Crystal Meth Addiction and Abuse

Methamphetamine is a highly-addictive drug with severe effects on the mind and body. Unlike many other addictive drugs, it is a man-made substance, making it even more dangerous because of the likelihood of adulteration.

Recovering from crystal meth addiction is not impossible, but it will require some effort. If you’re struggling with a substance abuse problem, or know someone who is, our rehab centres can help you on the road to recovery.

Firstly, to tackle a substance addiction, it’s important to understand the nature of the drug. In this post, we discuss the full meaning of crystal meth, its chemistry, adverse effects, rehabilitation and recovery methods.

Crystal Methamphetamine Explained

Crystal methamphetamine is just one form of the substance, methamphetamine. It is a white crystalline drug people ingest by snorting, smoking or injecting into their vein. Some people even take it orally.

Regardless the mode of ingestion, the drug causes the user to form a strong dependence, as it creates a false sense of wellbeing and happiness. This ‘rush’ is responsible for the hyperactivity, energy burst and pseudo-confidence the user experiences. The effect also comes with a loss of appetite, and may last between six to eight hours – even 24 hours in severe cases.

While the first experience appears to be pleasurable, continuous use of methamphetamine quickly leads to the destruction of the user’s life.

Analysing Crystal Methamphetamine Chemistry

The scientific classification of methamphetamine is n-methyl-1-phenyl-propan-2-amine. It is also called methylamphetamine or desoxyephedrine –‘Meth’ for short. In its crystalline form, it is called crystal meth.

Meth is man-made and usually manufactured in illegal, underground labs by mixing different forms of amphetamine or other chemical derivatives to enhance its effect. In some cases, common capsules for treating cold form the basis of drug production. The meth ‘cook’ extracts ingredients from the capsules and combines it with other chemicals such as drain cleaner, battery acid, antifreeze and lantern fuel to increase the potency.

What Is the Difference Between Methamphetamine, Amphetamine and Crystal Meth?

It is not uncommon to use methamphetamine and amphetamine interchangeably, because they are quite similar and for all intentions are the same substance. Both are psycho stimulants that produce a feeling of euphoria when you ingest them.

Under medical use, amphetamine can be used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADH). At some point, it was used to treat people who wanted to lose weight because of its ‘poor-appetite’ side-effect. However, without proper supervision, the effects are highly-addictive and dangerous.

Methamphetamine shares the same strong and unpleasant effects. It is worth noting that amphetamine is formed when methamphetamine breaks down by metabolism. The major difference between both substances is in the processing; this affects the way the body interacts with both drugs.

Amphetamine is also regarded as methylated phenylethylamine. Methamphetamine is the same thing; the only difference is that it is double methylated, instead of a single methylation.

Conversely, crystal meth and methamphetamine are fundamentally the same thing, even though they have different purposes. The difference is in their structure and varying forms of purity. Crystal meth is the rock-like crystalline form of methamphetamine.

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What is Crystal Meth Addiction?

Crystal meth addiction is a strong dependency on the drug. This means, as a user, you will be unable to function normally without it. This is often caused by prolonged use; therefore, the longer you use it, the more dependent you become.

Crystal meth is a stimulant that affects the brain, spinal cord and central nervous system. It changes the way your body processes certain chemicals, known as neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters function as communicators between the nerve cells and brain cells.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter most affected by crystal meth. It is released in copious amounts when you use the drug, and because it is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward, you experience that euphoric ‘rush’. During this period, the blood pressure, heart rate and libido increase, creating a false sense of well-being.

Some hours later, after the effect has worn off, the rush is replaced by a feeling of dread and depression. This undesirable feeling prompts you to want to use more. When there is repetitive use, the cycle continues, locking you into the tight grip of addiction.

Street Slangs for Crystal Meth

As with most illegal substances, users and dealers come up with several slang names to make trade easier or to conceal the illicit nature of their interaction. It’s not unusual to hear crystal meth being referred to as ‘ice’ because of its clear crystalline appearance.
Other street slangs are: Batu, Blade, Crystal, Crystal glass, Hot ice, Shabu, Shards, Quartz, Tina, Ventana and Stove top.

Who is At Risk of Crystal Meth Addiction?

