brewing in our communities. Meth use is surging in some areas throughout the country and outpacing heroin use. It won’t be much longer that we’ll see the opioid crisis overshadowing meth use in the media. Emergency rooms have already seen the devastating effects caused by meth use.
According to a recent study conducted by The Journal of the American Medical Association, amphetamine-related hospitalizations jumped 245 percent from 2008 to 2015, which dwarfs how many people have been rushed to emergency rooms from other drugs. The increase has been felt mostly in the West and Mid Western regions.
Doctor’s have seen the evidence of the meth comeback in their emergency rooms. When paramedics transport patients and arrive in the ER, the individuals are paranoid, agitated, and aggressive. Police officers have also discussed, from their perspective, that suspects they come into contact with on the streets using meth have heart rates so high they are immediately taken to the hospital for medical clearance before being booked into jail.
In addition to the significant uptick in meth use, there has been an explosion in overdose deaths. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), over a 6-year span, overdose deaths have more than quadrupled.
Oregon health authorities spoke on the issue recently and stating that meth is now the leading cause of drug-related deaths in their state. Dr. Andy Mendenhall, chief medical officer for Central City Concern in Portland, says that meth has a long history in the region, but the last few years have seen an unprecedented uptick in overdoses that outpace opioids.
We commonly hear about meth being one of the most challenging drugs to quit, and those who attempt to do so cold turkey can deal with a host of other symptoms that make it nearly impossible to stop. Let’s delve a bit deeper on the topic to get a better understand why it is so hard to quit meth cold turkey.
Methamphetamine is a potent and highly addictive stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The drug looks like glass fragments and is similarly chemical to amphetamine, which is a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It can be smoked, swallowed (pill), snorted, or injected once it is dissolved into water.
The initial high fades quickly, and those who use it repeatedly fall into a binge and crash pattern. For some users, they will go on what is known as a “run,” which means they’ll give up food and sleep while using the drug every few hours for several days. It is very dangerous and puts the user at an increased risk of overdose.
Meth increases the levels of dopamine, a natural chemical in the body that is responsible for movement, motivation, and reinforcing rewarding behaviors. Meth causes the rapid release of dopamine in reward areas and leaves the user wanting more of the substance. Even when taken in small amounts, it can result in health effects similar to cocaine. Meth also has the power to block the reuptake of dopamine, causing a user to feel depressed if they run out of the drug.
Initial research has shown that meth alters brain structures responsible for decision-making, and impairs a user’s ability to suppress habitual behaviors that become counterproductive. The changes in brain structure and function demonstrated in the research highlight why meth addiction is so complicated to treat.
Additionally, it gives us a better understanding as to why relapse is so prevalent early in treatment. Users describe the depression associated as crippling, and many feel that using the drug is in their best interest.
Those who struggle with meth abuse understand how much the drug has damaged their lives may try to quit cold turkey. Unfortunately, the cravings, compulsive behaviors, lack of medical or social support, and discomfort are going to push someone right back into meth use. Several studies, as we’ve highlighted above, discuss why meth users have such a high relapse rate.
If you have thought about stopping cold turkey, you must be familiar with the meth withdrawal symptoms. It is found to be extremely difficult to quit the routine and ignore the compulsions to take more. You will begin to experience the first wave of meth withdrawal around 24 hours after you abstain from the substance.
The most severe withdrawal symptoms when stopping cold turkey will occur during the acute withdrawal phase. At this stage, severe symptoms can last anywhere from seven to 10 days, but there can be long-term neurotoxic effects, such as low levels of dopamine in the brain that take longer to overcome.
Fewer dopamine receptors can activate after the constant floods brought on by meth. It can take weeks, months, and in some cases, years before the structural changes in the brain can heal.
Meth can cause someone to lose all control of their lives. Many individuals touch on how meth caused them to sell their belongings, sell their bodies, and steal to support their habit. As highlighted above, it’s difficult to quit because of the changes it causes in our brain. The only way to quit meth for good is to consider treatment. While quitting cold turkey may seem like a cost-effective measure to avoid standard treatment, it is not a sustainable option.
Modern treatment methods have evolved over the years, and those attending treatment have a much better chance at abstaining long-term. Those who use meth must consider medical detoxification as an alternative to stopping cold turkey.
Addiction specialists can provide medications that alleviate some of the depression and help the former user feel stable throughout the process. No matter which path you choose, it won’t be easy, but being surrounded by a support team that provides medications to counter the negative side effects will help immensely in your recovery process.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine misuse? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/methamphetamine/what-are-long-term-effects-methamphetamine-misuse
Zorick, T., Nestor, L., Miotto, K., Sugar, C., Hellemann, G., Scanlon, G., . . . London, E. D. (2010, October). Withdrawal symptoms in abstinent methamphetamine-dependent subjects. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3071736/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What are the immediate (short-term) effects of methamphetamine misuse? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/methamphetamine/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-methamphetamine-misuse
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Methamphetamine. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine
Hobson, J. (2019, May 15). Meth Overdose Deaths In U.S. Quadruple Over 6-Year Span. Retrieved from https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/05/15/us-meth-overdose-deaths
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 29). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
Gorman, A. (2018, November 26). Overshadowed By Opioids, Meth Is Back And Hospitalizations Surge. Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/overshadowed-by-opioids-meth-is-back-and-hospitalizations-surge/