Crystal Meth Abuse
What Is Crystal Meth?
Street Names for Crystal Meth
Crystal meth is known by many slang terms including:
Crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth) is a powerful central nervous stimulant with highly addictive properties.
Crystal meth is the illicit, crystalline form of methamphetamine. Legally manufactured methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II drug by the United States Controlled Substances Act, meaning:
- It has a high potential for abuse.
- It has a currently accepted medical use.
- Abuse of it may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Pharmaceutical methamphetamine is used in medications that treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and, infrequently, in cases of severe obesity.
The crystal form of methamphetamine - the street drug crystal meth - has no medical applications, and is exclusively abused as a recreational substance.
Signs and Symptoms
Crystal meth is a powerful stimulant. No matter what route of administration is used—injected, smoked or inhaled—an individual will experience a rapid onset of its effects.
When under the influence of meth, a person may present with any number of symptoms:
- Increased physical activity.
- Increased blood pressure and breathing rate.
- Elevated body temperature.
- Dilated pupils.
- Heavy sweating.
- Loss of appetite.
- Paranoia or irritability.
- Fleeting euphoria.
- Unpredictable behavior.
- Doing repetitive, meaningless tasks.
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.
- Dry mouth, bad breath.
- Uncontrollable jaw clenching.
Some other troubling signs of methamphetamine abuse include:
- Violent behavior.
- Respiratory or airway abnormalities.
- Persistently elevated heart rate, placing users at risk for heart attack.
The following video from National Geographic discusses what exactly happens in your brain when you smoke crystal meth and why it is so addictive.
Credit: National Geographic
Effects of Crystal Meth Abuse
The effects of crystal meth in recreational doses are powerful, and can lead to psychological and physical addiction.
Crystal meth works by affecting the communication chemicals dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain and activating the cardiovascular and central nervous systems.
The effects of crystal meth in recreational doses are powerful and can lead to psychological and physical addiction. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse reports that users initially report feeling confident and powerful, with limitless energy, increased productivity, enhanced sexual performance, and decreased appetite.
Once these initial euphoric effects wear off, however, the experience can take a bad turn--with chronic abuse leading to serious and immediate negative consequences:
- Mental confusion, psychosis, and paranoia.
- Extreme weight loss.
- Picking at your skin, resulting in scabs.
- Tooth decay—or, "meth mouth".
- Sensation of insects crawling on/under your skin.
- Jaw clenching.
- Respiratory disease.
- Heart disease.
- Cardiac arrest.
Other potential long-term health effects of crystal meth abuse include:
- Microvascular hemorrhage.
- Eye damage.
- Vision impairment.
- Markedly disrupted sleep patterns.
- Mood disorders.
- Reproductive health issues.
- Impaired sexual motivation and performance.
- Dental health problems.
- Per the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 1.7 million people age 12 or older reported illicit methamphetamine use in 2015, and nearly 900,000 people age 12 or older reported use in the past month.
- According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Report, meth was involved in almost 13% of all illicit substance emergency department visits in 2011.
- The NSDUH also found more than twice as many men used illicit methamphetamine than women in 2015.
- Per the Monitoring the Future Study, use rates of meth among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders showed a steady decline between 2012 and 2015—a positive trend which will hopefully continue in coming years.
Learn more at our article, Methamphetamine History and Statistics.
Crystal Meth Abuse Treatment
Treatment for methamphetamine abuse may take on multiple forms, depending on the individual's needs. The first phase of treatment, detoxification, may proceed more smoothly with careful monitoring by an experienced medical staff. Withdrawal can be profoundly uncomfortable, and can sometimes elicit depressive episodes—relapse risks are high during the period of acute detox.
Acute symptoms of abuse are often treated with medications to alleviate the discomfort of side effects and withdrawal:
- Hyperactivity, agitation or psychotic features—If needed, may be treated with a dopamine-blocking medication, such as haloperidol--an antipsychotic that decreases abnormal excitement in the brain.
- Other behavioral and psychiatric effects—Benzodiazepine drugs such as diazepam (Valium) may be used to relieve anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures.
Dependence and addiction can often prove difficult to manage, due to high rates of dropout and relapse, severe craving, protracted mental health issues (including depression and psychosis), and the inability of some users to experience pleasure in the absence of the drug.