Users of crystal meth cut across a wide spectrum of society, but certain groups have a higher usage rate than others. Not many people under 20 years old use the drug, but the most affected age group fall between the ages of 20 – 29.

Like most illicit substances, men tend to have higher usage rates than women, and those in paid employment are more prone to addiction than those who are not. This is probably surprising to hear, especially since most stereotypes paint users as those who are ‘down and out’.

Recently, there have been reports of an increase in the consumption of crystal methamphetamine. However, it is not clear if existing users are opting for a more potent form or if new users are becoming addicted.

How Dangerous Is Crystal Meth?

Crystal meth is very dangerous. It has been classified by the authorities as a Class A drug, which means it is in the same category as cocaine and heroin.

Class A drugs are classified as such because of their highly-addictive properties and the severity of their side-effects. When you take crystal meth, it signals the brain to trigger a rapid release of dopamine. The increased activity of dopamine in the brain causes it to change its chemical pathway for reward and pleasure in relation to crystal meth intake.

As a crystal meth addict, you’ll be extremely uncomfortable if you don’t take the substance after some time. Continued use of the drug supresses natural feelings of hunger, so users will experience severe weight loss. Other negative effects of the drug include uneven sleep patterns, nausea, hyperactivity, delusions of grandeur, irritability and aggressiveness.

Psychological effects of meth abuse are confusion, hallucinations, paranoia and anxiety. In some cases, convulsions that can lead to death may occur.

Dangers Associated with Crystal Meth Overdose

A crystal meth overdose may be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term).

An acute overdose may occur when someone accidentally (or deliberately) takes the drug and experiences immediate side-effects, which may end up being fatal. A chronic overdose refers to the adverse health issues experienced by someone who uses the drug continuously over a period of time.

Common symptoms associated with acute crystal meth overdose are:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Slowed/irregular heart rate
  • Irregular breathing
  • Severe chest pains
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Stomach pains
  • Altered mental status
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia

Symptoms of chronic crystal meth overdose are:

  • Anxiety
  • Severe sleep difficulty
  • Violent outbursts
  • Extreme mood shifts

Long-term meth abuse can also lead to significant loss of weight, dental problems and skin sores or abscesses. Overdoses can cause permanent health issues or end up being fatal.

Psychological Signs and Symptoms of Crystal Methamphetamine Use

The psychological effects of consistent crystal meth usage are severe anxiety, insomnia and paranoia. In addition, users have been found to entertain suicidal thoughts and self-harm. If you suffer from depression after using crystal meth, it’s highly likely you have become dependent on the drug.

Psychological signs and Symptoms of Methamphetamine

With regards the difference between crystal meth and methamphetamine, you’ll now be aware that the latter is in crystalline form and must be broken down (usually by heat) before it’s ingested. Although the psychological signs and symptoms are not very different, methamphetamine can manifest severe paranoia such as tactile hallucinations, when a user believes that bugs are crawling on their skin.

Easiest Ways to Spot a Crystal Meth User

From the information so far, you’ll be able to tell if you are dependent on crystal meth. However, if you suspect a loved one or family member is using crystal meth, there are ways to recognise the signs early. Early recognition means you can seek professional help before it’s too late.

Visible symptoms of a crystal meth user include:

  • Pickling of hair or skin
  • Drop in their appetite
  • Sudden weight loss, even though they are healthy
  • The person has dilated pupils and seems unduly excited most of the time
  • Rapid movement of the eyes; unable to focus
  • Odd sleeping patterns that may include not sleeping for days
  • Irregular twitching and exaggerated mannerisms
  • Unexplained outbursts and irritability
  • Paranoid behaviour

In extended cases of crystal meth abuse, the person will show significant changes in their physical appearance. This includes considerable loss of weight, ‘meth mouth’ (dental decay and tooth loss) and abscesses on the skin.

Withdrawal signs can also help you recognise someone who uses crystal meth. If you come to realise that your friend or loved one is a meth user, approach the situation carefully and without judgement. Help them understand the effect of their actions on themselves and loved ones. If they are in denial, contacting an addiction counsellor or intervention specialist is the next best solution. Our helplines are available 24 hours a day for this purpose.

