If you or someone you care about is affected by methamphetamine, it is important to understand some important facts about this drug.

Amphetamine was first developed for medical purposes in Germany in 1887 and has been used over the years to treat everything from depression, narcolepsy, respiratory illnesses and more recently, obesity and ADHD.

Methamphetamine, a more potent version of amphetamine, was later developed in Japan in 1919. It is a stimulant that speeds up the central nervous system by increasing the level of three hormones produced by the brain:

1.      Norepinephrine (prepares our body for the fight or flight response)

2.      Serotonin (regulates moods and appetite)

3.      Dopamine (triggers pleasure and reward system)

Unlike other stimulants such as coffee, cigarettes and sugar, methamphetamine is significantly more potent and the effects last much longer as a result. Many users describe the immediate effects as a “high or rush” and generally feeling focussed, motivated, confident and “bullet-proof”.

If methamphetamine is used heavily, users can be up without sleep for days on what is commonly called a ‘binge’ and this is generally followed by a significant ‘crash’ period, which can be severe for some. Over time, the brain stops producing dopamine naturally, and the lack of drugs can cause symptoms like depression. This is considered to be the main reason for people to keep using this drug, and what professionals call “the cycle of dependency”.

When used heavily and over long periods of time, methamphetamine can lead to dangerous side-effects such as damage to the circulatory system and heart failure. From 2009-2015 there were 1,649 deaths in Australia associated with this drug – approximately 43% were from toxicity/overdose, 22% from natural causes, 18% from suicides and the rest from injury and homicide.

The effect on mental health is arguably the most under-reported feature of methamphetamine. About 1 in 4 users will experience psychosis, and heavy or prolonged use are considered the main risk factors. Long term use can also result in depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.

Addressing this issue is not just about engaging a person in treatment – although this is important – especially for those at risk of harm. It is also about being aware of how to provide help and support, offering opportunities for change and participating in activities to keep distracted and focused on building a healthier life.

So if someone you care about is affected by methamphetamine, many free services are available. The first step is to make contact and explore the options. You can also access help and support to get through this difficult process.

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