What Is Crystal Meth?
Crystal meth is an illegal street drug made in labs by combining different chemicals and medications sold over-the-counter, including cold medicine. The drug is cheap and provides a quick, powerful high, which makes it attractive to users. Casual use of crystal meth can quickly lead to addiction and a variety of serious health and social problems.
In its pure form, crystal meth is a clear to white crystalline substance that resembles long, thin shards of broken glass.
Overview of Crystal Meth Use and Abuse
- Crystal meth is a highly addictive stimulant made by combining a variety of toxic chemicals and over-the-counter medications.
- It is most commonly smoked, injected or snorted. The duration of its effects depends on how it is used.
- Effects of crystal meth include euphoria, increased alertness, decreased appetite and insomnia.
- Over time, users can develop a number of mental and physical health problems including psychosis, “meth mouth,” depression, weight loss, violent behavior and even death.
- Withdrawal symptoms include depression, anxiety, fatigue, intense cravings and suicidal ideation.
- More than 1.5 million people are addicted to crystal meth in the U.S., and it is one of the hardest addictions to treat.
Manufacture of Crystal Meth
Most of the crystal methamphetamine used in the United States comes from “superlabs” in Mexico. But many small home labs are in the United States. In fact, crystal meth labs have been discovered in all 50 states.
Manufacturing 1 pound of crystal meth produces almost 6 pounds of toxic waste.
The main chemical used to manufacture crystal meth is ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, which is found in over-the-counter cold and allergy medications but can also be obtained in bulk from an illicit market. As a result, the federal government closely regulates products that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.
The manufacture of crystal meth uses a host of toxic chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, red phosphorus, lithium, sodium metal, iodine, mercury and toluene. It is estimated that manufacturing 1 pound of crystal meth produces almost 6 pounds of toxic waste. As a result, hazardous vapors can accumulate in the “labs” and cause explosions.
- Go Fast.
The popular TV show “Breaking Bad” focused on the manufacture of crystal meth, while the movie “Spun” looked at a group of crystal meth users in Los Angeles.
Treatment Options and How to Pay for Recovery
Many different options are available for treating crystal meth addiction. Figuring out which type of treatment is the best for you means doing a little research beforehand and getting more information about how crystal meth abuse is treated.
Recovery options for crystal meth include:
- 12-step recovery programs. The 12-step program specifically for crystal meth users is called Crystal Meth Anonymous. Another program, Narcotics Anonymous, welcomes anyone struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction.
- Outpatient rehabilitation centers. An outpatient program is for people who are transitioning out of a residential program into a lower level of treatment or who have a less severe addiction. You come to the treatment facility on certain days of the week and attend group or individual therapy sessions. Outpatient programs may also offer detox.
- Inpatient programs provide a high level of care and support for people who have a serious addiction to crystal meth or have tried another program and relapsed. You remain at the rehab center throughout the course of your treatment and attend individual therapy, group therapy and addiction education groups. These program also offer detox and medical care.
- Dual diagnosis recovery centers are for people who have a crystal meth addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression, schizophrenia or a personality disorder. Many people who become addicted to crystal meth either have a mental health disorder or may have developed one from long-term crystal meth use.
Cost and Paying for Treatment
The cost of a crystal meth rehabilitation program varies based on:
- Program type.
- Program length.
- Program location.
- Whether the program offers special amenities such as horseback riding, massage therapy or tennis.
- With insurance; Speak to a treatment representative at 1-888-319-2606 Who Answers? to learn more about which recovery options your insurance will cover.
- Without insurance; The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s toll-free helpline can help you find a local rehab program if you don’t have insurance.
Crystal Meth Effects
Crystal meth is most commonly smoked, injected or snorted. When smoked, it is usually done in glass pipes similar to how crack cocaine is used. On average, the full effects of the drug occur within minutes of snorting. Effects are felt nearly instantaneously when smoked or injected.
The duration of crystal meth’s effects depends on how the drug is used. If it’s injected or swallowed, the effects can last 6-8 hours. If it’s smoked or snorted, the effects can last up to 12 hours.
- Increased energy.
- Decreased hunger.
- Increased attention and alertness.
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia), body temperature (hyperthermia), breathing rate (tachypnea) and blood pressure (hypertension).
- Increased libido.
- Jaw clenching.
- Teeth grinding.
- Dry mouth.
- Increased sociability.1,2
- Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).
- Heart attack.
- Muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis), which can lead to kidney failure.
- Heart failure.
- Hyperthermia (extremely high body temperature).
- Sudden death.2, 3
The longer someone uses crystal meth, the more they increase their risk of developing many physical and mental problems. These may include:
- Teeth grinding (bruxism), causing tooth wear.
- Tolerance (needing more of the drug to get the same effect).
- Dependence (addiction).
- Extreme paranoia.
- Major depression.
- Compulsive skin picking (dermatillomania).
- Memory impairment.
- Poor concentration.
- Violent or aggressive behavior.
- Weight loss.
Those who abuse crystal meth may develop a dental condition called “meth mouth.” This condition is caused by a combination of factors:
- Some acidic contaminants in crystal meth—such as antifreeze, drain cleaner, lantern fuel and battery acid–can erode tooth enamel with frequent use.
