Methamphetamines are a powerful stimulant that affects the brain in dramatic ways. The longer you use meth, the more likely you are to experience serious consequences to your social life, health, and well-being. It is famously addictive, and some claim it can cause physical dependence after one hit of the drug. While it’s unlikely for a drug to cause addiction after one hit, it could potentially cause an addiction after your first time using it. But what’s the difference?
Meth works in the brain similarly to other stimulants such as cocaine. It acts on dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a natural brain chemical responsible for making you feel good, and it’s closely tied to the reward center of the brain, which controls motivation. Stimulants can block reuptake, a process that removes excess dopamine from your synapses and recycles it. By blocking this process, the dopamine is left in your system and binds to even more dopamine receptors, causing euphoria, excitement, and a feeling of power.
However, meth is different from cocaine in that it also increases the amount of dopamine that’s released into your system. It’s a powerful high, but the second hit isn’t as good as the first because your dopamine levels are depleted. In many cases, people go on meth binges, taking multiple hits in succession. With each hit, the perceived potency becomes weaker. That’s because your nervous system needs time to recover and make more dopamine.
The intense euphoria caused by a surge of dopamine in a meth binge is incredibly profound and can potentially lead to repeated use, dependence, and addiction. Meth is a drug that can cause various consequences. That flood of dopamine can even damage dopamine receptors, leading to a condition called anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure in anything besides meth. Anhedonia can strengthen addiction and lead to depression.
The earlier you address a meth use disorder, the more likely you are to avoid serious consequences. Several signs and symptoms can point to a meth addiction in yourself or someone else. Learning to recognize these signs can help you get the help you need as early as possible.
If you’ve used meth recently, or if you’ve been using it for a while, you may be at risk for developing meth dependence or addiction. However, several symptoms can tell you that addiction may be around the corner.
The first sign of an addiction to a psychoactive drug is a growing tolerance, which can build up quickly if you take several hits of the substance in a row. However, this is a result of a lack of dopamine and may not necessarily mean that your brain is getting used to the drug. If you take meth on a few separate occasions and the same dose seems to be getting weaker, this can mean your brain chemistry is adapting to the presence of the chemical.
As tolerance builds, you may start to notice a growing dependence on the drug. With most psychoactive substances, dependence occurs when the brain and nervous system start to rely on the drug to maintain normal functions. The brain stops producing its own excitatory chemicals and depends on meth. However, the fact that meth can damage dopamine receptors adds a unique factor to dependence. You may rely on meth as your only source of pleasure.
When dependence starts to develop, you may stop using the drug as purely recreational and start using it as a way to feel normal, avoid uncomfortable comedowns, and treat withdrawal symptoms. Meth primarily affects dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine receptors, which are tied to reward, pleasure, mood, and other emotional responses.
Ready to get Help?
We’re here 24/7. Pick up the phone.
In some cases, depression caused by meth use can be severe enough to cause thoughts or actions of suicide. If you start to experience deep depression, speak to a professional as soon as possible.
Addiction is usually on the severe end of the substance abuse spectrum. When addiction has developed, drug use has gone beyond a chemical imbalance in the brain’s chemical messaging pathways and has started to affect the limbic system, also called the reward center of the brain. According to the American Psychiatric Society, addiction is marked by the compulsive use of a drug. It states, “Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.”
If you have been using meth regularly for some time, it can start to affect different parts of your life negatively. For instance, if meth intoxication makes it difficult for you to keep a job, leads to relationship problems, or impairs your health but you continue to use, it may indicate that you have an addiction. You also may be addicted if you tried and failed to stop using because of powerful cravings.
If you believe you’ve developed an addiction, it will be difficult to stop using meth on your own, and you should speak to a doctor or professional about addiction treatment.
If you are worried that a friend or family member might be struggling with addiction, it may be a little more difficult to spot the signs, but it is possible. Addiction and substance abuse can be kept hidden in the early stages, but it usually becomes too difficult to conceal eventually. Addiction bleeds into multiple aspects of your life. It changes your mood, it can cause physical changes, and it can cause your work or school performance to suffer. Once a person develops an addiction, it usually isn’t long before visible symptoms begin to show up.
Addiction can cause behavioral changes like isolationism, loss of interest in normal activities, anxiety, depression, paranoia, odd sleep patterns, and even aggression. However, meth causes several physical symptoms that can be apparent to close family and friends.
Meth users will often binge for several days at a time. With a steady stimulant, they can stay awake for days or even weeks, but it takes a heavy toll. Meth binges and a lack of sleep increase a person’s likelihood of developing psychosis or a loss of a sense of reality. This may cause them to act erratically or irrationally.
A substance use disorder can slowly spiral out of control and take over multiple aspects of your life. Meth addiction is a serious disease that’s difficult to overcome on your own. If you believe that you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, there is help available to put you on the path to recovery. Speak to an addiction treatment specialist at Pathway to Hope to learn more about addiction treatment and the options available to you.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
Darke, S., Kaye, S., McKetin, R., & Duflou, J. (2009, July). Major physical and psychological harms of methamphetamine use. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09595230801923702?scroll=top&needAccess=true
Glasner-Edwards, S., & Mooney, L. J. (2014, December). Methamphetamine Psychosis: Epidemiology and Management. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5027896/