Methamphetamine is a highly addictive, long-lasting chemical substance that affects the central nervous system and creates a feeling of intense euphoria in the user. Meth works by causing the brain to release very high levels of the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects attention, alertness, motivation and motor function. The harmful effects of methamphetamine on the brain, such as meth paranoia, are believed to be caused by the elevated dopamine release. Chronic use of meth can cause depression, fatigue, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions and violent behavior.
According to the 2016 World Drug Report, between 15 million and 56 million people worldwide and approximately 1.2 million Americans use methamphetamine. And of men and women arrested for domestic violence, 67% of women and 78% of men were under the influence of alcohol or drugs — half of them admitting to using methamphetamine at the time of their arrest.
Typically, research indicates a strong relationship between meth use and both perpetrator and victim involvement in domestic violence. In other words, meth use can both increase the occurrence of user as victim and user as perpetrator in domestic violence situations. Co-occurrence rates of meth use coupled with domestic violence range between 25% and 80%, depending on the study. Additionally, women and men equally have been identified as both the perpetrator and victim, although the rate of domestic violence situations is three to five times higher for women who are meth users than those who are not.
Some research indicates that the interaction of methamphetamine, dopamine and serotonin in the user’s brain leads to hyper irritability, aggression and violence. Other studies suggest that perceptual distortions cause by meth use, like meth paranoia, hallucinations and delusions that their partner is cheating, lying or otherwise behaving in a deceitful way, increase the risk of violence. Although depression is the primary mental health condition experience by methamphetamine users, about 23% experience meth paranoia.
It is believed that meth paranoia is caused by changes in the brain that cause a disproportionate perception of victimization or ill treatment. Individuals experiencing meth paranoia may feel that their partner is somehow persecuting or mistreating them and wishes to cause serious physical or fatal harm. As a result, the individual may behave violently out of fear or panic in order to protect themselves.
Because of the strong correlation between methamphetamine use and domestic violence, studies indicate that the integration of individual and couple-based domestic violence interventions into treatment programs is needed. Additionally, offering domestic violence related resources for meth-using couples not in treatment, who are experiencing domestic violence incidents, is also warranted and could help reduce domestic violence as a consequence of meth use.