- Users commonly grind and clench their teeth, damaging surface enamel.
- Dry mouth from crystal meth use deprives teeth of protective saliva and can result in a condition known as xerostomia. This further sets the stage for cavities, acidic erosion and a variety of oral infections.
- Users crave sugary drinks and frequently expose their teeth to sugary acids.
- The long-lasting high (up to 12 hours) causes users to neglect oral hygiene.5, 6
Health Problems From Injection
People who inject crystal meth may develop health issues from needle use such as:
- Collapsed veins.
- Skin infections.
- Blood infections.
- Spread of blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.2
Crystal meth addiction is one of the hardest addictions to treat. Crystal meth addicts who go to rehab have a long-term success rate of just 12%, which means they have an 88% relapse rate. No medications are approved for the treatment of crystal meth addiction.
Learn more about how to find a crystal meth recovery program.
Users who are trying to quit should seek medical supervision during withdrawal.
Withdrawal from crystal meth can lead to a number of symptoms, including:
- Intense craving for crystal meth.
- Suicidal ideation.
Duration of Symptoms
The symptoms of crystal meth withdrawal will usually appear within 72 hours of stopping use. The first phase of withdrawal is intense and lasts anywhere from 7 to 10 days. The cravings for the drug peak around 3 months and decrease substantially by 6 months. Long-term cognitive effects from methamphetamine use show significant improvement after 1 year of abstinence from the drug.
Due to the risks of severe depression accompanied by suicidal thoughts, users attempting to quit should seek medical supervision during withdrawal.7
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Who Answers? for more information on crystal meth addiction treatment options for you or your loved one.
People who are addicted to crystal meth may exhibit a number of signs and symptoms. If you or someone you love displays 2 or more of the following symptoms within a year, you may have a problem with the drug.
- Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you meant to.
- Wanting to reduce or stop use of the substance but not managing to.
- Spending a lot of time getting, using or recovering from use of the substance.
- Cravings and urges to use the substance.
- Not managing to do what you should at work, home or school because of substance use.
- Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships.
- Giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities because of substance use.
- Using substances again and again, even when it puts you in danger.
- Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance.
- Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance).
- Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.10
How Many People Abuse It?
Crystal meth abuse is common in the United States and abroad. According to the World Health Organization, methamphetamines (including crystal meth) are the most widely abused illicit drugs after cannabis. Worldwide, more than 35 million individuals regularly use or abuse these drugs.1 People who become addicted to methamphetamine typically inject or smoke the drug and use it at least twice a week.
Rates of Abuse in the U.S.
In 2014, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported the percentages of people in different age groups who were current users of crystal meth:
- 0.2% of participants age 12 or older.
- 0.2% of participants ages 12-17.
- 0.2% of participants ages 18-25.
- 0.2% of participants ages 26 or older.
Except for the 18-25 age group, the above percentages have not changed significantly from 2002-2014. Overall, the use of crystal meth among different age groups has remained steady or declined from 2002-2014. 9
It is possible to overdose on crystal meth. Users can overdose on relatively small doses, too, especially when they combine crystal meth with other drugs or when they have pre-existing medical conditions.
If you suspect crystal meth overdose, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room for medical evaluation and treatment.
- Chest pain.
- Extreme paranoia.
- Panic attack.
- Increased body temperature (hyperthermia).
- Widespread muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis).
- Kidney failure secondary to rhabdomyolysis. 7
Teen Crystal Meth Abuse
In the United States in 2014, the Monitoring the Future Study (MTF) reported 1% of 8th graders, 1.4% of 10th graders and 1.9% of 12th graders had tried methamphetamine at least once in their lives. Furthermore, MTF reported 0.6% of 8th graders,
0.8% of 10th graders, and 1% of 12th graders admitted to using methamphetamine in the past year. These numbers do not represent clinically significant changes from the three previous years of the survey (2011-2013).8
Find Treatment for Addiction
Substance abuse rehabilitation can help you or someone you love struggling with crystal meth abuse. For more treatment program information, call 1-888-319-2606 Who Answers? to speak with a member of our treatment support team.
. Rawson R, Anglin M, Ling W. (2002). Will the methamphetamine problem go away? J Addict Dis 21: 5-19.
. Urbina A, Jones K. (2004). Crystal methamphetamine, its analogues, and HIV infection: medical and psychiatric aspects of a new epidemic. Clin Infect Dis 38 (6): 890-894.
. Lynch J, House MA. (1992). Cardiovascular effects of methamphetamine. J Cardiovasc Nurs 6(2): 12-18.
. Albertson TE, Derlet RW, Van Hoozen BE. (1999). Methamphetamine and the expanding complications of amphetamines. West J Med 170: 214-219.
. Richards JR, Brofeldt BT. (2000). Patterns of tooth wear associated with methamphetamine use. J Periodontol 71(8): 1371-1374.
. Venker D. (1999). Crystal methampetamine and the dental patient. Iowa Dent J 85:34.
. Cho AK, Melega WP. (2002). Patterns of methamphetamine abuse and their consequences. J Addict Dis 21(1): 21-34.
. Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2015). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2014: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, 599 pp.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2015). Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings. Rockville, MD: Office of Applied Studies, SAMHSA.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
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