College Meth Use

By Dr. Dru

The use of crystal methamphetamine among college students and college aged young adults has grown, so there is much cause for concern. Although awareness of the drug's dangerous effects has been highly publicized, regrettably, the trend of use on college campuses seems to be maintaining a steady pace.

Usage percentages peaked out in the early 80's, and since then there has been a general decline, with a few rises during the 90's. Since 2002, the trend seems to have shifted toward an incline and is holding steady. Usage rates among college males are slightly higher than college females, but that gap has continued to even out. Prior to the 1980's, the use of amphetamine drugs was not altogether uncommon. In wartime for instance, military fighter pilots would use these drugs to keep awake during long flights. College students would take these drugs to keep awake in order to study and prepare for exams. Dieters used them to amp up their metabolism. Truckers used them to stay awake on the road. Other people would use amphetamines recreationally for no apparent reason. Why was the use of these types of drugs common prior to the 80's? They were unregulated and fairly easy to get hold of. Additionally, there was likely a lack of information available regarding their risks.

Things changed in the 1980's with the creation of new laws which prohibited the possession of precursor ingredients as well as the materials to manufacture amphetamines. These statutes made stimulants harder to get. Because of this, their use dropped dramatically. However, within the last decade, there has been a deadly resurgence in the form of crystal methamphetamine. Nationally, the highest user demographic is young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.

Crystal meth, a white crystalline form of amphetamines, is illegally manufactured in makeshift labs. Production and sales of this dangerous drug are picking up momentum. Common and easily obtained ingredients are used to create meth, including toxic household chemicals and solvents, as well as over-the-counter cold medications. With labs set up in kitchens, warehouses, and homes throughout the country, it is a recipe for death and disaster. Although historic use of amphetamines was motivated by some form of legitimate motive, i.e. staying awake to study, usage among college students today is highly motivated by recreation and entertainment. Meth is known as a "party drug" and has become popular among college students for several reasons.

Meth can cause a heightening of the senses and creates a feeling of euphoria. This is a dangerous effect and can itself become an addictive quest. Additionally, the drug can ultimately affect the behavior of a student who uses it. Often meth can cause an extended period of wakefulness, as if on a long-term adrenaline high, and during that time, engaging in reckless behavior is commonplace. In particular, college students choose to participate in risky sexual behavior. Many students use meth in conjunction with erectile dysfunction type drugs in order to heighten the sexual experience. Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant, and while it is not the only type of drug being abused on college campuses, it is of particular concern. The immediate effects include euphoria and loss of appetite, but the long term effects are devastating. In the long term, a crystal meth addiction can cause paranoia, psychosis, and schizophrenia, as well as brain damage. Even after drug treatment has been sought and use of the drug discontinued, it could still take months or years for the brain to recover.

For a college student experiencing new found freedom and unprecedented peer pressure, the perception of potential "benefits" of meth may outweigh the reality of its risks. Regardless, the dangers are real and numerous. First and foremost, due to the physical and psychological rewards, it has a high potential for abuse and addiction. It is often taken in binges lasting several days or weeks with a withdrawal period experienced afterwards. Withdrawals can include depression, irritability, fatigue, profuse sweating, increased appetite, and sleepiness. Experiencing such symptoms in turn creates increased motivation to use the drug again. Crystal methamphetamine addiction is of such great concern primarily due to the physical and psychological detriment of its use. Physically, typical effects of the drug include anorexia, hyperactivity, restlessness, issues with heart rhythm, high blood pressure, blurred vision, dizziness, tremors, numbness, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues such as constipation and/or diarrhea, convulsions, heart attack, stroke, and death. Psychologically, meth use can cause feelings of euphoria, anxiety, unrealistic self-confidence or esteem, irritability, aggression, psychotic disorders, hallucinations, precarious feelings of power and invincibility, obsessive behavior, and amphetamine psychosis.

Long-term usage effects can be grave. Meth is a neurotoxin and is associated with a higher risk for Parkinson's disease. This neurotoxic effect is also thought to be associated with memory impairment, and the inability to function normally in life circumstances. Other health risks exist as well. Those suffering from crystal meth addiction may experience premature loss of teeth. Also, decreased hygiene along with the use of unsterile needles can cause serious related health issues. Because of the reckless sexual behavior which often accompanies use, meth addicts are at a higher risk for contracting and passing sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, should a pregnancy occur, damage to the fetus during pregnancy, or to the baby during lactation, will likely occur.

These risks, along with the known effects of withdrawal, clearly outweigh any potential benefit, and college students need to be aware and informed prior to experimenting with such a volatile drug. Meth addiction is a difficult condition to treat. There is a strong sense of craving that must be overcome, as well as dealing with the heavy symptoms of withdrawal. Because meth is fairly readily available, dependency may be harder to overcome. New research is being done in areas where meth use is a major public health concern. Crystal methamphetamine addiction can seem like a bottomless pit from which there is no escape. However, effective drug treatment is available. Support and awareness on college campuses can have a huge and lasting impact on meth use among today's college students.

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