Crystal meth is a potent stimulant drug with some profound effects on the human mind and body. As the opioid epidemic continues to wreak havoc in the United States, drugs like meth are overshadowed in terms of media coverage. However, the drug continues to be a problem.
According to the National Institution on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 1 percent of 12th-graders in the U.S. have used meth at some point during their lifetime, as of 2017. Meth use was in decline in the early 2000s, but it continues to be a problem. Plus, the toxic effects of methamphetamine make recreational use of the drug a significant issue.
If you’ve used meth, learning the signs of meth addiction can help you determine if you need to seek addiction treatment for a substance use disorder.
What is Crystal Meth?
Crystal meth is a common name for a powerful stimulant drug called methamphetamines. As a psychoactive chemical, it has some medical uses that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It has been sold under the trade name Desoxyn as an ADHD medication and an obesity remedy. It also has been prescribed for unapproved treatments like narcolepsy. German forces commonly used it in World War II, especially pilots who conducted extended flights. However, the army cut back on meth use when it noticed soldiers would require days to recover, act aggressively, commit war crimes against civilians, or attack officers. Today, it’s generally uncommon as a prescription and is used more as a recreational drug.
Meth is a powerful drug, and it’s used recreationally by people seeking euphoric feelings of excitement and power. Users report feeling invincible, strong, or elated. However, the stimulating effects can cause anxiety, paranoia, and panic. Meth is also used as a potent aphrodisiac. A subculture of meth users engages in sexual activity fueled by the drug. Parties can last for days and increase physical and mental health problems like psychosis and sexually transmitted diseases.
Meth works in a way that’s similar to other stimulants with one major difference. Stimulants like cocaine and meth disrupt a process called reuptake in the nervous system.
Reuptake is a process that recycles neurotransmitters that have been released to reuse chemicals and avoid an excessive buildup. Dopamine is a particular neurotransmitter that serves many functions in the brain, but it’s closely tied to reward and mood.
When dopamine is released, you may feel your mood is lifted, and your energy levels increase. Meth and cocaine block dopamine reuptake, allowing the chemical to bind to more neurotransmitters to cause a more intense reaction.
However, meth also stimulates an increase in the production of dopamine, flooding your synapses with the chemical and inundating their respective receptors. Because of this unique ability, the deluge of dopamine can damage receptors. Fewer working dopamine receptors can cause a condition called anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure. Anhedonia can tighten the grip of addiction on a person’s life because meth becomes the only thing powerful enough to cause pleasure.
What are the Signs of Crystal Meth Addiction?
Crystal meth use, like most drugs, can be difficult to spot at first, but it becomes more difficult to hide as a substance abuse disorder develops. Meth is particularly hard on the body and can leave physical signs that become apparent to friends and family. If you have used meth and you’re worried that you might be in the early stages of a substance use disorder, there are a few warning signs that can reveal your need for help.
Recreational use can cause tolerance to develop after a few uses. As your body adapts to the drug, a normal dose may have diminishing effects. Recreational users also tend to be more willing to increase the dosage because they are seeking a high. Tolerance can be more pronounced in meth because of its ability to damage dopamine receptors. Tolerance is often the first sign that drug use is becoming problematic.
Chemical dependence is the next sign of a substance use disorder, and it’s closely tied to addiction. Dependence is marked by a physical need for a drug to balance brain chemistry and avoid uncomfortable symptoms. In cases where physical dependence is taking hold, you may stop using the drug for recreational use, and start using it to maintain a sense of normalcy. If you stop using, you might start to feel uncomfortable physical and psychological side effects, including anxiety, depression, muscle weakness, fatigue, insomnia, hypersomnia, lack of motivation, and apathy.
Meth can cause several signs that can be noticed by friends and loved ones, including some physical symptoms. Some telltale signs of meth use and addiction are:
- Poor dental hygiene
- Frequent scratching
- Weight loss
- Unexplained acne or sores
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- A change in a person’s friend group
- Insomnia or strange sleep patterns
Addiction is characterized by the continued, compulsive use of a drug in spite of clear consequences. For instance, meth can cause some significant health concerns, like dramatic weight loss and rotting teeth. If a person continues to use, despite the medical consequences, it could point to an addiction. Recognizing the signs of a substance use disorder involving meth can help you to know when it’s time to seek help. Meth addiction can cause some serious, enduring consequences. Getting the help you need sooner rather than later is essential.
What is Involved in Crystal Meth Addiction Treatment?
Meth addiction treatment is a process that is tailored to your specific needs. When you first enter treatment, you will go through an intake and assessment process that is designed to identify your needs and concerns for treatment. You will most likely go through a biopsychosocial assessment, which is a questionnaire your therapist will use to determine your most pressing needs.
Treatment often starts with medical detox, but meth withdrawal doesn’t typically cause medically threatening symptoms. However, if you’ve used more than one type of drug alongside meth, like alcohol or benzodiazepines, detox might be necessary. Medical inpatient services are also available for people that have pressing medical needs related or unrelated to their addiction.
After detox, you will go through addiction treatment at a level of care based on your needs. You may also move to different levels of care as you advance through treatment. The levels can include inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient services, and outpatient service. Through these levels, you may go through individual, group, and family therapy.
How Dangerous is Crystal Meth?
Meth is a significantly toxic substance in the human body, and it can cause consequences that affect both physical and psychological health. Unlike other drugs, meth withdrawal symptoms tend to affect a person’s psychology more than they cause physically dangerous complications. Depression, loss of hope, and the inability to feel pleasure are some of the effects of chronic meth use.
“In some cases, severe depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. One study found that 18 percent of meth-related deaths were caused by suicide. ”
If you’ve been using meth and you have experienced thoughts of suicide, it’s important to speak to a professional as soon as possible.
Active meth use has the potential to cause several long-term consequences, especially if it is left untreated. Chronic users can develop deep-rooted psychological symptoms including anxiety, paranoia, violent behavior, and psychosis. Meth can also cause long-lasting issues with dental health, your skin, and severe weight loss.
An overdose can cause heart-related conditions like chest pains, an irregular heartbeat, and cardiac arrest. It also can cause seizures, paranoia, stomach pains, and strokes. A meth overdose would be a medical emergency and would warrant emergency services.
Meth Abuse Statistics
- More than 1% of 12th-graders have tried meth at some point in their lifetime
- 18% of meth-related deaths were caused by suicide
- 1.2 million people reported using meth within the past year in a 2012 survey.