Why Is Meth So Addictive?

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Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant responsible for destructive patterns of addiction and many related consequences. As rates of meth use and dependence continue to rise throughout the country, many remain unaware of just what it is that makes this synthetically manufactured substance so powerful and why so many become addicted to its effects.

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The Neurochemistry of Meth’s Effects on the Brain

This extremely potent amphetamine (1) produces effects of euphoria and increased awareness on the brain. This increased alertness and awareness can often lead to users feeling a sense of paranoia lasting for hours at a time. As the brain continues to function at an unnaturally high rate, the person using it will not feel the need to sleep for extended periods of time. This lack of sleep will lead to further paranoia as well as hallucinations in its more extreme forms.

Meth’s Interaction with Neurotransmitters in the Brain

One of the most powerful mechanisms of meth on the brain of the user is its interaction with neurotransmitters like dopamine.  Dopamine is involved in body movement, motivation, and reinforcing rewarding behaviors. Meth rapidly releases high levels of dopamine into reward areas of the brain, making people want to continue to use it.

The Mechanisms of Meth Addiction

As methamphetamine (2) interacts with the brain and body’s reward systems, the person using it will be drawn to repeat this pattern of use. They will continue to be highly motivated to pursue further methamphetamine use as their bodies become both physically and psychologically dependent.

Physical & Chemical Dependence on Meth

As a person continues to use meth (3), their body will adapt to the consistent presence of the chemical and become dependent on it. If the person using decides to stop suddenly, their body will go into a state of shock often referred to as “detox.” It is in this state that their body re-adapts to the sudden lack of meth in their system and recovers from the damage done while the person was using meth.

Psychological Dependence & Cravings

As meth induces an unnaturally high release of dopamine when used, the brain of the person using becomes dependent on this release. As dependency develops, the person using meth will no longer have healthy and natural releases of dopamine. If the person who uses meth suddenly decides to stop, they will experience strong feelings of depression, anxiety, and restlessness as their brain re-learns how to produce healthy levels of dopamine at appropriate times.

Meth’s Dual Effects of Reward & Pain Reduction

Along with strong rewarding characteristics, dopamine, along with other neurotransmitters released by meth, are responsible for the lack of communication of pain signals throughout the brain and body. This will cause those who use meth to not feel important pain signals that their body sends when injury occurs.

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Contributing Factors to Meth Addiction

Though it is impossible to determine a single cause for addiction to a particular substance, there are a few important determinants that can affect the likelihood of someone becoming addicted.

The Role of Mental Health Disorders in Meth Addiction

One of the major determining factors related to meth addiction is the presence of a mental health disorder. Though there is no consensus on whether meth causes mental health conditions or if those with mental health conditions seek out meth, the fact remains, however, that there is a dramatic overlap between those with co-occurring mental health conditions with those who have a methamphetamine use disorder. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that nearly 60% (4) of all people treated for meth use disorder report another mental health disorder.

The Influence of Genetics on Meth Addiction Risk

Another risk factor for the potential of meth addiction is the person’s genetic makeup. Studies in mice as well as humans (5) have determined that some have a higher response to the effects of meth on the brain’s reward circuits. They have determined that subjects that possess these traits were born with them.

Environmental & Stress Factors that Contribute to Meth Addiction

Other important factors in determining the potential of meth addiction are environmental. The age and frequency of exposure to meth use increases the likelihood of future meth addiction dramatically. Along with exposure, environmental factors like stress and anxiety will cause many to seek an “escape” from these feelings turning to substances like meth to self medicate.

The Risks of Meth Laced with Other Drugs

With the popularity of substances like fentanyl, potentially lethal doses of unwanted substances are found in meth more frequently than ever. Since methamphetamine is an illicit substance, it is completely unregulated. This means that both its makeup as well as its containment of foreign substances is completely unknown to the user.

The Impact of Method of Use on Meth Addiction Risk

As with any substance, the way that it is ingested (also known as route of administration), will determine the impact of the substance on the one using. Snorting produces effects within 3 to 5 minutes, and oral ingestion produces effects within 15 to 20 minutes. Injecting, though it is the most dangerous, produces an almost immediate and intense rush. Similar effects can be felt when smoking as well as a host of alternative health concerns.

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Seeking Treatment for Meth Use Disorder

If you or someone that you know is experiencing the detrimental effects caused by a meth use disorder, we are available to help. Guardian Recovery understands addiction and the far reaching impacts that it can have on the life of the individual. We are committed to treating each client with dignity and respect as you begin the process of recovery. Freedom starts here and we are ready to help you begin your journey today.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/how-methamphetamine-different-other-stimulants-such-cocaine
  3. https://www.samhsa.gov/meth
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912a1.htm#T1_down
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25069251/#:~:text=Methamphetamine%20%28METH%29%20dependence%20show%20strong%20familial%20and%20genetic,of%20which%20dopamine%20is%20supposed%20to%20be%20important

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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