Trying Crystal Meth for The First Time

Some users admit that the first time is usually the best, but the decision you make afterwards could start you on a journey of life-long regret.

Injecting or smoking crystal meth produces what people describe as a ‘flash’, which is a fleeting but powerful rush of pleasure or euphoria. Because of this, the mode of ingestion may lead to a higher risk of continuous use and quick onset of addiction.

Ingesting or snorting crystal meth also produces the same pleasurable effect, but it is slower-acting. While snorting crystal meth will get you high in three to five minutes, an oral ingestion may take 15 – 20 minutes before the full effects can be felt. However, an instant reaction occurs when injected into the vein with a needle. This is because it crosses the blood-brain barrier faster.

An intense feeling of wellbeing, confidence and sustained periods of wakefulness/alertness are the major sensations felt by a first-time user. Subsequent uses occur in a bid to match the first experience. Unfortunately, it is this repeated use that causes you to become dependent.

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Why Is Crystal Meth So Addictive?

The explanation for this lies in a brain chemical(s) known as a neurotransmitter. Normally, when you engage in fun, drug-free activities like listening to music, chatting with someone you like or eating delicious food, the brain naturally releases small amounts of the neurotransmitter, dopamine.

Crystal meth produces the same effect, activating the instant secretion of dopamine in the brain. In such large quantities, dopamine creates a euphoric effect that is felt as a ‘rush’. The first time this happens, the unusual ‘high’ is registered and hardcoded in your memory.

For the remainder of a person’s addiction, the brain will try to re-enact the original feeling of that first-time usage. Unfortunately, no experience is ever as intense as the first time. This leads to constant use in pursuit of that elusive high. In attempting this, you might even mix substances to achieve the ‘high’, but repeated use only leads to severe meth addiction.

Teen Crystal Meth Addiction

Previously, we mentioned that researchers found meth addiction to be more common among people between the ages of 20 – 29 years old, who are gainfully employed. However, it still presents a problem among teenagers today. With more underground meth-labs popping up, variations of the drug are working their way into schools and party scenes.

While the main reason they take ‘ice’ is to feel the related ‘euphoria’, some teenagers use it for other effects. Crystal meth is renowned for its weight reduction effects, so teens under pressure to look thin try the drug as a solution. Others take it to combat the effect of sleep, so that they can stay up late with their friends. Teenagers often abuse meth by snorting or smoking the powder.

Under the influence, many teens are social and hyperactive, while others remain close-mouthed and still. They begin to crave more when the effect wears off.

If you suspect your child of using meth, try using the general signs listed previously to be sure. Avoid confronting them in anger, as this could achieve the opposite. Instead, have a one-on-one discussion about the need for professional therapy or contact the A an addiction helpline for advice.

Seven Undeniable Signs Your Teen is Abusing Meth

There are often specific signs to help you identify meth abuse in your teen. Besides school truancy and being distant, they will also:

Have unusual sleeping patterns: If your teen is restless for days and eventually sleeps for the same amount of time, it could be a sign of meth abuse.

Unusual nervous behaviour: Uncontrollable scratching and twitching are often tell-tale signs.

Reduced appetite and loss of weight: Meth addiction reduces feelings of hunger, so if your child is constantly skipping meal times and losing weight, you should investigate further.

Burn marks on the mouth or finger: These are signs of smoking a pipe. Although you cannot tell for sure if it is meth, a combination of the other signs could be confirmation.

Being secretive and lying about their whereabouts: If your teenage son or daughter is always lying about their whereabouts and activities, there may be cause for concern, especially if they constantly find excuses not to spend time with family or old friends.

Constant lashing out/anger: If your child is not typically antisocial, but suddenly starts becoming very irritable or experiencing mood swings, check what the underlying reasons are. Meth users coming down from a ‘high’ tend to take out their discomfort on those around them.

Thoughtless behaviour: Is your teenager taking their looks for granted? It could be a sigh of meth abuse. Addiction leaves you less interested in grooming, because of the associated antisocial attitude.

Crystal Meth Use and Psychosis

One of the adverse psychological effects of withdrawal from crystal meth is psychosis. Meth psychosis is described as a period when a user experiences hallucinations and delusions.

