Ice or meth addiction is one of the toughest forms of substance abuse disorder to treat, according to drug specialists. Several studies suggest that only 12 per cent of meth addicts successfully sustain long-term recovery. This is mainly due to the ‘pleasure memory’ from Ice or meth use that is stored in the addict’s brain making the cravings so intense. For starters, pharmacological therapy to treat this specific addiction is still at its infancy. Although a laboratory in the USA is working on a drug (nicknamed Blebb) designed to erase the “meth experience memory” but due to funding and budget limitations, no one knows when this drug can be tested on humans and consequently for FDA approval. In Australia, a drug used to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is being tested to help meth addicts control cravings. And like the American counterparts, funding is required in order for more tests to be pursued before it can even be made available to treat meth addicts. So what other treatment options are there?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the effective treatment methods available to Ice or meth addicts at the moment are psychosocial care and behavioural therapy treatments such as CBT, counselling, 12 steps support and incentive based methods. The aim of these treatments is to enable the patients to unlearn their addictions and habits. Needless to say, complete abstinence from the abused substance is a requirement. So until the FDA approves the drugs being trialled, overcoming meth addiction will continue to be challenging.

But why is this specific to meth addiction? What actually happens to the crystal meth addicted brain? As shown in these neuroimages, the meth addict’s brain gets damaged. It shows ‘increased neuronal death’ or the decrease of neurons in the brain in parts involving the hippocampus, the striatum, the parietal cortex, the frontal and pre-frontal cortex, the cerebellum and several subcortical structures. All these sound so highfalutin but in essence, methamphetamine severely compromises the brain. Long-term Ice or meth users experience severe anxiety and paranoia, mood disorders, insomnia, confusion, learning problems (specifically short term memory issues) and hallucinations.

Despite these overwhelming challenges, there is a glimmer of hope. According to results from a recent study headed by Professor Ruth Salo, Assistant Professor at UC Davis (California) and an expert specialist in the behavioural, neuropsychiatric and cognitive outcomes of meth addicts, there is evidence that the brain actually heals or recovers to a great degree. However, the reversal of the brain damage evolves over time. It takes at least one year for brain functions to improve with complete abstinence from methamphetamine as a pre-requisite.

This being the case, rehab facilities and drug treatment specialists have to consider the length of time an addict should be treated. The longer the patient is treated within a structured environment, the higher the chance of reversing the damage in the brain while improving impulse control. According to the study, permanent sobriety is possible and can be achieved in time with the stipulation that long-term treatment should go hand in hand with complete abstinence.

For the addict and families, this finding provides hope for the future.

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