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Article Summary

A Guide To Meth Overdose

Methamphetamine, which is also known as meth, ice, speed, or crystal, is a powerful and addictive stimulant that will cause you to experience an intense rush of euphoria. Most people smoke, inject, snort, or consume the drug orally.

Today, meth is the 2nd most popular illicit substances around the globe. It is so popular that in 2014 more than 13 million people in the US aged above 12 years reported that they had used the drug at one point or the other in their lifetimes.

What most people don't realize, however, is that repeated meth use in the long term can cause physical tolerance and dependence. As your tolerance starts building, you will often have to increase your usual dose incrementally to be able to achieve the desired effects of the drug. This is dangerous because of the danger of an overdose that might occur if you take too much meth.

In fact, there were more than 100,000 visits to emergency rooms in 2011 for meth related complications in the US alone. Over half of these visits, however, involved a mixture of methamphetamine and another drug - with the most regularly co-abused substances being alcohol and marijuana.

It is, therefore, essential that you inform yourself of the typical signs and symptoms of overdosing on meth. This is because the sooner you receive help for an overdose, the higher your chances of recovery and survival.

Understanding Meth Overdose

Meth is classified as a Schedule II drug. As a stimulant, it usually comes in the form of a shiny crystalline formulation (known as crystal meth), or as a white powder. Although doctors sometimes use the class of drugs (amphetamines) that meth belongs to but in small doses to treat conditions like narcolepsy and ADHD, NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports that meth and other amphetamines are highly addictive particularly when abused.

In case you are addicted to this drug, you might experience dangerous and sometimes deadly side effects as a result of taking high doses of it, or using it too frequently. The UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) has actually reported that seizures related to meth misuse saw an increase of 21% from 2013 to 2014.

Although there are many health risks associated with regular meth abuse - including brain damage, aggressive behavior, mood issues, and memory loss - none of them is quite as severe as overdose.

Causes Of Meth Overdose

But exactly what causes people to overdose on meth? Although most people don't know this, methamphetamine is more than an illicit drug sold on the streets. The substance belongs to a class of drugs called amphetamines which includes medications such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Dexedrine which are sometimes legally prescribed to treat several conditions - including shift-work sleep disorder and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

That said, even amphetamine prescription users - as well as recreational users who may borrow or steal the prescriptions - can experience an overdose if they take this class of drugs longer than a doctor recommended or if they exceed the dosage prescribed.

However, this does not mean that you need to take meth in large quantities to overdose. In fact, even if you have been using the drug for an extended period and have never experience any problems, you may still overdose on it if:

  • The batch you bought has been mixed with other intoxicating substances, or if it is mislabeled
  • You have a problem with your health that increases your likelihood of overdosing on meth, which affects your cardiovascular health, or undermines the functioning of your nervous system; in particular, endocrine system disorders may change how your body processes drugs while issues with your cardiovascular system might increase your risk of overdosing on this drug
  • You mixed meth with other intoxicating substances, particularly stimulant drugs or alcohol
  • You take more than one dose of the drug too close together
  • You use more methamphetamine that you normally do because you are addicted to it

In effect, an overdose will occur when you take meth - either on purpose or by accident - and you start experiencing negative side effects when the drug reacts with your body. In most cases, these side effects will be as a result of the meth dosage exceeding what your body can naturally handle. If not treated quickly, it might prove fatal for you.

But what body reactions can contribute to a meth overdose? MethOIDE, the department of Methamphetamine and Other Illicit Drug Education at the University of Arizona reports that most of the deaths related to meth use occur when your body suffers a heatstroke. Ultimately, this heatstroke might cause multiple organ failure.

Additionally, overdosing on meth can cause your blood pressure to rise leading to a hemorrhage. It might also lead to liver failure as well as lead poisoning (in rare cases) from the contaminants that the illicit drug may contain.

Crystal meth, the hard and crystalline form of meth also stimulates the CNS (central nervous system) with powerful effects. Most users crush and snort this form of methamphetamine, although others dissolve and inject it. The most common mode of use, however, is heating crystal meth and smoking it. In this case, the high will come on pretty fast and may end up lasting for 12 hours.

The rates of crystal meth abuse have remained somewhat stable since 2002 while reports from 2014 showed that over half a million people above the age of 12 have reported that they are currently abusing and addicted to meth - most of whom were aged over 26 years.

In the same way, more than 8.2 percent of all visits to emergency rooms related to intoxicating substances in 2011 were related to meth abuse and addiction. This is because of the rapid onset and strength of crystal meth's effects, which makes it one of the easiest substances to abuse. The drug is so powerful that it often leads to tolerance, dependence, addiction, and - sometimes - overdose.