Users will see and believe things that aren’t actually happening. For example, they might imagine a person is following them, or that the lyrics of a song are directed at them personally. They might think that people merely laughing are ridiculing them

Hallucinations can be tactile (touch), auditory (sound) or olfactory (smell). In such cases, you could be feeling, hearing or smelling things that are not real.

Such thoughts may lead to violent actions or self-harm because of the inability to separate their hallucinations from reality.

Co-occurring Disorders and Meth Abuse

A co-occurring disorder is a mental health problem developed because of your addiction to a substance. Some physicians also refer to this as ‘dual diagnosis’. It is common that people who suffer from meth addiction will also experience certain mood-related disorders simultaneously. These types of disorders make addiction more difficult to treat.

In the case of meth addiction, common co-occurring disorders include severe psychosis (which leads to hallucination and paranoia), insomnia, hypomania, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and depression. Most of these co-occurring disorders – besides depression and ADD – are usually caused by meth abuse itself.

If you’re experiencing dual-diagnosis, a physician will have to treat each disorder separately. However, in some cases, recovering from the addiction itself makes it easier to treat the second disorder, and vice versa.

The Short-term Side Effects of Crystal Meth Abuse

Crystal meth abuse has several acute side-effects, such as:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Convulsions, seizures and death
  • Panic and psychosis

The long-term Side Effects of Crystal Meth Abuse

This is caused by continuous abuse. Over time, the drug takes its toll on your body. Some side-effects include:

  • Permanent damage to blood vessels
  • Liver, lung or kidney damage
  • Damaged nose tissues (if sniffed)
  • Respiratory conditions (if smoked)
  • Abscesses on the skin (if injected)
  • Malnutrition, loss of weight
  • Dental problems (tooth loss)
  • Psychosis
  • Depression
  • Brain damage

Crystal Meth use and the Central Nervous System

The Central Nervous System (CNS) consists of the brain and the spinal cord. It is responsible for the body’s actions, regulation and the maintenance of almost every bodily function.

When you take crystal meth, it hastens the death of neurones and significantly reduces the number in the CNS. Neuronal death occurs in the hippocampus, parietal cortex, frontal and prefrontal cortex, as well as the cerebellum.

In addition, it decreases the white matter in the brain, reduces levels of dopamine and serotonin transporters, as well as damages the circulatory system of the brain. Most of these are caused by chronic abuse.

How Does Crystal Methamphetamine Affects People’s Lives?

Your life can be destroyed by an addiction because it affects the way you interact with people and generally function in society. It makes it increasingly difficult to complete simple tasks and everyday activities.

Crystal meth addiction can:

  • Cost you your job
  • Break up meaningful relationships
  • Destroy family bonds
  • Send you to financial ruin
  • Expose you to mental and physical health conditions
  • Cause you to commit crime
  • Lead to fatal consequences

Crystal Meth Abuse Statistics

Since the TV show Breaking Bad first aired in 2008, crystal meth usage has increased in the UK and various other parts of the world. Methamphetamine is common in Eastern Europe, South Africa, South East Asia, Australia and America.

Judging from the number of people seeking treatment in the UK, methamphetamine accounted for just 0.3% of all drug abuse in 2014 (in the UK). In England, only 240 people were recorded to have sought help with methamphetamine addiction, compared with 8,000 patients with cocaine related addiction.

Crystal meth is believed to be limited to specific demographics, particularly amongst gay men, who use it to enhance sexual performance. Other than that, there is little evidence of any notable popularity in the UK.

Crystal Meth Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

As with most addictive substances, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms if you are dependent on crystal meth. The severity of the symptoms depends on your level of addiction and period of usage. It is also two pronged; physical and psychological.

Common withdrawal symptoms of crystal meth addiction include:

  • Intense meth cravings
  • Increased heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal behaviour

Crystal meth treatment options

If you are struggling with methamphetamine addiction, the best way to get help is to contact a physician who specialises in addiction. They will enquire about your usage history and recommend you to a detox or rehabilitation centre. Likewise, if someone you know is addicted to meth, helping them seek professional help is the first step to recovery.

At Addiction Helper, we provide information that helps people connect with accredited treatment facilities in their location. Treatment consists of detoxification and rehabilitation therapy.

