Drug Addicition: Meth

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

Meth Addicition

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Addiction to crystal meth -- methamphetamine -- is taking a terrible toll on users, families and friends, communities, law enforcement, and health care. Meth is highly addictive and easily obtainable everywhere. Find out how meth affects users and what can be done to break the grip of addiction. David Rosenker of the Caron Foundation joined us on Aug. 2, 2005 to answer your questions about meth.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live, David. Thank you for joining us today. Can you get us started by explaining what crystal meth is?

ROSENKER:
Crystal is basically, in its simplest form, over-the-counter medication and various other amphetamine-based products that are hooked together and sold as methamphetamine. One of the largest concerns about meth is it's base chemicals is over-the-counter cold medications such as Sudafed and so on, which has made the ease of access to get the medication much easier.

MODERATOR:
So when someone uses meth, it's a crapshoot as to what they are getting?

ROSENKER:
Absolutely, because most of the meth labs are making their own combination of meth, varying the makeup of different chemicals.

MODERATOR:
In addition to the harm from the meth, there are other toxins, correct?

ROSENKER:
Correct.

MODERATOR:
What effect does meth have on the user's body? His mind?

ROSENKER:
One of the most concerning aspects of meth use is that it is high-addictive content. Similar to past drugs that we've seen, such as PCP, heroin and other major drugs that have a high level of addictive content, meth is one of those drugs you cannot use socially, such as PCP and heroin. It's not uncommon for somebody to use meth one to two times and become immediately addicted.

The impact on the mind and body is similar to your intense "speed" user who becomes paranoid, agitated and aggressive, and it takes its toll on the body very rapidly. As many people saw in the Oregon newspaper, The Faces of Meth , the destruction of the person's physical appearance can happen from three to six months, from rotting of teeth to skin discoloration to loss of weight and various other internal organ damage.

MODERATOR:
I'd like to refer you to oregonlive.com; search for meth and find The Faces of Addiction .

"It creates a less than desirable "high" in the end and makes people do things they normally would not do under the influence, especially treat people that care about them, badly."

MEMBER QUESTION:
How long does it take for meth to destroy the liver if it is eaten, along with smoked and snorted?

ROSENKER:
Commonly it's smoked or snorted. The destruction to the liver is fairly rapid, like the rest of the effects on the body. The liver, unfortunately, and fortunately, has the ability to regenerate itself pretty quickly no matter what kind of damage we've done to it. That said, I've never heard of anybody eating it, so the effect of them eating it on the liver, I don't know that.

Overall, the effect on the liver is -- it's an extreme mix of toxic chemicals and will have an effect very rapidly. It depends on the amount, length of time, and the various other aspects of the person's health that's using it.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Why does meth make you feel -- I don't know -- all the things it makes you feel? I did it because I wouldn't feel anything emotionally. However, it just gave me a new set of horrible feelings.

ROSENKER:
That's a pretty common addictive behavioral response, and not necessarily specific to meth use. Most people use substances so they don't have to feel anything emotionally, and one of the largest impacts of meth is it creates, and will create, feelings in the long run that are not desirable.

Short term, in the beginning stages, people get "high" and the sensations they feel are euphoria, tons of energy, excited, supersensitive to body touch, and a brief period of time over extended use that turns into, as stated before, paranoia, itchy, restless feelings. So in the beginning, many addicts, and this is similar to other drugs, be it alcohol or other drugs, most people use it to feel better.

When it turns into addiction and crosses the line from abuse to dependency, the emotional "feeling good" disappears, and the addict typically keeps trying to chase that "feeling good" by continuing to use -- that is the cycle of addiction.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Why does meth make you not have feelings? You can be the most evil person to the people you love the most.

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ROSENKER:
That, again, is the addictive cycle. What's specific to meth is you rarely run into a "happy" meth user as you would possibly a happy alcoholic or drunk, so to speak.

