Methamphetamine – what you need to know 

 September 19, 2023

By  Kerryn Ashford Hatherly

The Facts about Methamphetamine

  •  Australia has one of the highest rates of methamphetamine use worldwide.
  • Methamphetamine dramatically affects the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine
  • Studies show on first use Methamphetamine begins to affect the self-control areas of the brain
  • Extended use of Methamphetamine leads to severe anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Long term use has shown to “burn” the dopamine receptors and nerve endings.
  • The brain damage associated with Methamphetamine use has been compared to someone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury.
  • Methamphetamine-induced brain damage could be a pre-cursor to Parkinson’s disease.

Most of the damage caused by Methamphetamine affect the brains cognitive processes that are involved in:

  • Self Control
  • Attention
  • Motivation
  • Sleep
  • Mood
  • Memory
  • Appetite
  • Decision-Making and...
  • Concentration

In the early stages of methamphetamine use the user will experience the positive sides of the drug in these areas.  However, eventually the negative symptoms will dramatically outweigh the positive.

Treatment and Recovery from Methamphetamine Use

  • World Health Authorities indicate only 17% of those who go through treatment for methamphetamine addiction remain abstinent after one year.
  • Regardless of how long the user has been abstinent relapse is a lifelong potential.
  • Intensive outpatient programs have proved to be the most successful treatment for Methamphetamine addiction (US Surgeon General 2016).
  • There is a higher rate of relapse for recovering methamphetamine users who are taking SSRI’s.
  • There are no current psychopharmacological treatments recognised as effective in treating methamphetamine addiction.
  • As well as depression and anxiety symptoms, users can present with symptoms concurrent with Bipolar disorder and ADHD.
  • Withdrawal from methamphetamine can take between 30 to 90 days during this time the user can experience a heightened sense of wellbeing and positive mood and in most occasions, will believe they are cured.  This is called the “Honeymoon” period.
  • The most difficult period is between 6 weeks to 5 months after use where the likelihood of relapse is the greatest.
  • Insomnia can remain for months and sometimes years after withdrawal

How to help someone with a Methamphetamine Addiction

  1. Understand addiction and effects of the drug they are using.   Having an understanding of the drug helps in taking informed actions towards the person. This also helps to understand their behaviour. It’s important to separate the person’s behaviour from the drug induced behaviour.
  2. Use a caring approach. Criticism and threats will only make the person defensive and reactive.  Be accepting of the difficulty the person is going through with the addiction.  You don't have to be accepting of the drug use just of the difficulties they are having.
  3. Determine their level of motivation. Do they believe they have a problem?  Ask them.  Find out if they think they need help.  What has their drug use affected in their life? At this point it’s important not to get in to an argument with the other person.  Just sowing the seeds of thinking about their problem is usually enough.
  4. Managing their denial. Most meth users do not believe they have a problem.  The drug of choice has become an important part of people’s lives and they will defend it.
    1. do not bail them out of their difficulties. 
    2. do not help them to maintain their beliefs that everything is ok. 
  5. Gently let them know what you see and what is concerning to you.
  6. Set limits. This takes practice and can be challenging.  Protect yourself.  Determine what you will not tolerate (have a bottom line). Be aware of your own breaking point.
  7. Keep boundaries & communicate these. Boundaries will be tested.  Don’t make threats and don’t break your own limits. Advise the person what you will and will not tolerate. Although you will always be there to help, you will not accept violent behavior etc.  Then advise what you will do eg: until you calm down I will go away and come back later. Etc.
  8. Practice detachment & self-care. It’s important to look after yourself and get support for yourself.  Detaching from the drug users behaviours is difficult which is why it’s important you have someone to talk to who understands.  Make sure you have time for yourself and you are getting enough sleep.
  9. Supporting them through the pain. Pain is the greatest motivator; do not deny them of their pain.  Make sure they are safe and not at risk.  You can’t take their pain away but you can sit with them through it.
  10. Formal intervention Have a specific goal in mind of what you want the person to do or where you want them to go.  Timing is everything and it’s usually when they are in a crisis that they will consider other options.  Only provide options for treatment when it is an appropriate time and they are ready to hear it, otherwise, they will switch off because they have heard it all before.
  11. Be ready with the first step. Be ready with the first step for when they agree to treatment.  It’s imperative to act quickly when they want help. Call up treatment centres in advance so you know what is available and what needs to happen to obtain an appointment.  Some rehab centres need a doctors referral. Check on waiting lists !!

Critical Times

  • 2-3 days to return to 0 detection 
  • 3-7 days symptom recovery
  • 7-14 days stabilisation
  • 30 – 90 days WITHDRAWAL
  • 6 weeks – 5 months critical period for relapse risk

I'd heard a saying about meth, that it took you down one of three roads: jail, the psych ward or death.

Lauren Myracle