Crystal Meth Addiction: Health Effects, Withdrawal, & Treatment
What Is Crystal Meth?
Crystal meth is a potent, illicit form of methamphetamine—a powerfully addictive stimulant drug that produces a short, intense rush followed by a long-lasting euphoria.1,2
Crystal meth is sometimes manufactured in makeshift home labs using precursor ingredients such as pseudoephedrine (a medication commonly found in cold medicines), in addition to other potentially dangerous chemical building blocks; however, the majority of meth sold in the United States is produced in Mexico.1
Meth is very addictive. Use of the drug use prompts a massive increase in dopamine activity in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of reward and motivation. The increase in dopaminergic activity elicited by methamphetamine encourages repeat use which can eventually drive the development of a methamphetamine use disorder (addiction). Addiction is a chronic brain disease marked by a compulsive desire to use meth despite the negative consequences that occur as a result.1
What Does Crystal Meth Look Like?
In its various forms, methamphetamine is sometimes used as a bitter-tasting powdered substance or after being pressed into pills; however, illicitly manufactured crystal meth is often encountered looking like small bluish-white rocks or clear shards of glass.1,2
People who use crystal meth by smoking it may use a glass pipe that may resemble those used to smoke crack cocaine.3 Users may also crush the rocks into powder to snort or dissolve it into water to inject.1
Street Names for Crystal Meth
Like other illicit drugs, some people may refer to crystal meth by many different street names. These include:4
Why Is Crystal Meth So Dangerous?
Crystal meth is considered extremely dangerous not only for its addictive potential but its health risks. The sought-after euphoric rush is also accompanied by several concerning short-term effects, such as:1,5
- Unhealthy appetite suppression.
- Increased body temperature.
- Fast or irregular heartbeat.
- Fast breathing.
- Impaired judgment and decision-making, which can lead to risky behavior (such as unprotected sex).
- Psychotic symptoms, such as paranoia and hallucinations.
Many of the adverse physiological effects of methamphetamine are relatively long-lasting.
High dose and/or repeated use of the drug can place people at risk of overdose or acute drug toxicity. Using too much meth can have potentially devastating cardiovascular consequences such as stroke and heart attack. Other signs of potential methamphetamine toxicity include:5
- Chest pain.
- Racing heartbeat.
- Swift and significant changes in body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.
- Acute psychosis.
- Cardiovascular collapse.
Illicitly manufactured meth may also contain dangerous adulterants like fentanyl that can be fatal in very small doses.6
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Meth Addiction?
Methamphetamine use can also result in persistent problems, including:1,5
- Chronic anxiety.
- Chronic insomnia.
- Severe weight loss.
- Skin sores from chronic itching/scratching/picking.
- Marked decline in dental health.
- Severe cardiovascular dysfunction.
- Persistent psychotic features such as paranoia and hallucinations.
- Violent outbursts or aggressive behavior.
- Contraction of bloodborne diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C (from injection use).
- Memory loss.
- Chronic alterations in dopaminergic neurotransmission.
Methamphetamine-induced changes to brain structure and function can last beyond the point where a person stops using meth. Most of these changes reverse within 1 year of cessation; however research suggests that some changes may last much longer.1
How to Know If Someone Is Addicted to Meth
Meth addiction is a serious disorder that should only be diagnosed by a qualified treatment professional.7 However, meth misuse affects a person’s physical health, mental health, and behavior in numerous ways that may be apparent to people around them. Though not always specific to stimulants, some potential signs of crystal meth use may include:1,5,7
- Dilated pupils.
- Significant weight loss.
- Skin sores from picking at the skin or injection drug use.
- “Meth mouth,” which is rapidly advancing tooth decay that begins rather quickly and presents as rotting teeth and extreme tooth loss (due to the corrosive nature of the drug).
- Periods of insomnia.
- The development of stereotyped or repetitive behaviors.
- Becoming suspicious, acting paranoid, or beginning to see or hear things that are not there.
- Impairments in attention, short-term memory, and problem-solving abilities.
- Lack of attention to hygiene or appearance.
