Meth Addiction And The Effects In Teens
Fans of the hit crime drama Breaking Bad may have become familiar with the dangers of methamphetamine use. However, as a parent, you may have questions about methamphetamine abuse in teenagers and whether it requires drug rehab treatment. Surveys suggest that 2 to 3.5% of adolescents have used methamphetamines . Also called “speed” or “glass”, it’s a highly addictive stimulant.
How Meth Works
Methamphetamine – or “meth” for short – is a type of amphetamine, a drug that acts on the body’s central nervous system. The drug works by increasing dopamine levels within the brain to very high levels. Dopamine is the brain chemical that’s linked to pleasure, reward, motivation, and also motor function. When dopamine levels skyrocket, as they do during meth use, the user experiences a pleasurable rush that is often compared to euphoria.
While there are several types of amphetamines, meth is generally considered the most potent. The drug can be snorted, injected, or taken orally. Some abusers use a method called parachuting, which involves crushing a pill and then rolling the powder into a piece of tissue or toilet paper. The entire package – tissue and all – is then swallowed, delivering what’s believed to be a stronger, faster high because the pill’s outer protective layer has been destroyed.
Teen meth addicts will typically use daily or nearly daily. Addiction requiring drug rehab treatment can develop quickly, sometimes within just a few uses. Chronic abuse of the drug leads to tolerance. As one’s tolerance level increases so does the amount of the drug that’s needed in order to achieve the euphoric high.
Effects Of Meth
Since meth is a stimulant, like cocaine, a teen will experience immediate physical effects, even when the drug is taken in small amounts. Meth users experience increased heart rate and respiration, irregular heartbeat, high body temperature, decreased appetite, inability to sleep, and increased physical activity.
An adolescent with a long-term meth addiction can experience more serious effects. Anxiety, confusion, and extreme weight loss are common. Many develop severe dental problems, such as tooth decay and loss, because the drug reduces output of saliva, which normally protects the mouth, and drug users often have poor dental hygiene.
Teen meth addicts are also at risk because the drug enhances the sex drive. Several studies have found that youth, especially females, who use meth are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors . This potentially leads to unsafe sexual practices, including having sex without protection. Research has found a strong association between meth users and sexual risk-taking. A study of adults using meth found they were 1.7 times more likely to have gonorrhea and twice as likely to have chlamydia .
Chronic methamphetamine abusers might experience serious psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia. This can lead to physical problems as well. For instance, a meth user might scratch and gouge at their skin to remove “bugs.” Auditory hallucinations can be particularly dangerous if the addict believes “voices” are commanding him or her to harm others, a symptom that makes drug rehab treatment that much more important.
Meth use in teens can also cause permanent brain damage. Research shows that chronic use causes structural and functional changes to brain areas linked to memory and mood [4, 5]. In addition, brain imaging has shown that meth use changes the dopamine system in a way that reduces verbal learning and motor skills . Using the drug over time also disrupts the body’s normal production of dopamine; as a result, chronic users show severe mood swings.
Signs Of Meth Abuse In Teens
- Euphoric moods (may appear unusually happy)
- Reduced appetite
- Incessant talking
- Rapid weight loss
- Dilated pupils
- Dry, itchy skin
- Skin sores
- Intense mood swings
- Anxiety, nervousness
- Shaky hands
- Violent or aggressive behavior
- Excessive sweating
Symptoms can become worse as a teen’s meth addiction deepens. For instance, a meth addict often appears undernourished or even sick. He or she may have frequent mood swings, abruptly switching from chatty and friendly one moment to aggressive and hostile the next.
Treatment For Meth Addiction
Due to the serious short-term and long-term health risks, including brain damage and even death, meth addiction in adolescents requires immediate drug rehab treatment. Meth abusers can experience intense withdrawal symptoms, including severe agitation, anxiety, sleeplessness, and strong urges to use. Since withdrawal symptoms can be so powerful, teens should detox in a treatment center where they can be medically monitored.
After the drug is out of the body, your teen will start a treatment plan that will likely have several components based on his or her needs. Currently, there are no approved medications to treat methamphetamine addiction. However, rehab centers have a number of therapies for helping adolescents recover. For example, an addictions specialist may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy. This particular type of therapy helps teens learn more about the factors, such as negative emotions, irrational thoughts, or unhealthy behaviors, that contribute to their drug use. This therapy also teaches them how to deal with those factors in a drug-free way. Contingency management may also be beneficial in a drug treatment program. It provides tangible incentives, such as movie tickets or cash, for drug-free urine samples.
Alternate Therapies For Addiction
Other therapies may help your teen as well. For example, animal-assisted therapy, which involves the use of animals like dogs or horses, can be especially powerful. This treatment approach can help addicted teens reduce anxiety, build self-confidence, and develop trust. Talk with an addiction specialist to learn more about the benefits of animal-assisted therapy.
Family education and counseling will also be essential for guiding your teen through recovery. Educational sessions help parents and family members better understand the nature of addiction. They also show ways to help an addicted teen stay free of drugs. In family counseling, a therapist works with family members to pinpoint and resolve conflicts and communication issues, including those that have played a role in your teen’s decision to use drugs. Family therapy can play an important role in helping your teen avoid a relapse down the road.
Meth Affects The Brain’s Pleasure Center Long After Use
Treating an addiction to meth is challenging, in part, because the brain’s ability to produce dopamine is hampered for up to 6 months or more after drug use stops. As a result, addicts may be unable to experience pleasure. This can make it difficult for them to find enjoyment in even simple activities like spending time with friends, seeing a movie, or relaxing on the beach. This lack of positive emotion can compel many teens to start using again, just so they can feel some form of pleasure.
Yet, despite the challenges, adolescents can fully recover from a methamphetamine addiction. If you suspect or know that your teen is abusing meth, consult a drug rehab treatment as soon as possible – preferably one that is skilled in handling meth abuse and addiction in teens. The staff will work with you to lay out a plan for recovery that gives your teen the best chance for success.