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By Stacy Jackson, Addiction Treatment Specialist

Federal statistics show that over 12 million Americans have tried crystal meth, and an estimated 1.5 million suffer from a crystal methamphetamine addiction. Due to its very inexpensive creation costs, high demand, and enormous addiction rate, crystal meth addiction has remained a large problem for more than 15 years. There have been attempts to crack down on crystal meth production by restricting the sales of the common, over the counter products that are used to create methamphetamine. Due to increased police activity and intervention, much of the meth in America now comes from large scale labs in Mexico, where it can be more difficult to regulate. In 2007, officials in Lázaro Cárdenas, Mexico, seized a ship carrying 19 tons of pseudoephedrine, which is a crucial ingredient in the creation of crystal meth. The American reduction in domestic creation is immediately counteracted by international production facilities, and professionals do not believe the availability of the drug on the streets is likely to decline; rather, it will simply be imported from other countries and resold with hardly a change.

When a person originally experiences crystal meth, he or she has a high like nothing he/she has gotten from another drug. The first meth high will be the best the user ever has. Crystal meth addiction, for many people, is chasing a replication of that first high, but every single hit of meth only takes them further away from it. It affects the body's pleasure centers, initially flooding and overwhelming them, rapidly creating a sense of well-being or euphoria. They feel very creative and their minds seem to overflow with ideas. Sexual arousal is heightened. They also have boundless energy. It's become popular to mix the drug with caffeine to keep someone dancing at all night raves. As a result, there is a significant risk of drug addiction, and few people manage to be a "casual user." After the drug begins to wear off, the person experiences what is called a crash. The brain's supply of dopamine has been burned through by the drug, and the user feels incapable of experiencing pleasure. Negative emotions pour forth and any positive sensations that the user was already experiencing are worsened. Anxiety, self-doubt, paranoia, anger or rage, disillusionment, discontentment, and depression crush the user, as it can take over a week for the body to begin to restore its dopamine in any significant quantity. Even when the dopamine has returned, a person is frequently shifted to being a crystal methamphetamine addict, because that descent into a week or more of the worst feelings that the user has ever had, so soon after several hours of the best feelings, make it very likely that he/she will return to the drug, and then keep returning to it, in an increasingly frantic search for a second experience of that first high. The period of feeling high and then crashing back to the ground some hours later begins to become the center of the crystal meth addict's life. Family, jobs or school, and personal hygiene start to suffer. Meth addicts often forget to eat, and lose weight at an alarming rate. The strain of the drug prematurely ages them. With prolonged use, shaking, jittering, being unable to sit still, and constantly clenching the jaw or grinding the teeth can become common. All of the factors of addiction create the unsightly and infamous "meth mouth," which is a mouth full of decayed teeth, or bereft of teeth. The amount of crystal meth usage among gay men has been steadily on the rise, and the combination of heightened sexuality with a decreased concern over risk factors can encourage them to engage in dangerous sexual practices. There is a great deal of peer pressure involved to "join the party" and have some of the meth, whether one is among gay or straight people. All have a higher chance of developing sexually transmitted diseases, or unplanned pregnancies for women.

The sooner someone can seek drug treatment for a crystal methamphetamine addiction, the better it will be for the individual and his/her loved ones. Crystal meth addiction notoriously destroys families, whether it is a parent, spouse, or child who is in need of help, and most drug treatment programs spend time focusing on helping the addict rebuild connections with others who do not use the drug, as well as forging new relationships with addicts who are also in recovery, because having a "mentor" or a "buddy" to call whenever they're experiencing a terrible urge to seek the drug out again. Those people can help talk them through resisting the urge, as well as listen to the problems occurring in the person's life that are making them wish to dive back into their crystal meth addiction. When drug treatment is sought, there are many options available. There are twelve-step recovery programs, where the person suffering from meth addiction can share his/her struggles with others and work toward healing together. Group therapy is often a good option, particularly when it is combined with physical treatment for the ravages of meth on the body and the brain. Group leaders may be recovering from meth addiction themselves, placing them in a unique position to help someone entering drug treatment, due to their familiarity with the person's feelings and situation, as well as their having evolved successful coping strategies for themselves so that they have maintained their sobriety.

Drug treatment can also be found in an inpatient situation with a rehabilitation facility, or through a day program, where the recovering addict spends time in therapy and groups during most of the day and then returns home at night. Being able to go inpatient during both the physical withdrawal and the psychological withdrawal is, in many people's opinions, the best way to handle it, if possible. The physical withdrawal can be very hard on the body, and in an inpatient setting, doctors will be carefully monitoring the recovering addict's vital signs and making sure they receive adequate nutrition. After the physical withdrawal ends, the psychological withdrawal sets in with a vengeance: the severity of misery in the absence of dopamine and yearning for another hit of meth to "fix" it is extremely intense. Being in inpatient recovery programs removes the worry over this: the staff expects this to happen and is experienced with it. They will help the recovering addict stay inside and stay sober, while providing whichever treatments the medical team finds most appropriate. It's often common for someone recovering from crystal methamphetamine addiction to be placed on an antidepressant by their psychiatrist. Due to their body's reduced production of dopamine and other necessary neurotransmitters, the medication helps to make up for the lack, lifting the dark cloud of depression enough so that drug recovery begins to seem like an achievable goal instead of something requiring superhuman strength of will. Many people enter drug recovery and make significant improvements quickly. Ending a crystal meth addiction may be difficult, but it is not impossible, and there are resources, groups, or help lines available in nearly all cities. The important thing to know and remember is that recovery is always possible for you or for your loved one. Things can and will get better if you work together in healing.

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