The meth addict tends to get agitated pretty quickly, irritable, hostile, angry and short-tempered. It creates a less than desirable "high" in the end and makes people do things they normally would not do under the influence, especially treat people that care about them, badly. Again, that's the cycle of addiction.

MODERATOR:
Crystal meth has been around for years. Why are so many becoming addicted to it now?

ROSENKER:
There is a similarity between the trend of meth use and Ecstasy. Ecstasy is one of those drugs that has been around for many years. What happened to Ecstasy is it was repackaged, so to speak -- made in a cheaper way and made to be appealing by either colors, shapes, whatever, to a younger population. It got introduced into a market, like the raves, of adolescents that that drug appealed to.

Meth has been around for a long time, but the methamphetamine went through a similar cycle, repackaged, made in a cheaper way and was hyped as the new speed, although some of its contents have been around for many years. Like many drugs it goes in cycles as being attractive. Heroin is another example -- 15, 20 years ago heroin was seen as the drug that most kids would not use and was seen as a highly addictive -- you had to be a street addict to use it. Over the years it was also repackaged and sold in the cheaper snortable way that made it an easier access for a younger population. The phenomenon is very similar, and it's the same we do with many things in our society with not just drugs.

We do the same things with tobacco and various other chemicals to get your attention. If you can get the attention of the adolescent adult, that's where the market is, whether it be a positive product or a negative product, such as meth and other drugs.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What do you mean by "repackaged"?

ROSENKER:
Repackaged -- what I mean is like Ecstasy came in a blue pill, different color than many years ago, also had shapes and designs engraved in the pill that attempted to describe the high, like a dolphin, it was supposed to be a different kind of high. That's how it was repackaged.

Heroin was repackaged in a way that it was a cleaner type of drug and made available in a cheaper way and snortable so you didn't have to shoot it up with syringes -- that made it more appealing to a younger group.

Methamphetamine -- making it a drug with easier access, making it cheaper, and again making it snortable. That's what I mean by repackaged and more appealing.

MODERATOR:
So dealers market the product to create the initial demand, and addiction can do the rest of the selling.

ROSENKER:
Absolutely.

"What's concerning about methamphetamine is that it appears to be literally decimating towns as it moves across the U.S. -- economically, in all areas, from employment, jobs -- everything."

MEMBER QUESTION:
Wasn't it legal before and prescribed for stupid reasons like lack of energy or depression?

ROSENKER:
Amphetamines have been around many years and were prescribed for many ridiculous reasons. Most often it was prescribed for weight loss as the No. 1 reason.

The amphetamine that was "prescribed" was a different mix of chemicals and a cleaner mix of chemical than methamphetamine. In its simplest form, amphetamine is a lab manufactured chemical and methamphetamine is a street manufactured chemical, cooked in somebody's house, garage, trailer or wherever, with various chemicals that were put together and cooked on the stove to make meth in uncontrolled environments, unlike the traditional amphetamines that were prescribed by physicians.

The addictive level in methamphetamine is many times over than the straight amphetamine prescription.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I'm wondering about how many times or how often it needs to be used before a person is addicted?

ROSENKER:
It's an interesting, simple and complicated question. It varies from person to person. There is no telling from one person to the next how many times are going to cause an addiction to a particular substance, whether it would be one, two, three or 50.

That being said, methamphetamine is highly addicting. It is not uncommon for people to report that they have felt addicted to the substance after the first to the third time of use. Because of its highly addictive qualities, that's what makes it a chemical that is not able to be socially used, like heroin.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Why is it so addictive?

ROSENKER:
There are multiple reasons why it's so addictive. One is the strength of the drug itself, which makes it highly addictive. The addictive toxic chemical in methamphetamine and its combination, make it also incredibly addicting and fast acting. The combination of intensity, fast acting and initial feeling of euphoria and feeling of conquering the world contributes to its highly addictive qualities. But keep in mind, it turns very quickly.

