10 Jul Which Meth Users Are Most At Risk for Paranoia?
Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug of abuse known for its potential to trigger a highly dysfunctional mental state called psychosis in repeated, long-term users. One of the main symptoms of this state is a delusional, sometimes highly paranoid outlook on the real and imagined actions of other people. In a study published in June 2014 in the journal Addiction, a team of researchers from Thailand and the U.S. investigated the factors that appear most often in meth users who develop paranoia. These researchers concluded that some of the factors in question have an environmental or behavioral basis, while others stem from genetic influences.
Methamphetamine Use, Abuse and Addiction
The most recent figures compiled by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicate that about 1.2 million people use methamphetamine per year, while roughly 440,000 people use the drug in the average month. A small proportion of these individuals obtain methamphetamine legitimately from a doctor and use it as a medication in the treatment of morbid obesity, narcolepsy or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, most methamphetamine users obtain illegal forms of the drug and participate in illegal forms of meth intake. Technically speaking, anyone who uses methamphetamine illicitly or illegally qualifies as a drug abuser. However, doctors use a higher standard when officially diagnosing problems with meth abuse or addiction, which fall under the single heading of an officially recognized ailment called stimulant use disorder. Affected individuals must have at least two out of 11 specific symptoms of abuse and/or addiction to meet the criteria for this diagnosis.
Meth-Related Psychosis and Paranoia
Methamphetamine produces stark changes in the normal chemical environment inside the brain’s pleasure center. If exposure to the drug occurs regularly over extended periods of time, the pleasure center and other parts of the brain can undergo a process of serious and lasting malfunction. One potential consequence of this process is the development of psychosis, an extremely damaging set of symptoms normally associated with schizophrenia, several other mental illnesses related to schizophrenia and certain severe forms of bipolar disorder and depression. The two primary symptoms of psychosis are hallucinations (typically visual and sound-based in nature) and markedly irrational thought patterns, called delusions, which resist the influence of both logic and known, real-world facts. Some people develop paranoid delusions, which center on the belief that other individuals or organizations are intent on causing harm, committing acts of persecution or otherwise heavily interfering with the ability to live a free, independent life. Paranoid delusions stemming from the repeated, long-term use of methamphetamine are known collectively as methamphetamine-induced paranoia.
In the study published in Addiction, researchers from the Yale School of Medicine and two Thai institutions used an assessment of 727 people affected by methamphetamine dependence/addiction to determine which underlying factors are most closely linked to the development of meth-induced paranoia. Environmental and behavioral risk factors for the condition were measured with screening tools called the Methamphetamine Experience Questionnaire and the Semi-Structured Assessment for Drug Dependence and Alcoholism. The researchers also looked at the potential impact of a specific genetic alteration on the way in which the brains of methamphetamine users process chemicals in the pleasure center.
All told, the researchers found that almost 40 percent of the study’s enrollees had symptoms of methamphetamine-induced paranoia. They concluded that affected individuals’ odds of experiencing a paranoid state of mind increase with the amount of time spent using the drug in any given instance of intake. Other underlying environmental or behavioral factors associated with the development of meth-induced paranoia are the presence of relatively severe forms of methamphetamine addiction and the presence of a mental illness called antisocial personality disorder, which centers on exploitative, manipulative and sometimes criminal actions toward others. The researchers also concluded that meth-induced paranoia occurs with substantially greater frequency in people who have the genetic mutation that changes chemical processing in the pleasure center.
Other non-genetic factors that can contribute in relatively minor ways to the onset of paranoia in long-term methamphetamine users include an addiction to the nicotine contained in cigarettes and other tobacco products, and an addiction to alcohol (namely, alcoholism). Interestingly, people affected by meth-induced paranoia may actually have lower chances of taking up smoking in the first place. Conversely, they may have higher chances of developing alcoholism if they start drinking.
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