Enhancing Memory Helps in Treatment of Meth Addiction, Study Finds
Chronic use of the powerful stimulant drug methamphetamine is statistically linked with increased chances of developing diagnosable symptoms of depression. Chronic methamphetamine consumption can also lead to significant impairments in memory. In a study published in August 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from two U.S. universities explored the interactive impact of depression symptoms and memory problems in habitual or chronic methamphetamine users. These researchers concluded that the presence of depression in habitual meth users is linked to important impairments in a particular type of memory known as metamemory.
Methamphetamine Use and Depression
Depression is a term commonly used to indicate the presence of a condition known as major depression or major depressive disorder. People affected by this disorder experience bouts of a powerfully “down” mental state that can seriously interfere with their ability to feel generally well or participate in a functional daily routine. Other officially defined mental health conditions that qualify as distinct forms of depression include persistent depressive disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, substance/medication-induced depressive disorder and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.
Anyone who participates in habitual substance abuse has increased chances of receiving a depression diagnosis. However, chances for such a diagnosis are particularly high among individuals who abuse methamphetamine or other stimulants such as cocaine or amphetamine. People who develop a methamphetamine addiction can experience significantly depressed or “down” mental states while actively consuming the drug, in periods of withdrawal when intake of the drug tapers off or stops, and in periods of recovery when a pattern of methamphetamine abstinence has been established. The presence of diagnosable major depression can significantly alter the treatment outcomes of people addicted to methamphetamine. According to the results of a study published in 2009 in the Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, recovering meth addicts affected by major depression are substantially more likely to return to active methamphetamine intake. In addition, they experience higher levels of overall mental impairment.
Memory and Metamemory
All humans rely on memory to do such essential things as interact with others, track the passage of time and learn new information. Psychologists and psychiatrists use the term metamemory to refer to the equally important ability to mentally examine past memories, relate those memories to other memories and use the resulting perspective to do such things as make decisions and pass judgments.
Interaction in Chronic Meth Users
In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from UC San Diego and San Diego State University used an examination of 390 adults to explore the interactive impact of depression and memory problems in habitual methamphetamine consumers. Half of these participants had received a diagnosis for methamphetamine abuse or addiction at some point in their lifetime; the other half had no history of using the drug. The members of both groups took a range of tests designed to determine their baseline level of memory function. Each participant also underwent testing designed to detect the presence of diagnosable major depression.
After completing the testing and analyzing the results, the researchers concluded that the study participants affected by the combination of methamphetamine abuse/addiction and major depression were unusually likely to develop memory problems. Specifically, these individuals were unusually likely to have a decreased ability to accurately use metamemory. The researchers also concluded that the metamemory deficits in the chronic meth users impacted by major depression were linked to an impaired ability to exercise logical thinking and other higher-level mental skills, as well as a lower state of overall brain resilience or flexibility. Typically, the affected individuals could not tell that their brains had undergone a significant decline in memory function.
The study’s authors note that, compared to people who don’t use methamphetamine, chronic meth users unaffected by major depression also have an unusual inability to accurately use metamemory. However, the metamemory problems in these individuals are not generally as severe as the problems found in people dealing with both depression and methamphetamine abuse/addiction. The authors believe that substance treatment programs working with recovering meth users may substantially improve their ability to produce successful outcomes if they take steps to correct any metamemory deficits found in their patients/clients.