I absolutely agree that it's an epidemic. What's interesting, so to speak, about meth use and its being an epidemic is it truly is an epidemic on the West coast and in some cities in the Midwest. In the East it is just starting to become problematic and in spotty areas, an epidemic.

It also appears to be moving slower from the West to the East than many other drugs have done in the past. Heroin, as one example along with PCP, Ecstasy and recent epidemics for those drugs -- they moved fairly rapidly from West to East coast over a period of a few years.

What's concerning about methamphetamine is that it appears to be literally decimating towns as it moves across the U.S. -- economically, in all areas, from employment, jobs -- everything.

The question about ease of access is absolutely one of the reasons it's become an epidemic and that's the case with every drug that's become an epidemic - it's the ease of access. There have been some attempts recently of restricting sale of over the counter medications that are used as the base but at this point it appears to have had little impact.

MODERATOR:
Who is the typical meth user -- or is there such a thing?

ROSENKER:
At this point there appears to be no typical meth addict. Again, the pattern of this drug is so similar to other drugs -- heroin was also seen as a poor, city drug actually -- it hit that population first and then spread. Ecstasy was seen as a young adult, rich kid drug for a period of time then spread to other populations. Although meth started in the rural areas because that's where some of the labs were located, it's quickly spread to other communities and areas so that there is no typical meth user anymore.

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MEMBER QUESTION:
Why does it make you not hungry and not able to sleep?

ROSENKER:
That is part of the side effect of the amphetamine and the quality for the amphetamine drug itself, as I stated earlier, was the original prescription for amphetamine was for weight loss -- it shuts down the appetite center of the brain and makes you less wanting to eat and makes you not hungry. So meth, having that as its base product, that's going to be the No. 1 symptom -- not getting hungry.

In addition, it speeds up your metabolism -- your brain is firing faster than normal. It speeds up your heart rate, respiration, pulse -- all of those body functions quicken, which make it impossible to sleep. The "not eating" and the "not sleeping" are the side effects of methamphetamine use that tends to cause the most damage the soonest. You'll see when people become addictive to meth is they will drop a significant amount of weight, they won't have any regular routines except to get high, their teeth will rot, they don't take care of themselves, tend to get facial and body sores and they tend to look like somebody who has been up months on end, and for some addicts it's been days and weeks.

MODERATOR:
How does meth affect sexual desire and performance? It is known as a "party drug" (sometimes referred to as Partying with Tina). But doesn't it affect sexual functioning?

ROSENKER:
Yes, actually, it does. Again, this is similar to some of the other drugs we spoke of, heroin and Ecstasy. One of the most attractive pieces of a drug that makes it spread rapidly is that it enhances sexual ability, performance, and sense of touch. All three of those drugs, at the beginning, do that -- but emphasis on the beginning -- because once the drug continues to be repeated performance, ability to function sexually, desire to function sexually and sense of touch varies rapidly. As I made reference to earlier about the sense of touch -- you feel itchy, somewhat hypersensitive to touch, it doesn't feel good and you don't want people to touch you period .

The sexual function isn't there because you don't care any more. The desire to be sexually active is almost nil. The "positive" or "euphoric" aspect of drug use, which attracts people to it in the beginning, is the additive cycle and they keep trying to chase those good feelings over and over again. They've been long gone, but the addict thinks if they keep using either more or differently, they'll come back, and they never do, at least not until recovery.

"What is most concerning in the early stages of recovery for meth users and withdrawal is their desire to use and get high is extremely, and I can't overemphasize it, extremely intensive, unlike many other drugs we've seen."

MEMBER QUESTION:
Are women or men more prone to be meth users? Is there even a bias with meth?

ROSENKER:
Absolutely not. One thing about addiction is it never has any bias.

MODERATOR:
What affect does meth have on parenting?

ROSENKER:
It's not parenting, per se, that's the problem. When an addict gets into the late stages of addiction, when everything begins to deteriorate and the drug is the number one motivation -- nothing is more important than that drug - not job, school, kids, spouse -- nothing. The addict is willing to give up any of those things to continue the use.

