Tweaking is the 4th stage that meth users experience, and is also the most dangerous. The condition occurs when the user has come to the end of a meth binge, and the drug is no longer is providing the user with the desired rush or a high.
Methamphetamine (meth) is a potent and addictive stimulant drug that can have long-term effects on a user’s body. Meth is a human-made drug that, with the arrival of other more effective and less harmful prescription stimulants, currently has minimal therapeutic use in rare cases of difficult-to-treat ADHD and severe obesity.
Crystal meth is methamphetamine in the form of a semi-transparent white or bluish rock-like crystal, which is usually heated and then smoked in a glass pipe – less commonly it is snorted or injected. The desired effects of both meth and crystal meth effects include increased energy, euphoria, and suppressed appetite.
What Is Tweaking?
Tweaking is a physical and psychological state that can occur following a meth binge, which can sometimes last several days. During a binge, the person continues to use meth to delay the “comedown,” a state that is hallmarked by the increasing loss of desired effects, and positions the user squarely at the onset of highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
After prolonged use, the person is no longer able to experience a high, and the user begins “tweaking.” At this time, the person will feel intense cravings and desperation that can no longer be sated. It is at this point that psychotic symptoms may manifest and the user begins to suffer from delusions, hallucinations, and other altered perceptions.
The experience of a tweaking phase precedes a point in which many users seek and enter addiction treatment programs. Due to psychosis, they may begin sobriety in an inpatient mental health facility before being transferred to medical detox or inpatient rehab.
After experiencing days of insomnia and a loss of appetite, most people do little more than sleep during the days following an episode of tweaking. After this crash comes a period – one that can last up to two weeks – in which the person will be hungry, thirsty, and fatigued as their body tries to re-balance itself after exposure to the substance.
Short-Term Effects of Using Meth
Prolonged use of meth can result in severe anxiety, paranoia, and insomnia. Additionally, thoughts of suicide or violence against others have manifested in some users.
People that use meth are typically looking for the immediate, long-lasting and intense effects for which the drug has gained its reputation. Because meth acts as a powerful stimulant, there is a near-instant euphoric effect after exposure that can last up to 30 minutes, followed by a significant increase in energy, alertness, motivation, and confidence that can last for up to 12 hours.
The desirable high of meth, however, quickly gives way to the much less pleasant effects of the substance – even short-term use can result in erratic and violent behavior when consumed in large doses.
Other side effects of crystal meth include:
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Severe mood swings
- Unpredictable behavior
- Tremors or convulsions
- Elevated blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Irregular heart rhythm
Long-Term Effects Of Using Meth
When used for a prolonged period, meth use can result in severe physical and psychological issues as acute effects increase in intensity.
Signs and symptoms of long-term meth use include:
- Cardiac Arrest
- Sores from skin-picking
- Confusion/bizarre behavior
- A feeling of bugs crawling on the skin
- Psychosis—delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia
- Depression, anxiety, and social isolation
- Breathing problems caused by smoke inhalation
- Irreversible damage to blood vessels in the heart and brain
Chronic Methamphetamine use can also cause outward signs of premature aging. Because the drug damages tissues and blood vessels and hinders the body’s capacity to heal, users often develop acne and other skin blemishes, and the skin begins to lose its elasticity. “Meth mouth” is a condition that is characterized by the widespread deterioration of teeth and gum disease.
Because meth use causes the brain to release an increased amount of dopamine – a chemical responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure – the drug has a high potential for addiction.
Researchers believe this elevated activity of dopamine plays a vital role in the development of chemical addiction to certain drugs. Moreover, the positive feelings produced by excessive dopamine are so powerful and intensely rewarding that it reinforces the behavior that was the catalyst for its release.
As users build a tolerance to meth, they need increasing amounts of the drug to experience the desired effects, putting themselves at risk for overdose and continuing to fuel the body’s dependency on it.
After prolonged use, dopamine receptor activity becomes impaired and can cause the user to experience decreased happiness and pleasure (dysphoria) and even result in irreversible cognitive impairment.
Symptoms Of Meth Withdrawal
- Itchy eyes
- Sleep difficulties
- Increased appetite
- Feelings of depression and anxiety
- Intense drug cravings
- Loss of energy and fatigue
Getting Help For Meth Addiction
Tweaking is dangerous and withdrawing from meth can be very unpleasant and may compel users to relapse in an attempt to relieve symptoms. Participating in a medically supervised detox program, however, can ensure that symptoms are managed and relapse is prevented.
Ideally, successful medical detox should be followed by a long-term stay at a residential rehab program or participation in a structured and intensive outpatient program.
Residential or inpatient programs can be very effective at treating addiction, as they allow the person to concentrate on recovery with minimal distractions and temptations. Most programs range from 30-90 days, but some may offer longer stays for more severe cases of addiction.
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