Addiction treatment usually begins with detoxification. This involves purging your body of the toxic remnants of crystal meth. The ordeal can be very unpleasant because of withdrawal, so it is advisable to detox in a controlled environment with qualified physicians. Detox may last from 7 – 14 days depending on your abuse history.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not officially approved any medication for crystal meth detox, antidepressants are commonly used to treat co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression.

After detox, rehabilitation therapy follows. A qualified addiction psychiatrist will help you deal with the underlying issues of your addiction. Common techniques include: Cognitive behavioural therapy, 12-Step Programmes, support groups and other alternative therapies such as art, music therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture and more.

Crystal Meth Detox Treatment Process

The detox process begins with a test to determine how severe your addiction is. The doctor will ask a few questions and take body-fluid tests (blood and urine). The benefit of a proper detox facility is having access to medical professionals round-the-clock. This reduces complications that may arise during withdrawal. After detox, you will be ushered into the next stage of recovery, which is rehab.

Crystal Meth Rehab Treatment Process

There are three options:

  • Outpatient facility: You can resume treatment from home, while you go about your regular schedule. This is usually for individuals with low addiction levels.
  • Inpatient facility: Here, you will be expected to check in full-time for a period of 30 or more days. People with serious addictions are advised to select this option.
  • Supportive care: There are ongoing support programmes designed to help people in the early stages of addiction, as well as those who have completed rehab but still need ongoing support therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a powerful addictive stimulant which severely affects the body. Unlike most addictive substances, it is man-made, which makes it more dangerous because of the conditions of preparation.

How does methamphetamine affect the brain?

It triggers the secretion of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals flood the brain with a pleasurable feeling, causing it to shorten the reward pathway for pleasure and thereby rearranging its structure over time. The result is an addiction to methamphetamine.

What are other health effects of methamphetamine?

Besides weight-loss, heart diseases and respiratory complications, methamphetamine also causes co-occurring mental disorders such as psychosis, depression, anxiety and fear.

Are there health effects from exposure to second-hand methamphetamine smoke?

Although there are several reports on the general dangers of meth production and usage, actual health consequences of second-hand smoke exposure are largely unreported.

Can a person overdose on methamphetamine?

Yes. When you ingest more than the quantity your body can metabolise at a time, it becomes toxic and can be fatal if not treated in time.

How can methamphetamine overdose be treated?

If you or someone you know is experiencing a methamphetamine overdose, call for medical assistance immediately. Addiction Helper provides several emergency helplines for such situations. In the meantime, find out the person’s age and weight, quantity of meth ingested, mode of ingestion and how long it was since their last ingestion.

Is methamphetamine addictive?

Yes, it is. It does this by stimulating the reward pathway in the brain and creating a shortcut for pleasure.

How can people get treatment for methamphetamine addiction?

You can do so by speaking to an addiction specialist or calling any of our addiction helplines for guidance.

Why is it so hard to break from crystal meth addiction?

Most addictive substances affect the brain’s structure and function, causing it to react in absence of the drug. Because of this, severe withdrawal symptoms make it so difficult to break away that you end up turning to the drug for relief.

Are there different forms of crystal meth?

Yes, from the common crystalline form known as crystal meth, to the powdery methamphetamine and amphetamine (which may come in pill form). The difference is usually in the processing and structure.

Does using crystal meth have a psychological effect?

Yes. It leads to co-occurring mental disorders such as psychosis. You could end up hallucinating and seeing things that aren’t actually there. Sometimes, delusions such as the feeling of being chased may occur. In severe situations, psychosis can lead to self-harm.

Is methamphetamine a common drug?

Although it is not as common as cannabis, people who seek the drug know how to get it whenever they want.

Are there medical uses for methamphetamine?

Amphetamine is a form used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADH). At some point, it was used to treat people who wanted to lose weight because of its ‘poor-appetite’ side-effect. However, without proper supervision, the effects are highly-addictive and dangerous.

Can crystal meth addiction be treated?

Yes, it can. In an accredited facility, with experienced addiction physicians, you can treat your addiction and begin a new slate on the road to recovery. It might not be easy, but with the right support network, it is certainly possible.

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