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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- Dual diagnosis recovery centers are for people who have a crystal meth addiction and a co-occurring mental health 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.
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 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
Treating Meth Addiction
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
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.
Symptoms of Crystal Meth Overdose
- Chest pain.
- Extreme paranoia.
- Panic attack.
- Increased body temperature (hyperthermia).
- Widespread muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis).
- Kidney failure secondary to rhabdomyolysis. 7
Learn more about crystal meth addiction and recovery:
- Find the Best Crystal Meth Recovery Center
- Forum Discussion: Crystal Meth Use and Mental Illness
- About the Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA) 12-Step Recovery Program
. 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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