Currently, there is no widely accepted model for crystal meth abuse treatment. In the past, antidepressants were utilized, but this treatment was not found to be especially effective in the long run.
Modern treatment programs use various forms of counseling or therapy to address the issues surrounding abuse and dependence. Therapies that have been found to be effective are:
- Contingency Management—Uses positive reinforcement to keep patients abstinent, leading to longer periods of drug abstinence.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy—Examines the role of substance abuse in a patient's life and develops skills to avoid relapse; includes the Matrix Model approach.
- The Matrix Model—Incorporates cognitive-behavioral therapy, addiction education, relapse prevention education, 12-step or self-help programs, and weekly urine tests to assure abstinence. This method has been found to be very effective during treatment.
Teen Crystal Meth Abuse
Adolescents are at particular risk for the dangers of crystal meth abuse. Human brains continue to develop until the mid-20s, and powerful drugs such as crystal meth can have a major impact on brain development.
Teens may also be unaware of the risks. In fact, though many youth users acknowledge the health risks and social costs of heavy use, they still associate the use of the drug more positively than heroin or crack cocaine.
Drug education regarding the dangers that come with abuse is a vital part of abuse prevention. Talking with your teen about the risks associated with use can help prevent young abuse.
Resources, Articles, and More Information
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- Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Methamphetamine fact sheet. Ottawa: The Centre; 2005. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa-011134-2005.pdf
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2013). Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of national findings (HHS Publication No. SMA 13-4795, NSDUH Series H-46). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Fast, D., Kerr, T. Wood, E., & Small, W. (2014). The multiple truths about crystal meth among young people entrenched in an urban drug scene: A longitudinal ethnographic investigation. Social Science & Medicine, 110. 41-48.
- Frohmader, K. S., Bateman, K. L., Lehman, M. N., & Coolen, L. M. (2010). Effects of methamphetamine on sexual performance and compulsive sex behavior in male rats. Psychopharmacology, 212. 93-104.
- Hart, C. L., Marvin, C. B., Silver, R., & Smith, E. E. (2012). Is cognitive functioning impaired in methamphetamine users? A critical review. Neuropsychopharmacology, 37. 586-608.
- Hazin, R., Cadet, J. L., Kahook, M. K., & Saed, D. (2009). Ocular manifestations of crystal methamphetamine use. Neurotox Res, 15. 187-191.
- Iritani, B. J., Hallfors, D. D., & Bauer D. J. (2007). Crystal methamphetamine use among young adults in the USA. Addiction, 102. 1102-1113.
- Kish, S. J. (2008). Pharmacologic mechanisms of crystal meth. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 178 (13). 1679-1682.
- Kurtz, S. P. (2005). Post-circuit blues: Motivations and consequences of crystal meth use among gay men in Miami. AIDS and Behavior, 9 (1). 63-72.
- Perez, A. Y. et. al. (2008). Residual effects of intranasal methamphetamine on sleep, mood, and performance. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 94. 258-262.
- Rawson R. A., Marinelli-Casey P., Anglin M. D., et al. (2004). A Multi-site comparison of psychosocial approaches for the treatment of methamphetamine dependence. Addiction, 99. 708-717.
- Ricaurte G. A., Seiden L. S., & Schuster C. R. (1984). Further evidence that amphetamines produce long-lasting dopamine neurochemical deficits by destroying dopamine nerve fibers. Brain Res, 303. 359-64.
- Roll J. M., Petry N. M., Stitzer M. L., et al. (2006). Contingency management for the treatment of methamphetamine use disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163. 1993-1999.
- Shoptaw S., Huber A., Peck J., et al. (2006). Randomized placebo-controlled trial of sertraline and contingency management for the treatment of methamphetamine dependence. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 85. 12-18.
- Srisurapanont M., Jarusuraisin N., & Kittirattanapaiboon P. (2001). Treatment for amphetamine dependence and abuse. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 4. CD003022.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (June 19, 2014). The DAWN Report: Emergency Department Visits Involving Methamphetamine: 2007 to 2011. Rockville, MD.
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51).
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4760, DAWN Series D-39. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs.