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The 5 Stages of Meth Addiction: Knowing When to Stop

Meth is a potent stimulant drug that quickly binds to receptors in the brain and releases a flood of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. It is most commonly found as a powder or a pill, which is snorted, smoked, or injected intravenously.

Although there is a prescription version of meth called Desoxyn, this drug is rarely prescribed. The bulk of illicit meth abuse in the United States does not involve prescription diversion; it is the abuse of stronger, illegally made versions of the drug.

These are increasingly produced in super labs in Mexico or China and then shipped into the U.S. Meth production is inexpensive, so drug manufacturers and sellers make a lot of money on this harmful substance.

Use Can Quickly Lead to Addiction

Anecdotally, meth is so strong that one dose can immediately cause addiction. This is not true, but the drug does cause such a large surge of mood-elevating neurotransmitters that you are likely to experience a comedown, which is similar to a hangover, the next day.

Cravings are symptoms of a comedown. For many people around the world, they may be so tired, depressed, and craving the drug so much that they take another dose to feel normal. Over time, being unable to control cravings for the drug leads to addiction.

Meth addiction often occurs quickly, but it can occur in a few distinct phases. The best way to avoid becoming addicted to meth is never to try it.

If you have tried meth and find that you are using more than you expected, learning the general phases of addiction can help you identify your problem. This can motivate you to stop abusing this drug and get evidence-based treatment.

The 5 Stages of Meth Addiction

5 stages

There are five overarching stages of addiction

  1. The First Dose
    Trying the drug for the first time introduces the risk of addiction. There are many reasons that someone may try meth for the first time, but most often, you will be introduced to it through friends or social acquaintances. Maybe you are at a party, and someone offers you the drug; maybe you are at a rave, concert, or nightlife event and someone you do not know offers you the drug.

    A quick high and hard crash often follows the first dose. If you try meth for any reason, take care of yourself the next day and do not succumb to cravings to take more of the substance
  2. Regular Use
    If you do take more meth after the initial instance, you may find that cravings become more intense. This may lead to regular consumption of meth through smoking, snorting, injecting, or even eating the drug.

    With regular use, meth builds up in the body, so it is almost always in the brain. Even though the rush of energy and happiness wears off, you will still have metabolites from meth in your body, affecting how you think, how you feel, and cravings. Your brain will also become used to the presence of the drug-releasing neurotransmitters and will stop responding to the drug as well
  3. Increasing Abuse
    Abusing drugs of any kind, but especially powerful drugs like meth, is likely to lead to tolerance to the substance as you have a regular dose of the drug in your body. Tolerance means that your brain gets used to the presence of the drug, like meth, and does not respond to the initial dose as well. It needs more for you to get high.

    Tolerance to prescription drugs, like Desoxyn, is managed by a medical professional. Tolerance to illicit drugs, like crystal meth, is not overseen by anyone for safety. You are at risk of taking more frequent and larger doses to fulfill the cravings you experience.

    One very risky part of this stage is tweaking. This is a condition triggered by bingeing on meth to stay high and avoid feeling fatigued or depressed, but the drug no longer releases enough neurotransmitters for you to feel good.

    Tweaking may last for two or three days, but it can also last as long as two weeks. The individual does not sleep and rarely eats, and typically experiences a psychotic break from reality. During this phase, the individual may end up in the hospital because of their psychosis, so they may have access to addiction treatment at this point
  4. Dependence
    As you develop a tolerance to meth, you will likely also develop a dependence on it. Although your brain needs more meth to stimulate the release of neurotransmitters, at the same time, the brain will begin to require the presence of the drug to reach biochemical equilibrium, so you feel normal.

    When you do not take a dose of meth, the neurotransmitters in your brain will not be released at high enough levels to feel good or even just average. You will begin to feel sick, exhausted, and depressed. Your thinking and memory abilities will be slower, you may feel very hungry, and you may develop physical aches and pains.

    Meth withdrawal is not risky, like withdrawing from alcohol or benzodiazepines, but it can feel very uncomfortable. This discomfort can lead to a relapse back into meth abuse or an overdose when you finally acquire meth and take more of it than you normally would
  5. Addiction
    The final stage of meth abuse is the development of addiction to the drug. It is possible, especially with prescription medications, to develop dependence and tolerance to the drug without developing an addiction. Addiction is a chronic behavioral condition involving the inability to control how much of a substance you take along with developing tolerance and dependence.

Help for All Stages of Meth Abuse

Although it becomes more difficult to stop abusing meth at each stage of the addiction process, you can seek help for meth addiction at any time.

If you have tried meth once, you may want to ask an addiction specialist for help with finding counseling to understand the risky behaviors around substance abuse and what put you at risk for taking meth the first time.

If you have struggled with addiction to meth for months or years, you should still seek help from an addiction specialist. You will likely be diagnosed with a stimulant use disorder, per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). With evidence-based treatment, you can leave meth addiction in your past.

Sources

Methamphetamine. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/methamphetamine

(June 2018). What is Methamphetamine? National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamin

(January 25, 2017). The Five Stages of Addiction to Alcohol and Drugs. Counselling Directory. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/the-5-stages-of-addiction-to-alcohol-and-drugs

(January 2007). The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction, 6: Definition of Tolerance. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/neurobiology-drug-addiction/section-iii-action-heroin-morphine/6-definition-tolerance

(October 29, 2013). Methamphetamine. Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR). Retrieved January 2019 from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/meth.asp

(January 2007). The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction, 8: Definition of Dependence. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/neurobiology-drug-addiction/section-iii-action-heroin-morphine/8-definition-dependence

(January 2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Is There a Difference Between Physical Dependence and Addiction? National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/there-difference-between-physical-dependence

(June 2016). 2. Substance Use Disorders. Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519702/

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