Mental Health - Project Neon

Mental Health

Feeling a little down lately or like a bitch on wheels who can't reach the brakes? Are the voices in your living room walls getting louder? If so - it's time to talk mental health!!!

Paranoia, depression, mood swings, anxiety, and general emotional confusion can be pretty common with crystal users. Regular crystal use can certainly cause many of these problems. But some users already have mental health issues before they even start using. Many times it's hard to tell which came first or what to do about it.

This is general info ONLY. Please don't use this information to diagnose yourself or make treatment decisions. Mental health issues can be very complex, so it's best to see a counselor, doctor, or mental health specialist if you have any concerns. Check out the resource section for referrals.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about crystal and mental health.

What are the short-term impacts of crystal meth on brain chemistry?

Each time you get high, crystal floods your brain with serotonin, (your happy "mood" chemical) and dopamine (your "pleasure" chemical). But once the crystal wears off, your serotonin and dopamine levels drop, often below their normal levels. This is why you feel so lousy, and often depressed, during your crash. Given enough time between highs, most brains will "restock" their normal chemical levels naturally. But if you get high again, these levels will surge back up and crash again.

What are the long-term impacts of crystal meth on brain chemistry?

Over time, this yo-yoing may cause your brain to quit restocking its own serotonin and dopamine. Your brain starts to think, "Why waste time building these chemicals when the next hit of speed will do it for me." This triggers a drug craving and you may be off getting high again. Over time, however, your serotonin and dopamine levels may drop well below their normal level and stay there. This is why many crystal users become unable to experience feelings of happiness, satisfaction or enjoyment without crystal. The more crystal and the longer you use, the longer it may take for your mood chemistry to stabilize at high enough levels.

In addition, current brain research has shown that consistent use of crystal over a long period of time can cause significant and permanent damage to nerve endings that help regulate certain brain chemicals and functions. The hard questions to answer, however, are just how much crystal does a person have to use and for how long before this damage occurs? These answers are still unclear and are likely to vary between users.

Can crystal make pre-exisiting mental health problems better or worse?

Many people already have mental health issues before they start using crystal. Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and attention deficit disorder (link each one to the section below) are not uncommon. There are two aspects to consider when talking about crystal's impact - the symptoms of mental health problems and the root causes of these problems.

Some people discover that crystal provides relief from some of their troubling symptoms. Maybe they feel less depressed or less anxious while they are high, for example. So in this way, many users would say crystal makes their mental health symptoms "better." This is often called "self-medicating." But this relief is only temporary. Often the symptoms can rebound even more strongly during or after the crash. So in this case, crystal makes the symptoms "worse." Also, for those with more serious mental health conditions (i.e. schizophrenia or psychosis), their symptoms actually get more severe when they get high.

Methamphetamine is not a "cure" for mental health problems. It can't fix the root causes of these problems. In fact, using crystal regularly may only worsen the underlying issues or mask them completely. Regular crystal use can also interfere with your ability to take psychiatric medications as prescribed. And crystal can have harmful interactions with many psych meds as well. All of these issues simply complicate mental health conditions.

How does crystal interact with psych meds or anti depressants?

Crystal meth certainly interacts with plenty of psychiatric medications. Some of these interactions may be severe or even fatal. Therefore it is critical that you discuss your crystal use with your health care provider so any harmful combinations can be avoided.

While there are many psych meds that interact with crystal, some of the most common are anti-depressants:

  • MonoAmine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAO's) - Nardil, Parnate, Eldepryl
  • Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) - Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil
  • Tricyclic anti-depressants - Elavil, Ventyl, Norpramine, Desyrel, Tofranil

If you have questions about any medication, ask your provider.

I was told I can't get any mental health help until I quit using crystal. Why?

Because being high, crashing, withdrawing (or the entire cycle) can often look like lots of mental health symptoms. It's often hard to tell which is which. Most mental health providers need a "clean slate" so to speak in order to assess what's really going on with your symptoms. Are they simply being caused by drug use or is something else going on? They want to diagnose your condition accurately so they can treat you accurately.

In general, most providers will prefer you to be off crystal for at least 6-8 weeks before they can reliably assess and treat you. Each provider has different standards about this. Many are willing to provide support while you work at cutting down your crystal use. If you are still using, providers may hesitate to prescribe a mental health medication. The hesitation is about not wanting to risk setting you up for harmful interactions between prescribed drugs and methamphetamine.

Most mental health specialists understand that cutting down or staying off drugs can be very difficult. Because the issues connecting drug use and mental health are so complex, it is important to be honest about your drug use with your health care provider. Together you can discuss strategies that may be helpful in addressing your needs.

I think I need help. Where can I go?

If you are in serious emotional crisis or feeling suicidal, call the 24-hour Crisis Line at 206.461.3222 or 1.800.244.5767.

Your financial resources will usually determine the services you can access. If you have insurance, call your insurance provider to see if you have mental health coverage and how to use it. Most insurance companies have exact coverage guidelines and a list of preferred mental health providers.

If you have limited or no income or receive medical coupons or Medicaid, call the Community Info line at 206.461.3200 or 1.800.621.4636 for referrals. Most agencies have sliding scale fees and a variety of payment plans. Your doctor or case manager may also have referrals.

If you are HIV+, you may be eligible for free mental health services through the Mental Health Access Project. Talk with your case manager or call Madison Clinic at Harborview at 206.731.5100 for more info.

Seattle Counseling Service (206.323.1768) provides mental health services for LGBT clients. They offer a variety of counseling and psychiatric services, many at reduced or no cost.