According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, meth use is the leading cause of admissions for substance abuse treatment in the county. Now, a new UCLA-led study of adolescents receiving treatment for methamphetamine dependence has found that girls are more likely to continue using the drug during treatment than boys; thus, suggesting that new approaches are needed for treating meth abuse among teen girls. The results of the study were published in the April edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The study was conducted by the UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine and the community-based substance abuse treatment program Behavioral Health Services Inc. “The greater severity of methamphetamine problems in adolescent girls compared to boys, combined with results of studies in adults that also found women to be more susceptible to methamphetamine than men, suggests that the gender differences in methamphetamine addiction observed in adults may actually begin in adolescence,” explained lead author, Dr. Keith Heinzerling, a health sciences assistant clinical professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
The focus of the clinical trial was the use of the antidepressant bupropion for treating methamphetamine addiction. The study group comprised 19 adolescents (nine boys and 10 girls; average age: 17.5 years) with meth addiction who were receiving counseling at Behavioral Health Services. They were given either bupropion or a placebo. The investigators found that the study subjects who received the antidepressant provided significantly fewer meth-free urine samples than did those who were given placebos; thus, suggesting that bupropion was an ineffective treatment for addiction in this small sample. Overall, boys in both groups provided more than twice as many meth-free urine drug tests during treatment as girls in both groups.
The authors noted that the study results did not support continued research into the use of bupropion for methamphetamine addiction; however, they did suggest the need for research to develop new interventions to improve the outcomes of treatment for addiction in adolescent girls, the researchers said. Dr. Heinzerling noted the importance of collaborations such as the one between UCLA and Behavioral Health Services. He said, “It shows that partnerships between researchers and community organizations are critical to insuring that research is translated into improvements in the health of real people.”
The Los Angeles County Health Department notes that meth use can have severe physical and psychological consequences. Short-term effects can include euphoria, increases in attention, activity, heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and respiration, and decreases in fatigue and appetite. Adverse effects associated with prolonged use can include poor nutrition and weight loss, sleep deprivation, sinus problems, damage to teeth and gums (“meth mouth”), skin damage caused by repetitive scratching, psychotic behavior (hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia), brain and other organ damage, stroke, and death. Chronic users develop a tolerance and require larger amounts of the drug to get high. Meth withdrawal symptoms can include depression, paranoia, aggressive behavior, and severe cravings for the drug.
Secondary consequences of meth use include violence, sexual risk behavior (leading to increased risk for transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections), emergency department
visits (particularly for burn injuries associated with making the drug), and involvement in criminal activity (often leading to incarceration).