How to Help a Loved One Struggling with Methamphetamine Addiction

Posted on July 15, 2022

family supporting loved one addicted to meth

Methamphetamine (meth) is a highly addictive stimulant drug, often manufactured and used illegally. Although doctors can prescribe a version of meth (Desoxyn) to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity, the drug is most often sold on the streets to users seeking a euphoric “high.”

Illegally produced meth is typically smoked, snorted, injected, or swallowed in pill form and has effects similar to amphetamines and cocaine. Also called blue, speed, crystal, or ice, street meth is very dangerous.

According to CDC statistics, from 2012 through 2018, “the rate for deaths involving psychostimulants with abuse potential (drugs such as methamphetamine) increased nearly 5-fold.” Current numbers are likely higher as experts have found increases in substance use and drug overdoses since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency in March 2020.

Supporting your loved one struggling with addiction can be instrumental in their recovery. Friends and family often play a crucial role in persuading their loved one to enter a treatment program. Research finds family support, combined with psychotherapy, increases the chances of your addicted loved one achieving long-term recovery.

By educating yourself about the disease of addiction, you will better understand why meth is so addictive and dangerous and why it is so difficult for your loved one to stop using meth without professional help. The more you know about addiction, the more equipped you are to give your loved one needed help and support.

Why is Illegally Produced Meth So Dangerous?

Most meth is manufactured illegally by drug dealers, meaning there is no regulatory oversight ensuring the product’s dosage, purity, and safety. When people buy meth on the street, they cannot know what the drug contains, which often means lethal consequences.

Illegally manufactured meth may contain:

  • Toxic materials like solvents, metals, salts, or strong acids
  • A higher dose than expected
  • Other potent drugs like fentanyl

Drug dealers commonly mix fentanyl with methamphetamine, heroin, or cocaine because it is highly potent, cheap, easily obtained, and more addictive than each drug alone. Fentanyl is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. By mixing fentanyl with meth, drug traffickers increase their profits while hooking customers into long-term addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States.”

People can die from methamphetamine exposure even if they do not personally ingest it. The illicit manufacture of meth presents the following risks:

Risk of explosion

Illegal manufacturers use dangerous chemicals to produce meth, which can cause toxic fumes, fires, or explosions.

Lingering toxic residue

Toxic residue from the manufacture of meth can cause health problems for anyone who lives in the area and is especially harmful to children. Symptoms caused by lingering toxins may include headache, nausea, vomiting, breathing difficulties, and eye irritation.

How Does Meth Affect the User?

Meth is classified as a stimulant because it increases activity in the central nervous system (CNS), including the brain and spinal cord, to potentially lethal levels. The drug triggers increases in functions like heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate, which can cause short-term and long-term damage to organs and bodily functions.

Meth directly affects chemicals in the brain associated with impulse control and hyperactivity. Stimulants cause both physical and mental functions to speed up. Due to the intense euphoric rush meth delivers, it is highly addictive and can lead to quick habit forming. As tolerance increases, users take higher doses, causing further damage to the body.

Methamphetamine interacts with the pleasure and reward center of the brain, signaling the brain to increase levels of dopamine, known as the “happy hormone,” as it lifts the mood. Dopamine also affects motor reactions, with heightened levels causing an increase in motor activity. Users often report the immediate effect of meth to include a temporary rush of euphoria, heightened focus and alertness, and increased energy.

Although dopamine is released naturally in response to a positive experience, meth and other addictive substances cause an unnaturally high increase in the hormone. Because dopamine affects motivation and reward, high surges of the hormone powerfully reinforce drug-taking behavior, making users eager to repeat the experience.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse warns meth use often causes serious short- and long-term effects, including death. Even first-time users can overdose on meth, especially if the:

  • Dose is too high
  • Product contains deadly fentanyl or other dangerous additives
  • Meth interacts with other drugs or alcohol in the person’s system
  • Person has a pre-existing medical condition that makes taking a stimulant more dangerous.

