Crystal Meth Abuse: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment Options

Crystal meth is an illicit form of methamphetamine that commonly has a rock or crystal-like appearance. It is a highly addictive stimulant drug that can be incredibly harmful to the user’s health.

What is Crystal Meth?

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that increases the activity of several neurotransmitters in the brain, including the reward-mediating dopamine.1 The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency lists methamphetamine as a Schedule II controlled substance, which means it has a high potential for abuse and can lead to severe dependence.

Though pharmaceutical formulations of methamphetamine are available for limited prescription use, crystal meth is an entirely illicitly manufactured and distributed form of the drug.

Crystal meth is commonly encountered in a form that looks like crystal rocks or glass fragments. There are a handful of common ways to use crystal meth, including:2

  • Snorting.
  • Smoking.
  • Injecting.

Crystalline forms of the drug may be first crushed into a powder prior to use with any of these routes; in this manner the powdered product may also be pressed into pill form or used to fill capsules to be swallowed.2

Methamphetamine also known as crystal meth

No matter which route is used, meth results in a surge of dopamine activity within the reward areas of the brain. This causes the substance to be highly addictive, as it reinforces continued use.2

Between 2015 and 2018, around 1.6 million U.S. adults used meth in the past year. Over half of those who used had a diagnosed methamphetamine use disorder.3

This research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that meth users commonly used other drugs in addition to methamphetamine as well as struggled with co-occurring mental health disorders.3

Signs of Crystal Meth Abuse

Doctors and other healthcare professionals may diagnose problematic methamphetamine use as what’s known as a methamphetamine use disorder, a diagnosis often used somewhat interchangeably with the concept of addiction. When determining whether someone has an addiction to crystal meth, practitioners look for at least two of the following criteria to have been met by the methamphetamine use over a 12-month period:4

  • Used for longer or in higher doses than originally intended.
  • A want to cut down on use but cannot.
  • Spends a lot of time trying to get, use, or recover from meth use.
  • Craving meth.
  • Work, school, or homelife suffers from meth use.
  • Continue to use despite the problems it causes in interpersonal relationships.
  • No longer participates in hobbies because of use.
  • Uses meth even in situations where it could result in physical harm, such as driving.
  • Knows of physical or mental problems caused by use and continues using.
  • Tolerance has built to the effects of meth.
  • Withdrawal symptoms present when meth use slows or stops.

Although you should never try to diagnose whether a friend or loved one has an addiction to crystal meth, there are some visible, physical signs some meth users may show, including:2, 5

  • Dilated pupils and/or jerky eye movements.
  • Twitching of face muscles.
  • Excessive sweating and/or elevated body temperature
  • Body tremors.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Tooth decay.
  • Frequent scratching or picking at the hair and skin, which can lead to sores on the face and skin.
  • Constant, rapid speech.

Outside of the physical effects of meth use, there may be some behavioral signs that correspond with crystal meth use, such as:2, 5

  • Hyperactivity.
  • Impulsive behavior.
  • Violent reactions.
  • Anxious behavior.
  • Paranoia or delusions.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Sleeplessness, sometimes for days.

Learn More About Crystal Meth

Dangers of Shooting Meth

Short-term Crystal Meth Side Effects

Even taking a small amount of crystal meth can result in short-term effects, including:2, 6

  • Increased wakefulness and physical activity.
  • Lower appetite.
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate, or an irregular heartbeat.
  • Heightened blood pressure.

Dangerously elevated body temperature, convulsions, cardiovascular collapse, and death can occur if a person takes a high dose of crystal meth.6

Long-term Crystal Meth Side Effects

Someone who abuses meth and/or crystal meth regularly may be at risk of several longer-lasting health risks due to their use. These can include:2

  • Contraction of infectious diseases such as HIV and Hep B or C (if injecting)
  • Malnutrition and unhealthy weight loss.
  • Severe dental problems, sometimes referred to as “meth mouth”.
  • Skin sores from scratching.
  • Confusion.
  • Memory loss.
  • Chronic anxiety.
  • Paranoia.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Risky behaviors based on poor judgement/decision making abilities.

Meth’s Effect on the Brain

Methamphetamine use is associated with changes in brain structure and function—some of which can be long-lasting, and slow to resolve even after methamphetamine use stops.2

The dopamine system can become impaired after meth use, with such changes resulting in decreased coordination and declines in verbal learning. Areas of the brain that normally regulate emotions and memory may also experience changes with chronic methamphetamine use, potentially giving rise to persistent emotional and cognitive problems.2

Treating Crystal Meth Addiction

Methamphetamine addiction is a serious disease. However, it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Treatment exists that can help a person detox from the substance and reach long-term recovery.

There are currently no FDA-approved medications to manage methamphetamine withdrawal nor ones that specifically target and treat stimulant use disorders; in some cases, any persistent mental or medical health issues associated with the methamphetamine use may benefit from medications (e.g., antidepressants or antipsychotics) or additional medical attention during the recovery period.7, 8

Several behavioral therapeutic approaches may be applied to help people recovery from stimulant use disorders. Motivational interviewing can help people resolve their ambivalence toward recovery and embrace treatment efforts to help stop using methamphetamine.2

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help patients recognize and avoid the situations that make them want to use meth. Contingency management, which offers small rewards for remaining drug free, is another evidenced-based method used by clinical professionals to help former meth users establish a strong foundation for recovery.2, 8

Addiction Treatment at Recovery First

From detox to aftercare planning, Recovery First Treatment Center in Hollywood, Florida can help you reach your sobriety and recovery goals. Detox is medically supervised 24/7, so if a patient experiences meth withdrawal symptoms, someone will be there to help make them comfortable.

The facility also offers cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing when a patient is out of detox and ready to build a strong foundation for recovery. You can learn more when you call our Admissions Navigators at 954-526-5776.

Frequently Asked Questions

How addictive is meth?

Meth or crystal meth is highly addictive, largely because of how it interacts with the dopamine center of the brain.2 From 2015 to 2018, it was estimated that more than half of the people who had used methamphetamine in the past year also had a methamphetamine use disorder, or meth addiction.3

What are the withdrawal symptoms for meth?

People who abruptly stop taking meth or crystal meth can experience the following withdrawal symptoms, even after taking a small dose:7

  • Depression.
  • Insomnia.
  • Anxiety.
  • Paranoia.
  • Craving meth.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Tremors or muscle twitches.

Can you overdose on methamphetamine?

Yes, a person can overdose on methamphetamines or crystal meth. A meth overdose can be sudden (or acute), or develop over the long-term (chronic):9

  • Acute meth overdose: Occurs when a person experiences adverse, and potentially life-threatening side effects after the drug is used. Acute methamphetamine overdose can result in catastrophic cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke, for example.
  • Chronic meth overdose: In the longer term, someone who regularly uses methamphetamine may cumulatively develop significantly adverse health effects such as psychosis and severely compromised nutritional status.

Sources

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). What are the immediate (short-term) effects of methamphetamine misuse?
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). What is methamphetamine?
  3. Jones, C.M., Compton, W.M., & Mustaquim, D. (2020). Patterns and characteristics of methamphetamine use in adults – United States, 2015-2018. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 69(12), 317-323.
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: APA.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Commonly used drug charts.
  6. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Methamphetamine.
  7. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.
  8. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2020). Treatment of Stimulant Use Disorders. Rockville, MD: National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory.
  9. MedlinePlus. (2019). Methamphetamine overdose.