Tolerance and Dependence
With repeated use, a person can become tolerant to methamphetamine. When tolerance grows, a person requires more meth to experience the kind of high that they’re used to. They may have to take the drug more often or change their method of use (e.g., begin injecting it) to try and achieve the high they’re looking for.8
As meth use continues, the person may also develop a physical dependence on it, meaning without it, they’ll experience withdrawal symptoms. 8
On their own, the phenomena of tolerance and dependence are not equivalent to a meth addiction but they are common features of and diagnostic criteria for a methamphetamine use disorder.7,8
What Is Meth Withdrawal?
Meth withdrawal is the process through which the brain and body of someone who is meth-dependent adjust to functioning without the stimulant.9 Meth withdrawal is seldom physically dangerous, though it can be extremely unpleasant.5
How Long Does Meth Withdrawal Last?
Withdrawal from methamphetamine can start quickly, with symptoms first developing within a day following the last time meth was used. Though many symptoms of acute withdrawal peak in severity within the first few days after cessation and even largely resolve after 3 to 5 days, others such as cravings, fatigue, and depression may be more persistent—lasting weeks to months past the acute withdrawal period.5,10
What Are the Symptoms of Meth Withdrawal?
The withdrawal syndrome from crystal meth includes symptoms such as:1,5,9
- Intense drug cravings.
- Increased appetite.
- Fatigue and lethargy.
- Slowed movements.
- Poor concentration.
- Impaired memory.
- Vivid or frightening dreams.
- Hypersomnia or insomnia.
- Depression, sometimes with suicidal thoughts.
It is common for people addicted to meth to use other substances (such as alcohol or benzodiazepines) when they are coming down from the drug. Some of these other substances may themselves be associated with their own unpleasant symptoms and/or withdrawal risks and further complicate meth withdrawal.5,9
How to Cope with Meth Detox
Meth withdrawal can be very distressing psychologically, and there is a risk for detoxing individuals to experience relapse or suicidality. For those who are attempting to quit methamphetamine as safely and comfortably as possible, a supervised medical detox program offers a professionally-staffed, supportive environment in which to manage withdrawal. It also provides an entry point into more comprehensive addiction treatment after detox completion.9
Medically Assisted Meth Detox
Recovery often begins with a detox period. As part of a medical detox program, patients may be monitored and supervised by doctors and other healthcare staff. Though there are no pharmaceutical interventions specifically approved to manage meth withdrawal, certain medications may be given to help relieve some of the withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia.5,9 For those suffering polysubstance withdrawal from substances like heroin, alcohol, benzodiazepines, etc., additional medications may be necessary to mitigate those withdrawal syndromes.9
Further addiction treatment is very often recommended after detox is complete to more comprehensively address the full array of issues that underlie the patient’s addiction.9,11
How to Treat Meth Addiction
After detox, the therapeutic portion of recovery can begin win stimulant addiction rehabilitation. Rehab can take place in a variety of settings, with the ideal type of addiction treatment varying based on the individual’s needs. Treatment relies on evidence-based therapies aimed at repairing unhealthy thought and behavioral patterns, recognizing situations that may lead to relapse, and lifting patient’s self-esteem and motivation to stay sober.11,12
Often, rehab is a starting point for involvement in some form of mutual support group, such as a 12-Step program (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous), and patients may be encouraged to continue with regular meeting attendance after completing treatment.13
Some people with methamphetamine use disorder also suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders. In such instances, an integrated treatment model to simultaneously address both the mental health and substance use issues may be beneficial, as studies suggest that such an approach may be more effective than treating them separately.11,14
How to Get into Rehab for Meth Addiction
Treatment for meth addiction can be lifesaving.11 However, taking that step can be difficult for many reasons—cost being one of the most common barriers between someone and the care they need.15
Fortunately, most insurance policies cover addiction treatment, enabling many people to receive treatment they’d otherwise be unable to afford.16 For people who are uninsured or underinsured, there are other ways to pay for rehab, like financing that may be available through the facility.
Laguna Treatment Hospital accepts many major insurers. You can verify your health insurance benefits within minutes using our . Admissions navigators can be reached 24/7 at .
Meth addiction can ravage your life, but there is a way back. With treatment, you can rediscover the person you were meant to be and find a renewed sense of peace. Learn more about how Laguna Treatment Hospital in Orange County, CA can help you leave meth behind.