Treatment of Crystal Meth Addiction

Crystal Meth is the name given to a crystalline form of the synthetic drug methamphetamine and is thought to resemble naturally occurring rock crystals, hence the “street” names it goes by such as ice or glass. It is injected, snorted as powder, smoked or ingested as pills.  Given its properties and effects, treatment and recovery pose significant challenges both to the addicted individual and to the treatment provider. 

Wide-ranging impact on health

A powerful and highly addictive stimulant, Crystal Meth goes to work on the Central Nervous System (CNS).  The risks to health and wellbeing, including brain damage, that come with chronic use of Crystal Meth are significant. Death caused either directly or indirectly is also a real possibility, especially when used with other substances. Because the central nervous system is galvanised with an unusual intensity, heart rate, temperature, breathing and blood pressure all increase sharply.  This takes its toll on major organs. There is a chance of seizures, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.  There are disturbing mental, emotional and behavioural effects. Sleep deprivation and damage to skin and teeth as well as weight loss are commonly experienced.  Perhaps the greatest concern is the neurotoxic effects in the brain, including functional and structural damage to the cells that mediate dopamine and serotonin production.  Most of the degeneration will be reversible in time but not all.

A rollercoaster binge pattern

The attraction, as with other stimulants, such as cocaine, is the pronounced increase in energy, heightened excitement and sharpened attention, as well as the disinhibition that Crystal Meth induces.  Unsafe sexual activity often increases as a consequence. The use of Crystal Meth tends to follow a binge pattern, initiating a rollercoaster ride in mood swings with intense highs followed by plummeting lows.  Lethargy follows hyperactivity.

A graduated release from addiction

The fearsome hold that Crystal Meth has on the user, both physically and psychologically, makes treatment particularly challenging, especially as there are presently no specified medicinal interventions.  Given the nature of the drug and the ravages to health brought about by the addiction, medical management of the process of detoxification and health improvement is essential.  It is also critical to ensure that this does not occur in isolation since some of the most resistant symptoms of withdrawal are psychological. Craving features heavily and sometimes long after last use of crystal meth.  The integration of psychological support with medical care is vital, as is attention to re-regulating sleep patterns, dental hygiene and to nutrition, given the depleted state people presenting for treatment generally exhibit. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mutual aid are advised, as are incentives to encourage treatment compliance. Stress management and complementary therapies to aid relaxation and to introduce healthier habits also have an important role to play.  Perhaps the most valuable treatment aid is time. A person needs to spend long enough in treatment or rehab for healthy behaviours to take root and for brain functions to begin to right themselves.

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