Short-term Effects of Meth

  • Increased blood pressure and body temperature
  • Faster breathing
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite, disturbed sleep patterns, or nausea
  • Erratic, aggressive, irritable, or violent behavior

Long-Term Effects

  • Extreme weight loss, malnutrition
  • Severe dental problems (“meth mouth”)
  • Intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching
  • Increased anxiety
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Severe insomnia
  • Changes in brain structure and function
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Paranoia — extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • Hallucinations — sensations and images that seem real

Long-term use of meth can permanently alter brain function to the point that the user cannot experience pleasurable feelings or even a sense of “normal” without the drug. While short-term use can result in irreparable organ damage and death, the longer a person uses meth, the more the risk increases.

How to Help Your Loved One Struggling with Meth Addiction

family confronting addicted womanWatching methamphetamine, or another addictive substance, transform your loved one into a stranger is painful and frightening. Addiction upsets the balance of the family unit and often ends in heartbreak. It is natural to feel helpless as you watch your loved one sink deeper into substance abuse.

However, as mentioned above, support from family or friends can be the key to getting your loved one to accept the treatment they so desperately need. By acting, you may be able to save their life.

Learn about methamphetamine addiction

The first step toward helping your loved one is to educate yourself on the ins and outs of addiction. The more you accept that addiction is a chronic but treatable disease, the more confident you will be that your loved one can learn to manage the disease and enjoy long-term sobriety.

Through research, consultations with professionals, and family therapy, you will be able to understand your loved one’s addictive behavior better and approach the recovery process with informed compassion.

Start the conversation

It is natural to feel apprehensive about talking to your loved one about their addiction. You may even feel it is not your business, or perhaps you are afraid of harming your relationship with your addicted loved one. Experts at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation address some common concerns that may be holding you back and encourage you to intervene, just as you would if your loved one needed treatment for another serious disease.

Whether you plan a private talk with your loved one or decide an intervention may be more productive, there are several points to consider. If you opt to stage an intervention, you may want to consult an addiction specialist or professional interventionist for guidance.

Preplan the conversation or intervention

The goal of the conversation or intervention is to convince your loved one to agree to treatment for their meth addiction. Preparation helps increase your chances of a successful conversation:

  • Meet with others who will be attending the discussion to decide what each will say. The group should be small and only include people your loved one trusts, and one or two professionals like a clergy member, addiction specialist, or interventionist.
  • Each person should make notes of specific examples of how the loved one’s addictive behaviors have harmed the addicted person or another. These notes will keep the conversation constructive and help avoid sweeping generalizations like, “you always…”
  • Research potential treatment options and have resources available to give your loved one. Choose the treatment program and facility you believe will work best, and be ready to admit your loved one to the program if they agree.
  • Plan to meet in a private space at a time when your loved one is likely to be sober, and no one will feel rushed.
  • Prepare for adverse reactions and denial by having emergency phone numbers on hand and a place to retreat in case of reactionary violence.

During the conversation or intervention:

  • Avoid using the word “addict.”
  • Remain compassionate, calm, and non-judgmental.
  • Use non-accusatory language while explaining the impact of their harmful actions. Offer the specific examples you identified during your preplanning rather than vague observations.
  • Set boundaries. In a non-threatening way, let them know that you will no longer support their addictive behavior by covering for them, giving them money, or bailing them out of trouble.
  • Explain the options for treatment and why you believe these are the best options. Offer them information about local or online support groups.
  • Reassure them that their family and friends believe in them and in their ability to recover.

Empowering versus enabling

Certain caretaking skills are not necessarily intuitive. There is a difference between “enabling” and “empowering.” You may feel you are helping a loved one by covering for their mistakes, giving them money, or sacrificing your own needs to care for them, but you should know where to draw your boundaries. Empowerment involves teaching them how to handle their own responsibilities.

Treatment programs

There are three main types of treatment programs:

1. Inpatient rehab – an intensive, residential treatment program for severe addiction. Patients in treatment for meth addiction usually stay at the facility for at least 30 days, although stays vary according to the severity of addiction and personalized needs.

During inpatient rehab, patients typically receive individual, group, and family counseling, support groups, medical and psychiatric oversight, and other treatments as they recover in a safe, stable environment.

2. Intensive outpatient rehab – although the patient does not live at the treatment facility, intensive outpatient is still a highly structured program, offering up to 20 hours of treatment per week, including individual and group therapy, and more supervision than a regular outpatient program requires.