The reason whey we see it more frequently in meth and heroin users is the high level of addictiveness of those drugs. They enter late-stage addiction rapidly and in a short period of time, unlike many traditional alcoholics that can be drinking for years before we see late-addiction consequences. In comparison, the adult alcoholic loses the job and the family as a last resort after many years of drinking. The meth user can lose those things in a short period of time, such as months or weeks.

The second part of the question is -- can they ever be good parents? Absolutely -- in recovery. As far as recovery for meth users -- traditional, short-term treatment that works for traditional drug users does not work for meth users. It needs to be longer term and more intensive.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I work as a nurse in corrections and see a multitude of inmates that have been using meth. What are common withdrawal symptoms and what can be done to help with them?

ROSENKER:
Common withdrawal symptoms are extreme agitation, paranoia, sweating, nausea and muscle cramping, not to mention the physical damage in and of itself to teeth, skin, and other parts of the body.

It's a painful withdrawal, but can be helped with some medications that can be used for pain management short term to help with some of the initial pain.

What is most concerning in the early stages of recovery for meth users and withdrawal is their desire to use and get high is extremely, and I can't overemphasize it, extremely intensive , unlike many other drugs we've seen. Despite all the other negative consequences they are experiencing, their desire to want to continue to get high is not dissipated at all. They also experience a clenching of the teeth and grinding of the teeth during withdrawal and months or so of recovery, which again is part of the withdrawal from the amphetamine.

Lastly, difficulty sleeping. As if all of that wasn't enough!

MEMBER QUESTION:
How long can withdrawal symptoms last?

ROSENKER:
The intensive initial physical withdrawal will typically last approximately up to two weeks. The minor physical withdrawal - the difficulty sleeping, the teeth clenching, recovery from some skin irritations and some other things can last 30 to 60 days, if not longer, depending on the amount of abuse and time they've used.

Psychological withdrawal, although you can compare it to other addictions, they will always want to get high during some points of their recovery. Meth addicts are preoccupied more frequently about getting high throughout the day for many days after they're drug free, which again makes the short-term traditional 30-day treatment ineffective for meth users.

MEMBER QUESTION:
When I quit it was because I was pregnant. I just stopped like that. Why was it so easy? I could never have stopped before, it was too hard. That fact makes me scared I will start using once the baby is born.

ROSENKER:
You're probably right. It's one of those things that if we could explain it we could fix the whole addictive cycle. Some people who are addicted can stop a particular chemical by saying I'm done, usually for a reason such as pregnancy, job interview or for whatever the reason may be. Unfortunately, it's invariably short term.

It is also not uncommon to hear that you stopped your meth use while pregnant -- it's a similar story I've heard with alcoholics and heroin users -- they've stopped while they are pregnant and started again after the baby is born. What it unfortunately reinforces to them, and wrongly so, is that they were in control.

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Typically when they start using again, it's as if, physiologically and psychologically, they've been using the whole time. They essentially pick up where they left off, it takes less for them to get high and the deterioration is much faster.

MODERATOR:
What could someone like this member do to reinforce abstinence?

ROSENKER:
Without a doubt, you can reinforce abstinence by getting involved in a narcotics, alcoholics or self-help type group that will help you with your recovery. Doing it alone and kind of bearing it through is not going to be effective.

MEMBER:
I was a heavy meth user during college and haven't used in 11 years. I had major audio hallucinations for 10 months after quitting. I needed meds and everything! I quit with help through a rehab, doctors and a 12-step program. Get help through a recovery program.

ROSENKER:
I couldn't agree more on what you're saying. The only way to recover from meth use and addiction is through tons of support, whether it be family, self-help, physicians, rehab programs or a combination thereof; it's the only way to get into recovery from meth addiction. This is one drug you typically cannot go cold turkey from and not use again.

"What I've not seen effective thus far with meth addicts in treatment is the traditional outpatient. Residential treatment appears to be the best and most effective for meth addicts."

