Understanding Crystal Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant drug, is known by many names, including crystal meth, meth, ice, blue, crank, glass, redneck cocaine, LA Ice, Hot Ice, chalk, and speed.1 Most of these names refer to the bluish-white color and shiny, glass-like appearance of crystal meth. While crystal meth is similar to amphetamines, a class of drugs used to treat such conditions as attention-deficit disorder or narcolepsy, the similarities stop there. Unlike amphetamines, such as Adderall or Concerta, crystal meth is an illegal drug designed and sold to get people high.1
Crystal meth abuse and addiction has become a pressing issue in the United States over the years. An estimated 1.6 million people reporting use in the past year; nearly 1 million people over the age of 12 meet the criteria for a methamphetamine use disorder. While the use of crystal meth has decreased overall in the United States over the past few years, the Western and Midwestern parts of the country continue to see a serious problem with the drug. In addition, law enforcement in the Pacific and Central Western United States report that meth is their top illegal drug threat. National tracking systems for drug treatment admissions also indicate that, while meth accounted for less than 1% of treatment admissions east of the Mississippi River, it was a primary drug in 12-29% of drug treatment admissions west of the Mississippi. Furthermore, the overdose rate for meth increased 7.5 times between 2007 and 2017.3
It’s apparent that crystal meth addiction is a growing threat, particularly in certain areas of the country. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of crystal meth addiction can be a good way to educate yourself about the dangers of the drug. Additionally, knowing the treatment options available can help you or loved ones who are struggling with crystal meth addiction.
Effects of Crystal Meth
Crystal meth has numerous effects on a person, and while it may feel initially pleasurable, the side effects, both in the short-term and the long-term, can be hazardous and deadly. People use crystal meth in a variety of ways. People can snort, smoke, swallow, or shoot crystal meth, after it is dissolved in water, into their veins.2
Short-Term Effects of Crystal Meth Abuse
The short-term effects of crystal meth abuse can be experience rapidly after taking the drug. Appearing quickly and ending abruptly, the short-term effects of crystal meth abuse can include:2
- Increased physical energy.
- Dry mouth.
- Increased respirations.
- Loss of appetite.
- Heartbeat irregularities.
- Violent behaviors.
- Heavy sweating.
- Seizures and sudden death.
One of the reasons why crystal meth is both addictive and dangerous involves the “crash” that occurs after the euphoric high of an initial dose. When the dose wears off, the person plunges into a severe depression, and many people, even those who have not used meth a great deal, can develop depression, agitation, and extreme cravings. Even those with no history of suicidal thoughts or depression can experience severe, acute depression and engage in suicidal behaviors.4 Since people who use crystal meth want to stop the crash, they will often go on a pattern of binging and crashing, and keep repeating the cycle, going on what is known as a “run.” Oftentimes, they will go without food or sleep for days during this period.1
Long-Term Effects of Crystal Meth Abuse
Although paranoia and aggression can occur in the short-term, especially with a high dose of crystal meth, people who use meth long-term are more likely to have paranoia and violent behaviors. Additional long-term effects of crystal meth abuse may include:2
- Increased violence.
- Brain damage.
- Homicidal thoughts.
- Cracked teeth.
- Sores and skin infections.
- Auditory and visual hallucinations.
- Kidney damage.
- Lung disease.
- Liver disease.
- Birth defects, if used by pregnant women.
- Shaking and uncontrolled movements, similar to Parkinson’s disease.
The scabs and sores that result from picking at one’s skin are a common symptom of crystal meth use. This occurs in part because meth creates a hallucination in which the person using feels like bugs are crawling on their skin (also referred to as meth mites). The clinical term for this crawling sensation is called formication, with around 40% of people admitted to drug treatment programs reporting formication as a symptom resulting from the use of crystal meth.5
The occurrence of “meth mouth” is a common long-term effect of crystal meth abuse, which results in serious dental issues, including severe tooth decay. This occurs as a result of:6
- Dry mouth from crystal meth use.
- Acidic levels of chemicals found in crystal meth.
- Clenching and grinding of the teeth experienced by many crystal meth users.
- Lack of dental hygiene while using for several days at a time.
Why is Crystal Meth Addictive?
Given all the potentially awful side effects of crystal meth, you may wonder why anyone would use it. However, crystal meth addiction can occur easily in many people due to its pleasurable effects. As a person uses crystal meth, the drug causes the release of neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) in the brain, resulting in an intense, euphoric rush. However, once their brain uses up all of the available dopamine, the person experiences severe depressive symptoms and desperately craves more crystal meth to get another feeling of euphoria. In addition, as is often the case with many drugs, the person develops tolerance for crystal meth, meaning that they must continue to take more and more of the drug to get the same high as before.2
Symptoms of Crystal Meth Addiction
The symptoms of crystal meth addiction vary and can have devastating effects on a person. Overall, symptoms of addiction are grouped into 2 categories: physical and behavioral.2 The physical symptoms of crystal meth addiction will manifest visibly an individual’s body, while the behavioral symptoms of crystal meth addiction will affect the way a person acts and thinks.
Physical Symptoms of Crystal Meth Addiction
The physical symptoms of crystal meth addiction may include:2
- Poor hygiene.
- Pale, unhealthy skin.
- Sores from picking skin.
- Tooth decay.
- Cracked teeth.
Behavioral Symptoms of Crystal Meth Addiction
Behavioral symptoms of crystal meth addiction may include: 2, 4, 7
- Violent or aggressive behavior.
- Psychosis, including hallucinations.
- Legal issues from using crystal meth.
- Family conflict due to crystal meth use.
- Inability to stop using.
- Risky sexual behaviors while under the influence of crystal meth.
- Giving up hobbies and interests to use crystal meth.
- Using the drug even though it makes emotional or medical issues worse.
Crystal Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
Crystal meth addiction will result in symptoms of withdrawal when a person stops using it. These crystal meth withdrawal symptoms are one of the key signs of addiction. Some of the most common crystal meth withdrawal symptoms include physical and behavioral changes such as: 1, 4
- Increased appetite.
- Craving sleep.
Are You Struggling with Crystal Meth Addiction?
If you or your loved one is struggling with crystal meth addiction, you may not be sure of what to do. Do you recognize any of the signs of crystal meth addiction? Are you looking for help, but are unsure where to start? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should consider seeking methamphetamine addiction treatment for yourself or your loved one.
American Addiction Centers Can Help
As the leading addiction treatment provider in the United States, American Addiction Centers focuses on not only treating the addiction itself, but the causes that led to its development. At American Addiction Centers, treatment is specialized to meet the needs of each person.
There are 8 treatment centers across the country, making it easier to access care. We are located in the following states:
To learn more about how American Addiction Centers can help, you can call our free helpline 24/7 to speak to an admissions navigator.
Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?
If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, consider the following guides:
Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine.
University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Methamphetamine.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). What
is the scope of methamphetamine misuse in the United States?
University of Arizona. Methoide.
5. Rusyniak D. E. (2011). Neurologic manifestations of chronic methamphetamine
Clinics, 29(3), 641–655.
6. De-Carolis, C., Boyd, G. A., Mancinelli, L., Pagano, S.,
& Eramo, S. (2015). Methamphetamine abuse and “meth mouth” in
Oral, Patologia Oral y Cirugia Bucal, 20(2), e205–e210.
American Psychiatric Association.
(2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th
ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.