Signs Of Meth Abuse

Abusing crystal meth can take a major tool on you both psychologically and physically. As the adverse effects and symptoms start accumulating, you might discover that the high you get from using this drug is not worth the trouble and pain you will eventually experience.

That said, some of the symptoms of regular meth use include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Appetite loss which might lead to subsequent malnutrition
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • High body temperature
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Impaired thinking
  • Memory problems
  • Mood disturbances, such as depression
  • Paranoia
  • Repetitive motor activity
  • Severe dental problems
  • Skin sores
  • Weight loss

Most of the cognitive and emotional deficits arising from abusing meth are as a result of the structural brain changes that the drug causes. If you use the drug chronically, you may actually suffer a reduction in the efficient transportation of the chemical the brain uses for communication (dopamine) all through the parts of your brain that are dedicated to memory and emotion.

Luckily, some of these changes can be treated. In fact, if you abstain from meth for a significant amount of time, you can experience a return to normalcy and proper health to your brain.

That said, most of the effects that meth causes tend to come on powerfully and quickly. As a result, they might compel you to start chasing the high after you become addicted to meth.

Most users, therefore, tend to fall into the pattern of classical drug addiction - a pattern that will cause you to start seeking out the drug in spite of the many negative consequences arising from regular drug use.

You might also experience fierce physical dependence to crystal meth. This means that you will need to take the drug regularly if only to escape its adverse and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

As you continue using crystal meth over the long term, you may experience its effects less. This is because your brain will eventually grow accustomed to the presence of the drug, and require it to function properly. This condition is commonly referred to as tolerance and it might cause you to escalate the doses you take or try alternative modes of use to achieve the effects that you desire.

For instance, if you started out by snorting meth, you may find that you are resorting to intravenous use. This escalation of abuse often leads to an overdose which might prove to be fatal.

Signs And Symptoms Of Meth Overdose

To this end, it is important that you remember that using meth increases your risk of overdosing on it. Since methamphetamine is an illegal substance that you must purchase on the black market, you can never ascertain the quality, purity, or strength of the batch you get on the street - to say nothing of the safety of the substance you are about to use.

In case you know someone who struggles with this drug, it is essential that you familiarize yourself with the typical signs of an overdose. This way, you could potentially save their life in case they overdose.

That said, overdosing on meth may be chronic or acute. Acute overdose will occur when you use a large amount of the drug in a single episode causing you to experience an adverse reaction to it. In some cases, acute meth overdose may prove fatal.

Chronic overdose, on the other hand, refers to the cumulative negative health effects arising from ongoing and regular meth abuse. Both forms of overdoses might come with adverse consequences.

These signs and symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Agitation
  • Altered mental status
  • Arrhythmias
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperthermia
  • Hypotension
  • Irregular (slow or rapid) heartbeats
  • Kidney failure
  • Labored or difficult breathing
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Stomach pain
  • Stroke

During the overdose, the altered mental status might come with psychotic episodes, suicidal ideation and actions, and irritability. In some cases (which is very rare), you may also experience seizures or go into a coma.

Chronic overdose on meth refers to the accumulation of the health effects of abusing the drug over the long term. Chronic meth abuse often leads to the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Severe sleep disturbances
  • Violent outbursts

It may also cause psychotic symptoms - including but not limited to tactile hallucinations where you feel like there are bugs crawling on your skin, as well as severe paranoia. Additionally, abusing meth over the long term might lead to skin problems (including abscesses and sores), dental complications, and significant weight loss.

In case you experience (or a loved one experiences) an overdose on meth, the odds of recovery will depend on how fast you receive emergency medical treatment and the amount of the substance you took.

It is possible for you to come back from an overdose. However, it is of paramount importance that you receive urgent medical attention from trained and qualified professionals immediately.

In the same way, since overdosing on meth is a sign that you have a problem with drug abuse, you might want to undergo professional treatment for substance addiction once you have stabilized from an overdose.

Dealing With Meth Overdose

So, what can you do in case of a meth overdose? In case you suspect that someone is suffering an overdose from abusing meth, it is critically vital that you get them the help they need in the short time possible.

Once you notice the typical symptoms of a meth overdose, you need to call 911 immediately before taking some steps to ensure that they are safe before emergency care first responders arrive on the scene.

In case they are having a seizure, for instance, you should hold their head carefully to ensure that they do not get injured. You might also want to tilt the head to the left or right size so that they do not choke - which may happen if they were to vomit. However, you should not try holding their legs or arms.