MEMBER QUESTION:
Can you comment on the way Caron handles this addictive drug treatment-wise?

ROSENKER:
What appears to be working at this point, and it has not hit the East to a significant degree as it has in the West, is the team of physicians and other medical staff, long-term recovery with a minimum of 90 to 120 days, intensive family therapy, group therapy, and after-care resources, appears to be having the best effect and greatest impact.

The traditional 30-day treatment and back out into the community appears to be doing nothing more than adding to the relapse rate. Meth addicts need a significant amount of support and more integration of services than other addicts to remain drug free.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I've been clean for over four months, and then a relapse of three days straight. I still have visual effects and auditory effects, though not as much. What can I do to help that?

ROSENKER:
The only way for the audio and visual complications or effects to completely go away is long-term recovery. Repeated use, even after periods of being clean, just creates them all over again and starts the process again. They will eventually go away but it will take months of being in recovery.

Your description points out how addictive this substance is, how unlike it is to other drugs we've seen so far and how intensive the treatment is.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What is the best way to help someone who is addicted to meth?

ROSENKER:
The best way is similar to other drugs -- it is to stop the enabling process by buying them out of negative consequences, by intervening either by a professional interventionist or a physician who is knowledgeable about meth use, interacting with the user when they are clean, sober, not high, the forcing, through negative consequences, if they don't get into recovery and through care and concern, to push them into a recovery program.

What I've not seen effective thus far with meth addicts in treatment is the traditional outpatient. Residential treatment appears to be the best and most effective for meth addicts.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What should parents do to educate kids on this highly addictive drug?

ROSENKER:
No. 1 question of the year -- the most common question regarding any drug or alcohol use out there for a parent.

The best advice I can give is to talk to your kids about not only substance abuse, but their life in general.

Be an "askable" parent; if they can ask you questions at 3, they'll ask you at 9, 15, and 20. If you're an unapproachable parent and are unable to talk about issues and feelings, it raises the risk level of your adolescent to drug use. Keep in mind one of the initial first statements made at the beginning of this by a person saying they used so they didn't have to feel. That is the cornerstone of all addiction -- they don't have to feel the use, or to change the way they feel. So, by talking to kids as a parent about how they feel and helping them process their feelings it discourages and makes them less likely to abuse substances.

That and many other variables contribute to kids not using. Such as families that eat together two to three times per week have significantly less problem with substance abuse. Families where fathers are involved, both emotionally and physically, have a significantly less rate of substance abuse. And so on.

"The most important thing families can do is part of what they're doing today -- get more information, become aware of the issues that are out there, getting help for affected family members and not waiting for them to come to you to say I need help."

MODERATOR:
David, we are almost out of time. Before we wrap things up for today, do you have any final comments for us?

ROSENKER:
With all that was said, including the last comment about parenting, it's important to keep in mind that with drug addiction and the impact on families and the addict themselves, some of the exact causes are still unknown. We know that many things contribute to addiction, such as family history, genetics, many risk factors such as emotional, financial and so on, but we really never can tell where addiction is going to hit and why one person and not another. This makes the whole issue of responsible use and harm reduction to be the most concerning. We don't know who's going to use today and become an addict tomorrow.

The only way to avoid some of the addiction is through abstinence. The most important thing families can do is part of what they're doing today -- get more information, become aware of the issues that are out there, getting help for affected family members and not waiting for them to come to you to say I need help. It's a myth addicts have to ask for help to stop using. Families can push addicts to want to get help through enforcing negative consequences and not enabling addictive behaviors.

Lastly, not only become aware of what the drugs are, what they do and how to intervene, but also be aware of the resources that are in your community for help and utilize them, because this is certainly, as with all the other drugs out there, not a drug we can combat and beat alone.

MODERATOR:
Our thanks to David Rosenker of the Caron Foundation for joining us today. For more information, please visit Caron Foundation online at www.caron.org.



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Reviewed on 8/4/2005 1:25:54 PM

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