Home / Drug Addiction / Meth Addiction
  • What is meth addiction?
    • Scientists first began developing amphetamine-type stimulants as early as 1885 when a Japanese chemist studying in Germany, managed to isolate and characterise the active ingredient in the Ephedra plant as ephedrine. Ephedra has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine primarily to treat asthma, bronchitis, and hay fever.

    • Methamphetamine remained difficult to reproduce until 1919, when another Japanese chemist, Akira Ogata, streamlined the process by adding phosphorus and iodine to reduce the ephedrine into a crystallized form, thereby creating the world’s first crystal meth.

    • It is a potent and highly addictive drug that acts on the central nervous system, where it causes the release of dopamine, a substance which acts as a stimulant and euphoric drug. Pharmaceutical methamphetamine is still available legally but it is only rarely prescribed to treat narcolepsy, attention deficit, hyper activity disorder (ADHD) and severe obesity. Meth is readily available and its use has spread rapidly across South Africa, especially in the Western Cape, where it is made in illicit laboratories using inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients. Recent research reported that 42% of drug users within the Western Cape used crystal meth as their primary, or preferred drug, with a high prevalence use amongst adolescents.
  • Methods of use
    • Crystal meth is usually smoked in a small glass pipe, but users may also swallow it, snort it, or inject it. Smoking is the most common method of use in South Africa. Tolerance for methamphetamine develops rapidly. The pleasurable effects disappear before the concentration of the drug in the blood falls significantly. This often leads to users trying to maintain the high by binging.

  • Effects on the user

    • May include:
      • Quick rush of euphoria
      • Elevated confidence
      • Decreased appetite
      • Increase in libido
      • Inability to concentrate
      • Increased heart rate
      • Sweating
  • Harmful side-effects & health risks
    • Impaired judgement and impulsive thinking are a result of the drugs effects on the frontal lobe. The behaviour of crystal meth addicts is unpredictable-violence and rapid mood swings are common.

      Severe use of crystal meth can lead to stimulant psychosis, (e.g., paranoia, hallucinations, delirium, and delusions). It is these side-effects which often leads users to seek treatment.

      Sustained use can cause a breakdown of skeletal muscle, extreme weight loss, kidney and stomach problems, as well as, seizures and bleeding in the brain.
      Prolonged usage weakens the immune system, which may lead to eczema, hair loss and so-called “meth mouth,” (severe tooth decay and gum disease as a result of poor oral hygiene and teeth grinding).

      Symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease can result from gradual damage to the nervous system, where users develop tremors in their hands, arms, head and legs. Users are at greater risk of stroke, cardiac arrest, coma or death due to an increase in blood pressure and an irregular cardiac rate.
  • Withdrawal symptoms
    • Methamphetamine is highly addictive and rapidly creates dependence in the user and psychological and physical symptoms of withdrawal are to be expected once usage stops. The symptoms are severe enough that individuals, more often than not, fail to quit using the drug on their own. Heavy recreational use of methamphetamine may lead to a post-acute-withdrawal syndrome, which can persist for months beyond the typical withdrawal period.

      Sustained use of the drug affects the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure. Long-term meth use can cause a decrease in the number of dopamine receptors in the brain, making it difficult for the individual to experience pleasure as well as reduced levels of motivation which is a condition known as anhedonia.
      It is thus recommended that withdrawal from the drug be conducted under the care of trained medical professionals together with experienced, trained, addiction counsellors.
  • Overdose potential
    • Overdose can occur with any quantity of drug used, and the user is always at risk. Overdose causes seizures, an increase in body temperature, respiratory failure, coma, and/or death.
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