Patients live at home, in a recovery house, or in a sober home and can attend to work, school, or other responsibilities throughout treatment. Sometimes people transition to intensive outpatient after completing a residential treatment program.

3. Outpatient rehab – similar to intensive outpatient, but requires less supervision and fewer treatment hours. Both intensive outpatient and outpatient typically include psychiatric and medication oversight.

Convincing a loved one to attend a treatment program

Your loved one may be apprehensive about attending a rehab facility. Their fears of withdrawal, loneliness, and stigma can prevent them from agreeing to seek treatment. You can assure them that supervised medical detox and medication management during treatment will ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.

Though a change in lifestyle means letting go of former social groups, new bonds between fellow recoverees, supporters, and specialists will counteract loneliness. Alleviate the stigma by reminding them you are not judging their actions and that enrollment in a program is the first step to realigning their life.

It may take several conversations before your loved one agrees to treatment. Even if they are resistant, you have started the conversation. If circumstances are dire, meaning they are a danger to themselves or others, consider involuntary commitment. This option is available in most states.

Family support during treatment

It is not uncommon for addicts to withdraw from family and friends as their condition progresses. While isolation is damaging to the average person, isolation is especially dangerous to those in active addiction or recovery. Isolation is one of the most significant risk factors for relapse.

In the thick of instability, the support of the family unit provides structure to the struggling individual.

How to practice family support during treatment:

  • Encourage open communication
  • Help your loved one keep track of appointments
  • Lend a listening ear
  • Practice optimism
  • Maintain a safe, substance-free environment
  • Draw and enforce boundaries
  • Communicate with your loved one’s treatment team
  • Attend family counseling

Family Counseling

Though family support is an integral aspect of addiction recovery, this emotional labor takes its toll. Caring for yourself will allow you to care for your loved one properly. Attending a support group with others walking a similar path can give you invaluable guidance, encouragement, and hope.

Young members of the addicted person’s family may have trouble wrapping their heads around this challenging situation. Youth-specific support groups, such as Alateen and Narateen, unite children and adolescents coping with similar struggles.

Encourage your loved one to develop healthy eating, sleeping, and exercising habits. Invite them to join you in your favorite activities. Learning new skills and rediscovering old passions are stepping stones to rebuilding a fulfilling life. Consider sharing some of the following activities with your recovering loved one.

  • Cook a nutritious meal.
  • Practice yoga or meditation with a video or instructor.
  • Exercise together, whether at a gym, taking a walk, swimming, riding a bike, or following one of the many exercise programs available for free on YouTube.
  • Take a dance, art, jewelry, pottery, music, or other creative class.
  • Enroll in a course at a community college, like budgeting or fitness.

A Word About Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis, also called a co-occurring disorder, means a doctor has diagnosed an individual with both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 45 percent of people with a substance addiction also have a co-occurring mental health disorder.

Treatment facilities must address all co-occurring disorders with an integrated treatment plan for the best chance of long-term recovery.

Rising Phoenix Wellness Services

Rising Phoenix is a licensed mental health and substance abuse treatment center offering outpatient and intensive outpatient programs. Our integrative model includes individual and group therapy, psychiatric and medical evaluations, case management services, family and couples counseling, and alumni services.

Treatment takes place in our comfortable, nurturing environment. We provide a unique approach to addiction recovery that caters to substance use and the psychological issues buried deep beneath the addiction. Our clients receive drug and alcohol tests up to twice a week, which we feel helps patients prioritize their health and ensures accountability.

We have seen firsthand how essential supportive family members are to recovery. For this reason, we provide coping strategies and education for families and family counseling to improve communication and other interpersonal skills. Our goal is recovery for the addicted person and their family.

We understand the importance of addressing all co-occurring disorders in the patient’s treatment plan. Our team is proud to excel in dual diagnosis outpatient treatment, recognizing and diagnosing the psychological issues that can lie beneath substance abuse and mental health issues.

If you or a loved one needs help, we have an admissions advisor available 24-7 to assist and answer any questions you may have. Our advisors are happy to provide guidance on how you can help guide your loved one struggling with addiction to the help they deserve.

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