Meth use doesn’t just have a profound impact on the user; it can have a significant and lifelong effect on the health of an unborn baby. There is a strong stigma related to pregnancy and meth, keeping many women from seeking the help they need for recovery. The good news is that stopping meth use at any point in the pregnancy can improve birth outcomes.
What Are the Effects of Methamphetamine on the User?
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance that causes an intense rush of pleasure that lasts about 30 minutes after taking it. During that rush, the individual’s heartbeat, blood pressure, and pulse are very high. After the initial rush, the individual experiences a high that last between 4 and 16 hours. At this time, the individual may experience mental clarity and feel happier and smarter.
To maintain this high, meth users binge by smoking or injecting more of the drug. This period, sometimes called the “shoulder,” lasts between a couple days and a couple weeks. Every time the individual uses meth, they experience a less significant high until finally, they get no rush from using the drug.
This is when the individual enters a phase called “tweaking,” which is also when the individual is most dangerous and the most at risk. They no longer experience a rush when using meth, leaving them feeling deeply empty and with intense cravings they can’t satisfy. They may be unable to sleep for several days, experience vivid visual and auditory hallucinations, and feel as though bugs are crawling beneath their skin.
After tweaking, the individual experiences a crash. This happens when the body becomes so overwhelmed by the effects of the drug that it shuts down. The individual experiences long periods of sleep lasting one to three days. When they awaken, they feel exhausted and often very hungry. Unless they soon use meth, they enter a very painful state of withdrawal.
What Is Meth Addiction and Why Is It Hard to Overcome?
Meth impacts the brain by forcing it to release noradrenaline and dopamine. The combination of these chemicals causes the individual to experience a sense of euphoria and a heightened level of focus. This chemical reward is what makes meth so addictive— the drug essentially teaches the brain to continue taking it so that it can continue experiencing these pleasant symptoms.
Over time, more and more of the drug is necessary for providing the same high. Without the drug, the brain doesn’t release these feel-good chemicals, and the individual only experiences happiness when they’re using the drug. This is how they become addicted to meth.
The meth withdrawal process is extremely painful and uncomfortable, making it very difficult for the individual to stop using the drug once they’ve become addicted to it. They become depressed and very tired, and they lose their ability to experience pleasure. Once they experience cravings, they often become suicidal. This is why the relapse rate for meth addiction is very high.
Pregnancy and Meth: How Methamphetamine Affects the Fetus
The ethics of observing the effects of meth on a fetus make it hard to gather conclusive evidence on the potential harmfulness of the drug. Also, studies indicate women who use meth tend to have chaotic, unstable lives, which can have a negative impact on a developing fetus. Even so, some research indicates that meth use negatively affects the baby’s development.
According to a large longitudinal study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, meth during pregnancy has a significant impact on the fetus of a mother who uses the drug. When the baby is young, they have a weak response to stimuli, show signs of high stress, and have poor coordination and quality of movement.
Once they’ve reached the toddler stage, the child often displays delayed motor development. As the child enters the preschool years and beyond, they typically have difficulty with paying attention and staying on task, and they’re more likely to have a hard time controlling impulses. As a result, they often have cognitive and behavioral delays that affect academic performance and personal relationships.
The Stigma of Meth Use During Pregnancy
Unsurprisingly, there is a significant stigma surrounding meth and pregnancy. The drug is seen as one of the harder recreational drugs for a good reason; it has a profound and lasting impact on the individual using it. Its effects on the body during and after use, along with its high relapse rate, make meth addiction a serious illness.
The stigma is so strong that not only are the women themselves shamed for having the addiction, but their babies are as well. Disparaging terms such as “meth baby” are commonly used in reference to babies whose mothers used meth during pregnancy.
Most people recognized the toll meth use takes on the individual. However, many people believe that it’s one thing for someone to decide to use meth and experience the effects themselves and something else entirely to subject an unborn child to the effects of the drug, impairing them for possibly the rest of their lives. The logic is that even if the mother can’t quit for her own health, then surely she can quit, even temporarily, for the sake of her baby.
Unfortunately, addiction doesn’t work this way. The majority of pregnant women have a strong desire to ensure the health and safety of their children and make conscious and subconscious lifestyle adjustments throughout pregnancy and motherhood to give their babies their best chance to thrive. Addiction, however, prevents the individual from making healthy choices. The individual’s sole focus is on managing cravings and using the drug as often as they need to in order to function.
While the mother may have the desire to stop using meth, this drug has such as powerful effect on the body to the point that she may become unable to function without it. The withdrawal process is very painful and even dangerous, and most people eventually use meth to put an end to the symptoms. Despite the best intentions, most women with a meth addiction continue to use the drug throughout their pregnancies.
Addressing Meth Use During Pregnancy and Beyond
While any drug use during pregnancy can potentially have a harmful effect on the fetus, studies show that stopping meth use at any point during the pregnancy improves birth outcomes. However, this is nearly impossible without interventions from a mental health care professional. Destigmatizing meth use during pregnancy is an important first step in ensuring women have access to the help they need.
Destigmatizing meth use doesn’t mean validating the individual’s decision to use the drug, and it doesn’t mean downplaying the negative impact this powerful drug has on the woman as well as her unborn baby. However, it allows for an open discussion about the seriousness of the addiction, the discomfort that withdrawal brings, and the challenges of living without the drug once an addiction develops. It paves the way for those who use meth to get the professional help they need.
On a community level, it’s important to fund access to addiction care. Currently, addiction treatment feels out of reach for many people who use meth. Mental health clinics that offer scholarships or flexible payment plans provide crucial services to their communities and are an investment in this generation and the next. Those living with a meth addiction have a long recovery journey in front of them, and professional help can make all the difference when it comes to relapsing or living clean.
If you want to learn more about addiction treatment for meth for you or a loved one, contact FHE Health for immediate help.