All drugs that people take, from alcohol to methamphetamine, are taken because they produce “good feelings” (ie. pleasure, euphoria) which make people want to take them and continue taking more of them. These good feelings are all produced in the same way: by the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is what makes people feel those pleasurable feelings, not the drug itself, and methamphetamine happens to be the drug that causes the brain to release more dopamine than any other drug.

The problem with this is twofold:

* Addiction: The more the human body experiences these elevated (ie. “abnormal”) doses of pleasure-producing dopamine, the more it craves those feelings. At the same time, the body becomes accustomed to the elevated levels of dopamine it receives (ie. becomes “tolerant” to it) and therefore craves increasingly more of the drug that stimulates this response in order to produce the same degree of effect.

* Damage: While methamphetamine is triggering the brain to produce more dopamine, it’s also damaging that very same part of the brain responsible for producing and releasing this dopamine. Not only does this impair the brain’s ability to keep up with the need for more and more dopamine, thereby causing the person to lose all ability to feel good again, but it creates permanent and irreversible damage to the brain that changes how the person responds to ordinary stimuli and behaves in common everyday situations. This leaves an individual with neither the desire nor the ability to live a normal, functioning life.

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How Methamphetamine Addiction Feels

Meth addicts often feel misunderstood by those who would have them simply stop using the substance that causes them such damage and pain. If it were only that easy, is their common sentiment. Addiction is a disease. If giving up meth were simply a matter of choice, there would be no meth addicts. Therefore, to truly understand the insidiousness of meth, it’s essential to recognize this and try to understand how meth addiction feels to the addict himself or herself.

The relationship between a meth addict and meth can perhaps best be described as a “need-hate” relationship, as a 2011 article in Scientific American describes it. Meth addicts often say that, not long after their first few experiences with the drug, they no longer necessarily love, or even like, the way it makes them feel, so much as they loathe the way they start to feel when they’re not under the influence of it. In other words, they simply require it to not feel awful.

Meth addicts will often say they need the drug simply to feel “normal” or “even” (as in “even-keeled”) and that, without it, they can feel physically sick. What may have started out as an experience, or experiment, with a “party drug” said to increase energy, or even as a “temporary aid” to help increase productivity (as for work or studying) turns into a subservient relationship with a substance that has taken over control of a person’s mind, body and emotions.

Shame and Methamphetamine Addiction

Many meth addicts hide their addiction out of embarrassment about what their friends, family, and others in their lives might think about them. Even though it’s starting to become more widely understood and accepted that meth addiction is an illness and not a choice, people on both sides of the illness–addicts and those around them–still tend to treat it as an object of shame or scorn. Oftentimes, friends and family members will try to shame or even guilt an addict into giving up meth, but this only serves the opposite effect: spiking the addict’s stress level and escalating that need to take the drug in order to “recover” from the very real physical, mental and emotional consequences of those horrible (and counterproductive) feelings of shame, blame and scorn.

Co-occurring Disorders

In medicine, there’s a term, “co-occurring disorders” which refers to the simultaneous existence in a person of a substance use disorder and mental health disorder like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When a meth addict has a co-occurring disorder, it can be even harder for that person to recover from their methamphetamine addiction because it’s so intertwined with their mental illness.

It can also be harder to diagnose that person’s illnesses, as symptoms of a substance use disorder can often disguise a mood or anxiety disorder or severe mental illness, and symptoms of a mood or anxiety disorder or severe mental illness can often disguise a substance use disorder. People with a mood or anxiety disorder or severe mental illness may “self-medicate” with a substance like meth in order to alleviate some undesired symptom of that mental or emotional disorder (ie. to “feel better”). In other cases, people may feel that their meth use isn’t relevant to the issues their mental or emotional illness raises.

Other possible co-occurring disorders with meth addiction include:

  • Mood disorders – like dysthymia and bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders – like panic disorder, social or generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Severe mental illness – like schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder

The danger with co-occurring disorders is that, while under treatment for methamphetamine addiction, a person’s mental or emotional illness may appear to worsen, with symptoms increasing in both intensity and frequency.

The Emotional Effects of Methamphetamine Addiction

Individuals dealing with methamphetamine dependence deal with two separate emotional storms. There is their emotional state while they are using, and then there are the emotional issues when they are getting clean and sober.

Emotional effects meth addicts experience while under the influence include:

  • chattiness and personableness (ie. friendliness)
  • restlessness and compulsive activity
  • acute focus on a minute detail or task

Emotional effects meth addicts experience when withdrawing:

  • discomfort
  • exhaustion
  • surliness
  • insomnia
  • lack of appetite

Long-term emotional effects meth addicts experience:

  • paranoia
  • erratic behavior
  • hallucinations
  • anxiety
  • depression

Of course, there’s one other emotional effect of meth addiction, and it spreads out far beyond the meth addict to the person’s family, friends, and the entire community. The emotional pain, sorrow, helplessness, and regret experienced by those who know and love a person addicted to meth and those who know and love those people are, alas, unquantifiable.