Methamphetamine Addiction

Before discussing substance abuse, dependence, and addiction, it’s important to understand the terminology as it pertains to substance-related disorders. Drug abuse is the repeated use or misuse of an addictive or illegal substance.  A drug tolerance occurs when a person’s body gets used to the effects of the substance and it takes increasingly more of the substance for the person to feel effects. Substance dependence occurs when a person becomes physically reliant on the substance in order to function normally. Tolerance and dependence are related: as a person builds up a bigger tolerance, he/she will become more physically dependent on the substance.  Dependence can cause a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms if the person does not get the drug.

Just because a person has a physical dependence and tolerance on a substance, it does not necessarily mean that the person is addicted.  However, those who abuse substances are at risk of developing an excessive reliance on a drug.  Usage can become chronic and take over most aspects of their lives. If the use of a drug continues regardless of its negative effects on relationships, health and other aspects of one’s life, a person is said to be addicted to that substance.  While tolerance and dependence are physical health problems, addiction is a psychological problem.

What are Methamphetamines?

Methamphetamines came into existence in the 1930’s. Originally, they were intended to be an asthma treatment but, because of their stimulant effect, quickly became popular with athletes, long-haul truckers, those who wanted to lose weight, and students pulling all night study sessions. There was a time when obtaining a prescription for strong methamphetamines was very easy.  Even many drug and convenience stores stocked generic versions of the drugs. Even now, less potent varieties are readily available online.

Methamphetamines will increase levels of and prevent the reuptake of dopamine – a neurotransmitter in the brain partly responsible for controlling mood. During the roughly 12 hours following methamphetamine use, users are normally euphoric. Heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure skyrocket, and sleep is not only unnecessary, but impossible. Some individuals become violent, acting out hostility that they would have normally suppressed.

The immediate dangers of meth use are heart attack, stroke, and psychosis. The effects of long term use can be incredibly detrimental to one’s health. Tolerance builds so swiftly that physical dependency is nearly inevitable. Experts believe that the life expectancy of a person who uses methamphetamines is about ten years, from the first experience to the last breath. Methamphetamines are detrimental to dopamine transporters and can cause their numbers to decrease by roughly 24%; this leads to slowed motor skills and thought processes. The chronic users’ brains cannot produce the amount of dopamine to which meth users have become accustomed, which makes profound depression very common.

One of the greatest problems confronting law enforcement officials attempting to stem the tide of meth manufacture is its ease of production. Early “cooks” had to deal with the putrid odors emitted during manufacture; the primary means of locating hidden labs was by smell. Now, streamlined techniques make it possible to produce a batch of meth in the kitchen or the back seat of the car. Although attempts have been made to control the purchase of ingredients, suppliers have found many ways to get around these restrictions.

How Common is Methamphetamine Addiction?

In 2006, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health released the results of a study showing that over 6% of young people aged 18 to 25 and adults aged 26 or older were methamphetamine users. The numbers have decreased slightly since that time, but children in middle school have shown a disturbing interest in the drug and its use has risen to epidemic proportions in California with increased use in the Southern and Midwestern states.

What Treatments are Available for Meth Addiction?

One possible treatment involves 12-step programs such as those used by Narcotics Anonymous. However, the effect of methamphetamine on the brain frequently requires a cognitive-behavioral approach as well as medications to alleviate the severe inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia) that can last for months.

A treatment model developed over twenty years ago for use with those addicted to cocaine has proven to be fairly successful for meth users. It’s called the Matrix Model and combines behavioral therapy, education of family members, individual counseling and 12-step techniques. Antidepressants can be used to compensate for lower levels of dopamine produced by the brain and new medications that can block the effects of meth have been developed and are currently being tested.

Where Can I Find Additional Information on Methamphetamine Addiction?

KCI: The Anti-Meth Site offers chat rooms, research articles and resources for both families and educators; it can be found at

The Matrix Institute on Addictions ( has three locations in California and is staffed by experts that are eager to help you with meth addiction.

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, written by David Sheff about his son Nic’s battle with meth and its effect on the family  and Tweak, the companion book by Nic himself, provide insight into methamphetamine addiction.


Braswell, S.R. (2005). American Meth: A History of the Methamphetamine Epidemic in America. New York: iUniverse. Inc.

Comer, R.J. (1996). Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Sommerfield, J. (n.d.). Beating an addiction to meth. Retrieved from


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