Teen Meth Use

By Officer Kirk Buchanan, Los Angeles Police Department

Crystal methamphetamine is a Schedule II stimulant, which means that it is a dangerous drug that carries a high potential for addiction and abuse. The more common street names are meth, speed, and chalk. In the form that the drug is smoked in, it is referred to as glass, crystal, crank, or ice. This drug can also be taken by mouth, snorted via the nasal cavities, or injected intravenously. Meth is so addictive because it increases the levels of dopamine in the body, stimulating the brain cells. Over time, higher doses are continuously needed in order to attain the high since the body builds up a tolerance to its effects, and more frequent doses are usually administered.

Drug abusers often turn to meth because of its euphoric effects on the body. It increases metabolism, raises alertness, and gives the user the feeling that they have an endless amount of energy. Larger doses of meth, however, cause the abuser to be irritable, paranoid, and nervous. The extreme level of paranoia often causes the abuser to act violently and experience a distorted sense of reality.

There are three different patterns of meth use: low intensity, high intensity, and binge. Low intensity users are not psychologically addicted to meth and usually snort or swallow the drug. High intensity and binge users, on the other hand, are psychologically addicted and tend to take the more dangerous approach of smoking or injecting the drug to achieve a more intense high that comes on faster than the other methods. Those who are most dangerously stuck in the cycle of crystal methamphetamine addiction are referred to as "tweakers." These users often do not sleep for days or weeks at a time and have a propensity towards paranoia and violence.

Although crystal meth addiction can take hold on anyone, teens are especially vulnerable. Many teenagers have an inadequate knowledge of boundaries and do not realize the harmful and possibly deadly effects of meth use. Often after a teen has tried meth, it is too late to turn back because addiction is possible from the first initial use. Teens can be led to experiment with meth through other "gateway" drugs such as marijuana, and even their own personal insecurities can make them more susceptible to crystal methamphetamine addiction. A teen that is experiencing anxiety, depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, stress, or peer pressure may think it is a good idea to use meth because it gives them a super-human feeling of invincibility and a false sense of control.

It was reported in 2005 by the United States Survey on Drug Use and Health that 10.4 million people over the age of twelve have tried meth at least one time in their lives. Exactly how many of these participants were teenagers is unknown, but the number of meth users is staggering. There were extreme increases reported by the Drug Enforcement Administration in the discoveries of illegal meth labs, and there were also increased reports of large amounts of meth being smuggled in from Mexico.

Meth use has many lasting, detrimental effects on the body. The short term effects are usually the best way to determine if someone you know may be using meth, and the odds that you are correct increase with the number of matching symptoms. Short term symptoms of crystal meth addiction include a sense of well-being, increased alertness, paranoia, aggressive or violent behavior, hallucinations, elevated heart rate, extremely high fever, convulsions, twitching or jerking uncontrollably, insomnia, slurred speech or mumbling, dry or itchy skin, rotten teeth, acne, sores, and loss of appetite. Other behavioral symptoms may include excessive talking, anxiousness, extreme mood swings, a feeling of power, severe depression, or a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable, such as spending time with family and friends.

Long term effects of crystal methamphetamine addiction are also formidable. Someone who has been abusing meth for a long time may display kidney or lung disorders, brain damage, hallucinations, depression, disheveled lifestyle, permanent psychological issues, malnutrition, altered personality, impaired immunity to illnesses, stroke, liver damage, and death.

Another way to tell if your teen is using meth is keeping an eye out for withdrawal symptoms that will indicate if meth is coming out of his/her system. Meth withdrawal is also referred to as "crashing" or "coming down." The most noticeable symptom is intense cravings for food as a response to being deprived of nutrition for long periods of time. You may also notice insomnia, confusion, depression, or restlessness.

As you can see from the symptoms and results of meth use, it is a very serious addiction that is difficult to treat. It is always best to prevent drug abuse from happening in the first place, and that is where the parent comes in. If you believe your child is at risk for drug abuse, set stricter boundaries and be sure to enforce them. An earlier curfew, less time to be with friends, or no phone can be an effective deterrent to risky behavior. Getting your teen involved in positive activities, such as sports or charity work, can also help to prevent drug abuse.

If you have been paying close attention to your teen's behavior and you believe he or she may be using meth, it is imperative to take action. You should make every effort to learn as much about crystal meth addiction as possible. You may find additional information from your health care professional or a school counselor.

It is very important that you be able to talk with your teen about your concerns. Be sure to not act angry. Since drug abuse is such a hard subject to discuss, especially with teens who often try to keep their lives private, everybody involved in the conversation needs to remain calm. Talk specifically about things you have noticed that cause you to worry, and show that you care for his/her well-being. If you have found meth paraphernalia, confront your child directly about it, as well as any changes in appearance or behavior that you have noticed. Be firm in telling your teen that drug use will not be tolerated. Don't resort to accusations or pressured questioning, as your teen may withdraw from the discussion. Instead of panicking, try to find out information from them about how the drug use came about, what caused them to try it, and when was the last time of use. This conversation will let your teen know that you are exercising your rights as a parent and will not tolerate this type of activity in your child's life.

If it does in fact turn out that your teen is addicted to meth, it is imperative to immediately seek drug treatment. Treatment options consist of rehabilitation, which involves an evaluation by a medical professional, a period of detox, and often a 12-step program. Rehabilitation cannot be completed until the drug is completely out of the patient's system, and then it is necessary to educate the patient about drug addiction. Relapses can occur, so it is critical that your teen has a support system. It is important to do the proper research and decide which drug treatment program is right for your teen to achieve a successful recovery that will last a lifetime.

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