The high that methamphetamine users experience, also known as "methamphetamine intoxication," is often the main reason people take this dangerous drug. Those who are experimenting with meth use, regular methamphetamine users, and people in the early stages of methamphetamine addiction all crave the good feelings the drug imparts.
The Meth High
Like any addictive substance, methamphetamine can give the user feelings of pleasure, confidence, and energy beyond what they normally experience. On the flip side, it can also have very unpleasant and harmful short-term and long-term effects. The "meth high" involves both physical and psychological changes, many of which are caused by the effects of methamphetamine on the brain and nervous system. Individuals who use methamphetamine may experience some, but not necessarily all, of these effects.
What to Know About Methamphetamine Use
Euphoria or Emotional Blunting
Euphoria is the enticing feeling that most people who are using methamphetamine come to crave. Methamphetamine stimulates the brain, creating a rewarding feeling that motivates people to want to do it again and again.
In contrast, some meth users find that their emotions are "blunted," so that they become less aware of their feelings. This can sometimes be a motivating factor for meth users who want to escape from painful memories or difficult life circumstances.
Research shows that many people who become addicted to methamphetamine suffered from childhood abuse. One of the ironies of methamphetamine addiction is the tendency for people with addiction to seek out more of the drug to escape their negative emotions. The feeling of not caring anymore can provide temporary relief for someone burdened by stress and worries.
Disorganization and even chaos can quickly escalate in the lives of methamphetamine users as they become addicted. Over time, meth usage can get in the way of people taking proper care of themselves. They may not be aware of how they appear to others and may stop performing basic self-care activities, such as brushing their teeth. Severe tooth decay, commonly called "meth mouth" in people who regularly use meth is common. This emotional blunting, or not caring, can interfere with the relationships that healthy adults cherish, such as those with their spouses and children. Additionally, methamphetamine users may simply stop going to work or school, or paying the bills.
A Misplaced Sense of Empowerment
While under the influence of meth, users can have the illusion of being more powerful and productive than they actually are. Although this can feel good to the meth user, it can cause real problems. Meth can make people feel more socially outgoing, talkative, and self-confident. But they can simultaneously behave bizarrely and become distant from positive social relationships. Unaware that they may appear ridiculous to others, many users lose contact with anyone besides other methamphetamine users.
Methamphetamine also can make people delusional. Their grasp on reality changes and can become eroded, and while they might feel superior to or better than other people (sometimes called grandiosity), they can also become anxious, paranoid, and aggressive.
Physical Stimulation or Tweaking
Being high on meth also makes people feel different physically. In addition to a general feeling of stimulation, methamphetamine can cause changes to heart rhythm or breathing, sweating, feelings of being very hot or cold, or nausea and vomiting.
Although some of these physical symptoms of meth intoxication can be quite unpleasant, with repeated meth use, the brain can start to associate these physical symptoms with the pleasurable feelings of the meth high. So, as people become addicted to meth, they may be surprisingly tolerant of these unpleasant side effects.
The sleep deprivation common among users of methamphetamine can worsen mental health problems such as anxiety, delusions, and hallucinations. Users can get very fidgety, known as "tweaking," and may experience formication, or the sensation of insects crawling underneath their skin. Repetitively picking at their skin leads to open wounds that later scar, known as "meth sores," a characteristic of regular meth users.
If methamphetamine intoxication is taken to the extreme, the experience can be dangerous as well as unpleasant. In particular, there is a risk of heart problems, seizures, and even death.
Brain Recovery Is Possible After Stopping Meth
One of the reasons many people are attracted to methamphetamine is that it can be an appetite suppressant, and users may perceive themselves as more attractive when they lose weight.
While a person's physical appearance often deteriorates as they continue to use methamphetamine, the initial feeling of being in control and losing weight can create a sense of well-being. And because users lack awareness of the changes in their physical appearance, they may not realize when they begin to show the adverse effects of the drug such as a frail or gaunt appearance.
The sexual effects of meth can be attractive to people who have sex addictions. While methamphetamine can be sexually stimulating, it can also lead to sexual dysfunction and a loss of libido. Considerable attention has been given to the use of meth in the gay community, commonly known as party and play or PnP, particularly in relation to concern about HIV and other STI risk.
When Drug Use and Sex Are Combined
Because methamphetamine is produced in clandestine or home labs, there is no way to predict how toxic or strong it's going to be, which can lead to users taking more than they intended, with potentially devastating results. Taking a stronger dose can also increase a user's tolerance so that the next time, more of the drug is needed to get the same high. If the drug is stopped, withdrawal is more intense, which is the physical side of the addiction.
Methamphetamine can be highly addictive and when users stop taking it, their symptoms can include anxiety, fatigue, depression, psychosis, and intense cravings for the drug. While there are currently no government-approved medications to treat methamphetamine addition, behavioral therapies can be effective.
If you know someone who uses methamphetamine, understanding how it makes them feel may help you approach and communicate with them.
People who use meth are often reluctant to stop doing it when it feels good, even when they know it's bad for them. And those who have developed a physical dependence on the drug can experience severe withdrawal effects when they stop.
If someone you know has become addicted to methamphetamine, you can help. Find information about addiction and mental health services in your area, searching by state or zip code online or calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357.
How to Support Someone With an Addiction
One of the problems with being high on meth is the lack of awareness of how you actually appear and how you are behaving, something that people in recovery from meth addiction are able to reflect on after the fact.
Meth is unusual among illicit drugs in that almost as many women as men use it; most drugs and alcohol are taken by more men than women.
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