Past methamphetamine use certainly takes away the ability for one to experience pleasure in early sobriety, but is the damage permanent?
The highs of meth are very high; however, the lows of coming down from the drug are arguably the lowest of lows. Many addicts wonder if they are doomed to depression forever if they quit the habit. The unfortunate reality is that those addicted to crystal meth must work extra hard to be “happy” without the potent drug.
Dr. James A. Peck, an addiction specialist, summarizes what happens in the brain as the result of methamphetamine use.
“Crystal meth forces dopamine and norepinephrine to be blasted through the brain, so when you stop using meth, there’s a definite effect on your brain, which creates the anhedonia. The jury is still out as to whether it is permanent. We do have P.E.T. scan studies showing that for some users, it takes up to two years for the brain function to return to where it was prior to the meth use,” he said.
This is not surprising due to the harsh side effect of meth addiction. Dr. Edward Ratush, a well-known addiction psychiatrist, goes into detail about the scope of brain damage caused by meth use.
He says, “Using crystal meth for a substantial amount of time, especially when smoked, creates a significant amount of brain damage. If you look at someone who has had a traumatic brain injury, from a fall or car accident, their ability to experience happiness is also affected because different parts of the brain are interdependent. The long-term meth user experiences traumatic brain injuries as a result of longtime toxin ingestion.”
The real question is whether there is a way to fix this brain damage. Dr. Ratush says that some structural damage is permanent, but more research is needed. He suggests long-term therapy.
“One promising approach may be long-term cognitive therapy, which attempts to retrain an addict’s thinking and behavioral patterns. You intellectually decide what it is that you need to be doing in life: what is healthy for you and is going to get you to a place that you want to be. And no matter how unmotivated you are, you just do it anyway. Eventually, the hope is that the enjoyment will come from the neurobiological response from doing the activities. You have to run to eventually get a runner’s high.”
Dr. Ratush also states that gratitude for one’s sobriety is necessary to achieve happiness.
“People who don’t eat spicy food all the time can appreciate the subtleties of a bland dish, but people who eat really spicy food all the time burn out their taste buds to an extent and they have desensitized themselves,” Ratush says.
“Meth does that with dopamine. A drug-free existence can seem like a very bland meal to the meth addict. Normal isn’t enough. They have a hard time appreciating experiences that are subtle, like just hanging out with their family. That is, unless they can truly appreciate losing everything they had and still see how much meaning their life has. Because then they become grateful, and normal can seem like more than they could ever imagine.”
While research is still needed to decipher the permanence of meth brain damage, there is hope for those seeking recovery. There are millions of former crystal meth addicts who love their sober lives. It takes time, determination, openness, honesty, and willingness.
1. Albert, John. How meth can permanently rob your brain of pleasure. The fix. 12 April 2011. Web. 6 May 2013.