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Reprinted from the Colorado Meth Project – Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer – H. Michael Steinberg 2011
When Meth users end a run of Meth use, they experience “the Crash.” Severe fatigue, anxiety, depression, and confusion occur, and Meth craving is often strong. Life can feel hopeless, recovery impossible. Much of the emotion that people feel during this period is caused by chemical changes in the brain, specifically a lack of dopamine. Fortunately, within 2-10 days some recovery of dopamine occurs, allowing the newly abstinent user to make it out of “the Crash.” The body and brain begin to recover with proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise
As tolerance to Meth develops, users consume larger doses, take Meth more often, and change methods of use. Tolerance contributes to many of the negative consequences of Meth use. Because people need more Meth to get high or even feel normal, they need more money to buy it. People plunder family savings, sell possessions, and even steal or get involved in other crimes. This futile effort of taking more and more Meth and feeling less and less effect is part of the long destructive spiral of addiction
Most people who use Meth in extended binges hear voices and see things during those binges. These hallucinations lead to extreme anxiety and paranoia. The combination of hallucinations and feelings of fear and paranoia is known as Meth-induced psychosis. Meth-induced psychosis is caused by Meth’s effect on at least three areas of the brain: the visual cortex, the auditory cortex, and the amygdala. For most people, these psychotic episodes pass when they stop using and get some sleep. In some severe cases, the symptoms can persist for days. In a few cases, Meth-induced psychosis can be long-term and possibly permanent.
Meth stimulates the emotional center of the brain (the amygdala). The longer Meth is used, the more sensitive and hyperactive the emotional center of the brain becomes. The result is powerful negative emotions that can turn into aggression for little or no reason. Depending on the person and the circumstances, this reaction can range from irritability and moodiness to verbal attacks and even physical violence. When people stop using, get sleep, and begin to repair their bodies, their brains also repair and this behavior subsides.
No one starts using Meth because he or she craves it. Craving develops over the course of use. As we’ve seen, using Meth releases large amounts of dopamine, creating intense pleasure. The brain automatically associates or “connects” the people, places, things, and emotions surrounding Meth use with this powerful feeling of pleasure. We call these “triggers” for using Meth. For an addicted Meth user, thinking about or coming into contact with these triggers will actually cause a release of dopamine in the brain, which creates a powerful craving for Meth. Triggers generally fall into two categories: external triggers, which are the people, places, and things that users have associated with Meth use; and internal, or emotional triggers, which are intense emotional states (anger, fear, joy, desire, etc.) that often occur in association with Meth use.
When Meth users try to stop using, they become discouraged about their inability to resist cravings. Sincere promises to stop are often broken within hours of being made. Self-esteem is damaged and hopelessness sets in. Despite the enormous negative consequences to their lives, they still crave the drug, and once the craving starts, they have a diminished capacity to say, “Stop.” Some people fear that craving will always result in relapse and that they cannot possibly live life forever fighting these powerful urges. If they do relapse, they often think it is “proof” that “cravings are irresistible.” It is therefore important for Meth users to learn that they can resist cravings, and that the cravings become less severe as recovery time increases. A simple rule to follow is, “Don’t use Meth today and it will be easier not to use tomorrow.”