In the first half of 2014, 60% of Singapore’s new drug users were abusing meth, compared to 28% of new users abusing heroin and cannabis combined. Despite this rise in users, little is known about the methamphetamine drug, how to spot people using it and its negative effects on users and society in general.
According to the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), in the first half of 2014 around 60% of new drug users were abusing meth, much more than new users of heroin (15%) and cannabis (13%) combined. So why is meth being adopted at double the rate of these other drugs?
What is Methamphetamine?
The drug Methamphetamine has slowly been gaining popularity worldwide over the last 10 years because it can be produced from synthetic chemicals regardless of location or climate. This means unlike heroin or cannabis, which can only be grown under certain conditions, meth can be produced anywhere as long as you acquire the correct chemicals. Also known as Crystal Meth, Speed, Ice or Chalk, methamphetamine takes the form of a white crystal like powder, looks similar to cocaine and can be snorted in its raw form, or smoked or injected with a needle for a stronger hit. Meth is extremely addictive and can have negative effects on a user’s health as well as on their relationships with family and friends. After all, anyone who has watched the TV series Breaking Bad will know of the potential disasters that can occur from meth use and abuse.
In Singapore meth is classed as a dangerous drug and punishable similarly to heroin, opium and cocaine with up to 10 years in prison or a $20,000 fine for possession of as little as 25 grams or between a life sentence to the death penalty if you are found with 250 grams or more of methamphetamine on your person or in your residence.
What are the Effects of Ice?
While it is likely that meth addiction in Singapore is rising, it is hard to identify users and statistics are based only on those who have been arrested. Meth is similar to most other drug addictions with negative consequences to the user’s personal, physical and psychological health as well as on relationships and work life. Meth is said to be more addictive than cocaine due its prolonged euphoric effect.
Classed as an amphetamine, meth affects the nervous system by stimulating the dopamine receptors in the body which are responsible for the brain’s reward and pleasure releases. As well as a good feeling from the drug, other short-term effects include a feeling of alertness, increased sexual libido, and decreased appetite.
It can be illegally used to treat deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity as it triggers dramatic weight loss, but there are also a whole host of negative effects such as brain damage, muscle breakdown and a range of heart problems including strokes, psychotic behaviour, hallucinations and even violent outbursts. Longer term use can also produce paranoia, depression and addictions to other drugs. In all instances of long term meth use the negative consequences outweigh the positive and professional help is usually required to overcome methamphetamine addiction.
How Can you Spot a Crystal Meth Addict?
People under the influence of meth in small quantities are hard to recognise. While the physical symptoms are more noticeable in the long term, there are some noticeable signs to look out for initially:
- Increased physical activity
- Increased body temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Feeling of euphoria
- Loss of appetite
- Unpredictable or unusual behaviour
- Jaw clenching
- Elevated body temperature
Over time there are more noticeable physical and psychological symptoms of meth use, and in extreme cases noticeable facial changes can occur:
- Psychological issues such as paranoia, anxiety and depression
- Weight loss
- Violent behaviour and or unusual aggressive outbreaks
- Respiratory problems
- Elevated heart rate
- Secretive behaviour
- Rotting teeth (also known as ‘Meth mouth’)
While many of these symptoms can also signal other drug problems such as cocaine or heroin, in Singapore they are increasingly becoming related to meth use. Since meth is still a relatively new drug on the Singaporean drug market, there have not been so many public cases in the media — meaning not so many people are aware of the drug and its symptoms. However some of the uses of meth are scarier than usual drug use. A former meth addict in Singapore came forward and said it was more popular than Heroin “because a lot of ‘ice’ abusers take it to support their families”. Meth will allow you to work harder and longer since it reduces the need for sleep. If you suspect a friend or family member might be using methamphetamine, or if you think you are developing a problem with the drug then it is wise to seek professional help as soon as possible.
How Do you Treat a Meth Addiction?
Despite methamphetamine being highly addictive the addiction is related more with stimulating the pleasure part of your brain rather than with the reduction of pain like with opiates. While withdrawal symptoms are not physical like heroin, there is a mental craving of dopamine that is hard to overcome. Over time meth use causes the dopamine receptors to go numb, which means it is harder for a meth user to experience pleasure from everyday life, causing an increasing reliance on meth but also meaning that overcoming the addiction is harder.
Recovering methamphetamine addicts often report that it took them a long time to start deriving pleasure from other, normal sources again as it takes time for the dopamine receptors to start functioning normally. Recovery can lead to depression or relapses if the disfunctioning reward factor is not properly acknowledged which is why meth addictions are best treated with a psycho-therapy programme that includes counselling and CBT. Simply giving up the drug is the first step to recovery but dealing with the withdrawal symptoms and lack of pleasure in everyday life can cause the addicts to start reusing meth as everyday life may seem dull and colourless in comparison.
The Cabin Singapore is a leading centre for treating addictions and offers an intensive outpatient programme that can help methamphetamine addicts attain recovery over a six month period. They will attend a series of evening groups and individual counselling that will both tackle the underlying causes of their addiction as well as equip them with recovery techniques specific to their personal situations.
Because a methamphetamine addiction in Singapore can become a serious problem and may even cause the user to end up in jail, it is important that if you are using meth or suspect someone close to you is using, professional advice is sought at the first opportunity.