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Crystal Meth Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 21, 2019

Crystal meth abuse can have damaging effects to a person’s health and can lead to addiction. Treatment for crystal meth addiction helps individuals quit use of meth, manage cravings, and alter behavior and thought patterns to support a sober lifestyle.

Crystal meth abuse has increased in recent years, with both an increase nationally in production of meth and increased availability of the drug on the streets.

Abuse of crystal meth can lead to vast damage of a person’s health, not the least of which is the development of an addiction.

Treatment for crystal meth abuse can aid individuals in both quitting use of meth and in healing from health consequences.

Crystal meth addiction treatment programs aim to provide the skills necessary to enter recovery, while lending support to help individuals gain self-esteem and confidence in order to become sober.

What Is Crystal Meth?

Crystal meth, a common name for methamphetamine, is an illicit (illegal) form of the drug. Methamphetamine was first produced legally as a prescription to replace ephedrine in 1919. Illicit production of meth began as early as the 1960s.

Rates of crystal meth abuse and production have both risen and fallen since it was first illegally produced. The drug is currently produced and abused in high rates, with abuse causing damage to many people’s health and lives due to addiction.

How Do People Abuse Crystal Meth?

Illicit methamphetamine is typically available as a pill or powder form, taken orally or crushed and snorted. Crystal meth refers to a solid form of meth that looks like glass or shiny rocks. Because crystal meth is a solid, it is usually heated and smoked by inhaling the vapors.

Crystal meth produces quick and very intense highs. However, effects also tend to fade quickly, so those who abuse the drug often take it in back-to-back doses (known as binges).

Reasons People Abuse Crystal Meth

Individuals who abuse crystal meth report feelings of alertness, high energy levels, and increased focus. Taking meth can make people feel powerful and confident, or increase libido, which they believe lends to sexual performance.

Use of meth also suppresses appetite, which means individuals who binge on crystal meth may not eat for up to days at a time. For some, this effect lends to desired weight loss.

Crystal meth may also be abused in combination with other drugs, like cocaine or heroin, for a more impactful high, despite the dangers of this type of drug use.

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Signs And Symptoms Of Crystal Meth Abuse

Telling signs of crystal meth abuse include common side effects of abuse, like periods of euphoria (increased happiness), energy, and alertness. A person may seem unusually happy, stay awake for long periods of time, or seem to have more energy for activities than normal.

After the initial high, a person tends to experience a low period that is just as intense as the high. These symptoms may also signal abuse, especially if a person does not typically exhibit these feelings or symptoms:

  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • headaches

Crystal meth abuse is also widely characterized by paranoia, hallucinations, and psychosis. These symptoms can lead a person to become hostile, aggressive, or even violent, and may result in unusual behaviors which are not characteristic of them.

How Crystal Meth Abuse Leads To Addiction

Crystal meth is a stimulant which works on the brain by affecting neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) responsible for mood and movement.

Meth causes a release of both dopamine and serotonin, which is responsible for the intense high a person experiences when using crystal meth.

This chemical release disrupts the brain’s natural process for producing these chemicals. As a person continues to abuse crystal meth, and especially if they abuse it frequently and in high doses, the brain comes to rely on meth for this production.

Over time, the brain stops production of these chemicals altogether, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression, and more when not using crystal meth. When this happens, mental reliance forms as a person seeks out and uses meth to avoid these withdrawal symptoms.

Effects Of Crystal Meth Abuse

Crystal meth is a highly potent drug, and abuse of it can lead to both short- and long-term health damage.

The onset of short-term side effects of crystal meth begins right away, as the drug is smoked, meaning it is inhaled into the lungs and heads quickly to the bloodstream.

The person will feel a rush of pleasure (euphoria), then will begin to feel energized, happy, and alert or focused. As these effects begin to wear off, others replace them and can leave a person feeling incredibly depressed.

Individuals tend to align meth doses to avoid this crash, which can cause an excess buildup of meth in the body, leading to long-term effects of abuse.

Short-Term Side Effects Of Crystal Meth

  • increased energy leading to increased physical activity
  • suppressed appetite
  • increased blood pressure and body temperature
  • rapid breathing
  • rapid or irregular heart rate

Long-Term Side Effects Of Crystal Meth

  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • extreme mouth and teeth damage, commonly called “meth mouth”
  • extreme itching, leading to sores, scratching, and scarring
  • hallucinations
  • hostility and aggression
  • paranoia
  • severe weight loss
  • sleep troubles
  • violent behavior

Dangers Of Crystal Meth Abuse

Crystal meth is highly addictive. Individuals can become addicted in just a few uses when abusing crystal meth, as smoking is also a highly addictive method of administration due to rapid onset of effects.

Of all potent, illicit drugs, crystal meth can lead to some of the most damaging effects on a person’s physical and mental health. Some of this damage is either hard to reverse or irreversible.

Dangers of crystal meth to a person’s health include:

  • change in decision-making and judgment abilities: may result in risk-taking, such as poor sexual choices, which can lead to
  • sexually transmitted diseases, and driving under the influence of meth.
  • a risk to persons with HIV/AIDS: use of meth can actually increase the progression of this disease.
  • changes to the dopamine system: crystal meth abuse can alter the way a person’s brain releases and produces dopamine, which
  • affects coordination and verbal learning.
  • emotional and cognitive issues, which may be due to dopamine changes
  • possible increased risk in developing Parkinson’s disease

One of the greatest dangers of long-term crystal meth abuse is the risk of overdose, which can be fatal.

Risk Of Crystal Meth Overdose

Crystal meth overdose may be caused by excess meth in the body and can result from overheating (due to increased body temperature) and greatly increased heart and blood pressure rates. Crystal meth overdose can lead to seizures, stroke, heart attack, or organ failure.

Crystal Meth Addiction Treatment Programs

Crystal meth can cause great changes to a person’s physical and psychological health. Addiction treatment programs for crystal meth addiction work to reverse damage, help a person heal, and teach them to manage addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

Crystal meth addiction is best treated within intensive treatment programs like residential and inpatient rehab programs.

Residential Rehab Programs For Crystal Meth Abuse

Individuals recovering from meth abuse may experience harrowing withdrawal symptoms and require medical monitoring during this time. Many inpatient rehab programs have a medically supervised detox component for those who need it.

Inpatient and residential programs also require a person to stay on-site at the facility during treatment, so a person will be unable to use or seek meth and can focus solely on recovery.

Inpatient treatment incorporates methods like behavioral therapy, which teach a person to change destructive thought patterns that contribute to meth abuse. Change in thought patterns alters behavior for a sober lifestyle.

After completing an intensive program, individuals may be ready to enter recovery. Seeking aftercare is especially important with crystal meth addiction to ensure a person has access to support, stays committed to recovery goals, and can access help in case of relapse.

Center for Substance Abuse Research - Methamphetamine

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Methamphetamine

New York Times - Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back. And It’s Everywhere

U.S. Department of Justice - Crystal Meth Fast Facts

U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Methamphetamine

U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health - The burden and management of crystal meth use

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