During my Master’s Degree back in 2001, I worked at a residential addiction treatment center in Hawaii. When I walked in on my first day as a practicum student, I still had a ways to go in my degree, but I had some ideas of what kind of work I’d be doing – my parents were alcoholics; I knew about that. Little did I know that only about 5% of the folks I’d work with would have primary alcohol issues. Almost all the rest were addicted to something called Ice. At the time, I had no idea what that was. I had a lot to learn, and in this post, I’m going to share my discoveries with you.
As you may or may not know, Ice is a very pure, very addictive, smokable form of Methamphetamine, which is, itself a very addictive, synthesized version of Amphetamine. You may not know that it’s been around for over 100 years.
A Brief History
Amphetamine was created by a German scientist in the 1800s and is still in use today (an example is Adderall, a drug used to treat ADHD). Methamphetamine, a stronger, more addictive version, was synthesized in Japan in 1919 to treat physical and psychological issues including asthma, depression, and schizophrenia. Methamphetamine went on to be used as a stimulant during WWII by Japanese, American, British and German military. After the war, the drug found its way off military bases and into the hands of folks in the general public who needed a little energy boost, and in the 60s, IV use of the drug spread, and “speed freaks” became a part of American drug culture. Crystal methamphetamine, or Ice, appeared in Hawaii in the 1980s, and on the mainland, small home “cooking” operations opened up in rural areas in the Midwest in the 1990s. The ingredients were easy to find and cheap to buy, and instructions for cooking the drug were available on the internet. In the United States, products that could be used as raw ingredients for methamphetamine were locked up or stored behind the counter in stores across the country. Maybe these control features helped. Methamphetamine use seemed to fade in the middle 2000s, but it appears to be on the rise again. In September 2018, 1.9 million Americans reported using the drug compared to 1.4 million in 2016.
Methamphetamine is an extremely dangerous drug that works on the central nervous system but impacts the entire body. Consider, just for a moment, some of the ingredients: anhydrous ammonia (fertilizer), lithium (from lithium batteries), acetone, and red phosphorus. Imagine smoking, snorting, injecting, or swallowing even one of those! Methamphetamine is made from multiple toxic ingredients, not just one.
The short-term effects of methamphetamine use may sound pretty benign and even somewhat useful. These include: increased wakefulness and physical activity, decreased appetite, rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and increased body temperature. Don’t be fooled. Methamphetamine is anything but benign. It is possible to overdose and die from the first use. Beyond that, it’s highly addictive, and long-term use has some heavy consequences, some of which last months or even years after the drug is no longer in the system:
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Violent behavior
- Reduced motor speed
- Impaired verbal learning
- Memory loss
- Weight loss
- Tooth decay and tooth loss
- Skin sores
- Pulmonary issues
- Increased risk of HIV and Hepatitis B and C
- Issues related to pregnancy and birth
What Methamphetamine Use Looks Like
The consequences of long-term use are scary, but in my opinion, one of the most frightening things about this drug is how quickly a user can move into the addictive cycle. There was a story when I was first starting out, about a Honolulu attorney who was a periodic cocaine user. Unable to afford cocaine one evening, he found his way to one of the seedier parts of town and purchased methamphetamine instead, specifically, Ice. The story went that within just a few days, people were seeing him in the seedy neighborhood at multiple hours of the day looking more and more disheveled and that within just a month or so, he’d lost his job and become homeless. Now, this was a bit of a myth by the time I heard it, but I have seen what this drug can do, and even if that specific lawyer was a myth, there are many real humans out there who have met the severe consequences this drug has to offer. With that in mind, here are some of the signs you might notice if someone you care about is using methamphetamines:
|Intoxication||Withdrawal||Other Signs of Abuse|
|Hyper-activity||Fatigue (Crashing)||Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable or important|
|Hyper-focus||Depression||Twitching, facial tics, jerky movement|
|Excessive talking||Hallucinations||Dilated pupils|
|Aggression||Delusions||Rapid eye movement|
|Increased desire for sex||Cravings for Methamphetamine||Skin sores|
|Decreased need for sleep||Increased appetite||Noticeable and sudden weight loss|
|Rapid heart rate||Burns on fingers or lips|
|Decreased appetite||Rotting teeth|
|High body temperature||Erratic sleep patterns|
|Outbursts and mood swings|
|Extreme weight loss|
Help is Available
If you or someone you know is struggling with methamphetamine use, please reach out. There is help out there. Treatment is available, and it can be effective. Currently, behavioral therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Contingency Management Interventions are proving most effective according to DrugAbuse.gov. Treatment centers that offer a strong combination of individual, group, and family therapy sessions, as well as medical and psychiatric care, are best suited for helping those with methamphetamine use disorders. You can call SAMHSA at 1-800-273-TALK or use the Treatment Finder at their website. We are also available to help you. Feel free to reach out to us at 1-888-448-LUNA or by filling out our Contact Form.
*This article was written by Tara Moorman, PhD, LPC specifically for Luna Recovery.