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What is Crystal Meth Addiction?

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.
  • Tremors.
  • Headaches.
  • Nausea.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Increased respirations.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Insomnia.
  • Excitement.
  • Heartbeat irregularities.
  • Paranoia.
  • Irritability.
  • Violent behaviors.
  • Nervousness.
  • 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.
  • Strokes.
  • Kidney damage.
  • Lung disease.
  • Liver disease.
  • Birth defects, if used by pregnant women.
  • Death.
  • 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

  • Insomnia.
  • Violent or aggressive behavior.
  • Psychosis, including hallucinations.
  • Anxiety.
  • 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

  • Anxiety.
  • Fatigue.
  • Depression.
  • Psychosis.
  • Cravings.
  • 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.

How American Addiction Centers Can Help

American Addiction Centers can help you or a loved one overcome addiction. They are the leading provider of addiction treatment in the United States. American Addiction Centers specialize in treating addiction, as well as the underlying causes of addiction. They understand that addiction doesn’t develop in a vacuum; there are a number of variables that contribute to and sustain addiction.

American Addiction Centers owns and operates 8 facilities across the U.S. Compassionate staff members are available 24/7 to answer questions on their free helpline. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, there has never been a better time to get help.

Not Sure About Getting Crystal Meth Treatment?

You may not be sure what to expect if you go to treatment for crystal meth addiction. Generally, there are 3 stages of treatment for crystal meth addiction:

For further information, read our related articles on crystal meth treatment.

Sources:

1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine.

2. University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Methamphetamine.

3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). What is the scope of methamphetamine misuse in the United States?

4. University of Arizona. Methoide.

5. Rusyniak D. E. (2011). Neurologic manifestations of chronic methamphetamine abuse. Neurologic Clinics29(3), 641–655.

6. De-Carolis, C., Boyd, G. A., Mancinelli, L., Pagano, S., & Eramo, S. (2015). Methamphetamine abuse and “meth mouth” in Europe. Medicina Oral, Patologia Oral y Cirugia Bucal20(2), e205–e210.

7. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.