How to Help a Crystal Meth Addict
In 2012, 1.2 million people in the U.S. reported using methamphetamine in the previous year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. With this rate of crystal meth use, there are doubtless many people in need of treatment. As with all drugs of abuse, seeking professional treatment from mental health and addiction specialists will lead to the highest chance of methamphetamine recovery success.
Unfortunately, there is no medication treatment currently available for crystal meth abuse. Because of this, treatment will take a different course. Crystal meth addiction treatment will focus on counseling and other therapeutic options like:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Contingency management.
- Family education.
- 12-step support programs.
Approaching a Loved One
Approaching a loved one who is going through a crystal meth addiction can feel like walking on eggshells. The fear of saying the wrong thing can seem overwhelming, but it is important to reach out to your loved one and show them that you still care.
Historically, confrontation was considered the best approach—presenting the user with an all-or-nothing decision: either you go into treatment or we don’t speak any more. This approach is now debated and is even associated with poorer outcomes in some cases. A more effective approach may be to come to the user with love and support. This does not mean you should enable the person with the addiction; instead, use proven methods of dealing with the issue in a healthy supportive way.
One particularly effective approach is known as Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT), where a professional trains the people close to the addicted person in the best ways to address the problem. CRAFT teaches family and friends how to engage a substance abuser in a productive and helpful way that will help persuade the user to get treatment, and it has been found to work in nearly 7 out of 10 cases.
Here are a few tips from CRAFT:
- Introduce enjoyable outside activities that compete with substance use.
- Try to create positive interpersonal exchanges between yourself and your loved one.
- Reward abstinent behavior. For example, engage in pleasant activities with your loved one when they are not using, and explicitly state that you are doing so because of their progress.
- If possible, avoid interfering with negative consequences that occur naturally. For example, if your loved one’s using typically leads to decreased time around the family, allow this to occur. Consequences that occur naturally are powerful in shaping behavior and should be minimally interfered with.
A crystal meth user should not be approached when under the drug’s influence. If at all possible, try to catch them at a sober time (ideally, when motivation to get better is high) to talk with them about going into treatment. You can expect to encounter some difficult emotions that are common to those suffering from addiction, including denial, anger, and justifications of their use and the problems caused by it. Avoid the temptation to get into an argument with them or a back and forth dialogue where you try to dispute what they're saying and prove that you're right. Instead, approach them with empathy. Avoid blaming and say that you're concerned about their drug use. You can also calmly lay out clear boundaries of what you'll accept in the future, but avoid making threats.
Discuss how their crystal meth abuse has affected your relationship with them, as well as the ways in which you’ve seen their life change following the onset of abuse. Try to use “I” statements to avoid making your friend or family member feel alienated or unwanted. Be an open ear and avoid judging them; you may find this helps to diffuse hostility and may help them come to terms with their need for treatment.
Remember: Your goal is to get your loved one into treatment. Make sure they know that they are loved and that you fully support their path to sobriety. If they relapse, be understanding; cutting an addiction out of your life is a very big challenge to take on, and sometimes people can slip, but it does not mean that they have failed. Recovery is a lifelong process and most often multiple relapses are a normal part of the process. Someone in recovery has the best chances of long-term sobriety if they have a supportive network of friends and family.
Crystal meth treatment focuses on long-term recovery—using diverse modalities of treatment intervention and multiple types of therapeutic support. Treatment options often include:
- Providing education regarding the nature of crystal meth use, abuse, and withdrawal so that relapse triggers and other patterns of addiction may be realized and avoided in the future.
Behavioral/mental health therapies that use facets of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management (CM).
- CBT works to build connections between the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the individual to understand the role crystal meth fulfilled and ways to function without it in the future.
- CM works to assess the people, places, and things that trigger use or cravings for the substance. By providing real rewards for avoiding use, recovery can be extended.
- Family education and therapy that illustrate the level of influence that family and close supports have toward perpetuating or ending the addiction. Together, better plans can be created to maintain abstinence.
- 12-step support groups to build and maintain a support structure based on maintaining recovery from alcohol and other drugs. Daily or weekly peer meetings can aid in having goals and direction while moving through the steps.
- Drug testing that is administered at regular or variable intervals to keep the person in recovery accountable for their decision-making.
The best crystal meth treatment programs are the ones that combine some or all of the elements listed above. When you research a program, ask about their approach to treatment.
Is It Addictive?
Overall, methamphetamine is a very addictive substance because of its abilities to provide a strong, lasting high. The method by which the substance enters the body—for instance, smoking vs. snorting—can modify the impact of the drug and the tendency to become addicted to it. The very intense rush achieved when smoking crystal meth can render the addictive properties even stronger.
One of the effects of meth as it reaches the brain is to stimulate dopamine release. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is related to rewarding sensations and motivation. Not only does crystal meth trigger the higher flow of dopamine, but it also prevents the dopamine from being reabsorbed back into the brain cells. This results in the sustained high that even cocaine cannot produce.
What Are the Signs of Addiction?
Like other stimulant drugs, crystal meth is usually abused in binges or "runs" that continue until no more of the substance can be obtained.
When looking for the signs of a crystal meth problem in someone you love, check for both the short-term and long-term signs of use—even if you don't think your loved one has been using for long—since long-term signs may show up as a result of a binge.
The short-term signs include:
- High motivation to accomplish tasks.
- Decreased need for sleep.
- Speaking very rapidly and moving between topics quickly.
- Not eating for extended periods.
- Inability to sit still.
The long-term signs of crystal meth addiction include:
- Psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and paranoid delusions.
- Repetitive movements.
- Inability to pay attention or focus.
- Cognitive problems marked by poor judgment and memory loss.
- Excessive weight loss.
- Aggression and violence toward self and others.
- Changes in physical appearance, including declining dental health and scars from skin picking.
Following a binge, the crystal meth user may return to a period of normalcy that can last for days, weeks, or months; however, this period of normalcy should not be taken as an indication that your loved one is no longer addicted.
Am I Addicted to Crystal Meth?
Most people do not find crystal meth to be a drug that can be used casually or recreationally for long before the scales are tipped toward addiction. With the high addictive potential, using the substance even a few times can lead to addiction-like behaviors.
Consider these other indicators that you are addicted to crystal meth:
- Your relationships and work have been failing due to your drug use.
- You have been spending more time and money to obtain the drug and are experiencing financial problems as a result.
- You have encountered problems with law enforcement related to crystal meth.
- Despite these and other negative consequences, you continue seeking the substance.
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- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs.
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- Meyers, R. J., Smith, J. E., & Lash, D. N. (2005). A program for engaging treatment-refusing substance abusers into treatment: CRAFT. International Journal of Behavioral and Consultation Therapy, 1(2), 90–100.
- American Addiction Centers. 2018.