According to the Milton Hershey Medical Center, you should ensure that you have the information listed below before you call for emergency medical help following a meth overdose:

  • The person's approximate weight and age
  • How much meth they took
  • How they took the drug (that is via injection, snorting, or oral ingestion)
  • The duration of time since they took meth

After the emergency medical team arrives, they may be able to provide the care needed. In most cases, they will use typical treatments like oral activated charcoal (which decontaminates the body).

They may also perform a drug and poison screening and provide fluids intravenously to ensure that the overdose victim does not suffer side effects like high blood pressure and nausea.

At times, medications might be administered to address some of the specific complications that are related to a meth overdose - including heart issues and reduced kidney function.

If the overdose is met with capable, efficient, and quick medical attention, the victim may recover. Even so, it is highly recommended that you check them into an inpatient drug treatment and rehabilitation facility to help them overcome their addiction to meth.

Surviving An Overdose

As mentioned above, overdosing on meth can be fatal while its health consequences can prove long lasting - and sometimes permanent. In fact, the psychotic symptoms of an overdose - including paranoia and hallucinations - may persist for over a year after the episode.

Additionally, you may experience permanent physical damage to your body and brain - especially if you experience prolonged kidney failure, heart problems, stroke, seizures, and altered mental status.

a) Risk Factors for an Overdose

Certain factors might increase your likelihood of suffering an overdose after using meth. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Taking meth concurrently with alcohol or any other addictive and intoxicating substance
  • Using meth in larger amounts to combat your tolerance to it
  • Taking the drug intravenously (by injecting it)
  • Having pre-existing problems with your health, such as hypertension

b) Steps Following an Overdose

As mentioned above, the first thing you should do after witnessing an overdose is to call 911 as fast as you possibly can. This is because a meth overdose could be potentially life threatening. This means that it needs to be managed as an emergency by a trained and qualified medical professional.

To this end, it is vital that you secure medical help as soon as you possibly can. In most cases, the long term prognosis for someone recovering for a meth overdose will largely depend on how fast they received treatment as well as on the amount of the drug they took.

If you have suffered such an overdose and were lucky enough to survive, it is highly recommended that you start considering treatment as well as prevention strategies to ensure that you do not suffer complications in the future. You should also embrace the overdose as a new opportunity to make lasting positive changes to your lifestyle. This means that you should start preparing to live without meth.

Preventing Meth Overdose

You may also want to take some steps to ensure that you do not overdose on meth in the future. This might effectively minimize the risk of experiencing negative complications and consequences - including stroke, heart attack, and death.

By avoiding the commonly known risk factors - such as taking the drug intravenously, using it in high dozes, on mixing methamphetamine with other intoxicating substances - you might be able to effectively minimize the likelihood of suffering another overdose. Still, the only sure way to avoid a repeat of the same is to stop using the drug.

You should, therefore, consider getting help if you have been abusing meth and you are addicted to it. NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) recommends that you take the following treatment approaches to ensure that you never overdose again:

a) The Matrix Model

This model has been found to be effective for treating addiction to stimulants such as methamphetamine. The treatment combines drug testing, individual (and family) counseling and therapy, relapse prevention, and education.

Your therapist will adopt the role of a coach and provide you with rewards and praise for the positive behaviors you adopt - including abstinence from meth abuse. As a participant, you will also be encouraged to attend and participate in a variety of self-help groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous.

b) MIEDAR

MIEDAR is the common abbreviation for Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery. It is one of the approaches used to effective treat meth addiction. This model combines rewards and/or incentives for positive changes in your lifestyle. The interventions are also aimed at helping raise your motivation and enthusiasm for full recovery and sobriety.

c) Contingency Management

This form of treatment is designed in such a way that you will receive certain rewards for your sobriety. As such, contingency management effectively encourages recovering meth addicts to remain sober, abstinent, and focused on full recovery.

d) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Otherwise known as CBT in the drug addiction rehabilitation community, cognitive behavioral therapy is focused on helping people like you understand how your thoughts affect your behavior, actions, and feelings. It will also help you identify the people, places, situations, and environments that could trigger a relapse, as well as develop a plan to prevent such a relapse from happening in the first place.

When You Need Medical Help

A suspected or actual overdose is treated as a medical emergency. This means that you should not spend precious time looking for more information about meth overdose. Instead, you should immediately call 911.

You will know that the time has come for you to look for emergency medical assistance if you start experiencing the following:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in your breathing patterns
  • Any symptoms that you feel are unusual for you
  • Anger
  • Aggression

In the same way, you should keep in mind that some meth users actually believe that they can reverse their overdose by mixing it with other intoxicating substances - including depressant drugs, alcohol, and sedatives. However, this is not only far from the truth, it is also quite dangerous and might prove fatal.

The only person who should effectively deal with your meth overdose is a medical professional. Even then, it might prove challenging for them. This is because there are no pharmaceutical antidotes for overdosing on stimulants of any kind.

In case the person you are with experiences a seizure before you get to the hospital, it is recommended that you ensure they do not choke on their own vomit - should this happen. This means that you need to turn their head to one side. Additionally, you should not try holding them still or moving them because this might injury them or cause death.

Avoiding Meth Overdose

In case you take amphetamines as a prescription, you should talk to your doctor to find out if there is another drug that could be quite as effective as your prescription. However, if you still have to continue taking this class of drugs for medicinal purposes, you need to:

  • Monitor your usage
  • Watch yourself for any signs of dependence and addiction, such as taking more of the drug than was recommended or using the drug recreationally (to get high)

At the same time, you need to avoid the following:

  • Mixing meth with other drugs - particularly stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin, or alcohol
  • Injecting or snorting meth, since this may dangerously intensify the high from the drug and compound its potentially harmful effects on your body
  • Using meth

In case your doctor has not prescribed amphetamines for you, the only thing you can really do to avoid suffering an overdose to this class of drugs and to meth is to keep away from the drug and ensure that you do not take it - whether accidentally or deliberately. Remember, above everything else, that there are no benefits that come with using meth recreationally. Instead, it carries a plethora of risks that you could well do without.

Treating Meth Overdose

At the moment, there is no known drug you can take to reverse the effects and symptoms of meth abuse. In the same way, you should keep in mind that it is not safe to treat an overdose on this drug at home.

To protect you, the doctors and first responders will typically try mitigating the overdose symptoms. This might involve:

  • Giving you fluids and liquids to clear the toxicity of meth through an IV
  • Monitoring the rate at which your heart beats
  • Providing medications to help ease your anxiety and slow down your high blood pressure

On the other hand, if you swallowed the drug - instead of snorting or smoking it - the doctors might provide activated charcoal or a laxative (or even both). This may help you eliminate the drug from your body faster.

In addition to the above, there are several options open to anyone who would like to be treated for their meth addiction - either before or after they suffer an overdose as a result of the drug. These options include:

a) Inpatient Drug Rehabilitation

Inpatient drug treatment is designed to provide life skills training, therapy, individual and group support and counseling, and medical care under one roof. It is one of the most effective ways to deal with meth addiction following or prior to an overdose.

b) Luxury Treatment

If you think that taking a vacation might help with your addiction, then you may want to go for luxury treatment. This is a form of treatment designed to make the path to recovery as easy as possible.

c) Executive Rehabilitation

On the other hand, in case you are worried that going for rehab might negatively affect your career and professional life, then you may want to check into an executive drug treatment and rehabilitation facility. This will allow you to continue working as you normally do.

c) Outpatient Drug Rehabilitation

Last but not least, in case you are too busy for inpatient rehabilitation, think about going for outpatient treatment. This type of therapy will still teach you all the tips and skills you are going to need to keep meth at bay, resist temptation, and receive the support you need as you get started and continue on the journey to full recovery.

Recovering From Meth Overdose

Your journey to full recovery will heavily depend on the effects that meth has on your body, brain, and life. Depending on how severe your overdose was, you may suffer anoxic brain injury or damage. This might interfere with your mental health and long term mental functioning. In some cases, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and/or psychotherapy might help in your recovery.

On the other hand, if the meth overdose harmed your heart, the doctors may recommend the following:

  • Medications
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Follow-up care
  • Treatment for meth addiction

In most cases, changing to a low fat diet and exercising may also help with the condition. However, you should not make any changes to your lifestyle before you first consult your doctor.

That said, overdosing on meth could lead to other problems with your health. This may include, but are not limited to:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle pains
  • Dehydration

However, these problems are likely to disappear after some days if you receive proper treatment in good time immediately following your meth overdose.

It is also important to keep in mind that you might lose some weight as you recover from the overdose. This means that you are going to have to find other ways to regain your normal body weight - especially if your doctors inform you that you are undernourished or too thin.

In few cases, you may not suffer any long term health consequences. However, this is not to mean that you do not need treatment for your meth overdose. This is because meth is one of the most addictive of intoxicating drugs, and it often cases most recreational users to eventually turn into full time addicts with an increased risk of overdose.

Over and above everything else, it is possible to recover after a meth overdose. However, you may want to consider getting long term treatment to ensure that you overcome your addiction and reduce the opportunities and triggers that might cause you to start abusing meth again - which could increase your risk of suffering another overdose.

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