Methamphetamine (Crystal Meth) Addiction and Abuse
Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
Methamphetamine is an odorless, colorless stimulant drug. When dealers make a smokable form of the drug that looks a little like glass shards, they call it crystal meth.
About 2.6 million Americans 12 and older used meth in 2020. Chances are, most of these people used the crystal form of the drug. And all of them got it from dealers.
There are no approved crystalline forms of meth made in clinical laboratories. Instead, the drugs are made in clandestine labs that aren’t subject to scrutiny or supervision. It’s impossible to know exactly what’s included in every meth dose.
From 2015 to 2019, deaths linked to meth rose roughly 180 percent. Unscrupulous dealers cutting meth with fentanyl are partially to blame. But even the purest crystal meth comes with real dangers, including some that could end your life.
What Is Crystal Meth?
Methamphetamine is a man-made stimulant that is odorless and colorless. Dealers often make liquid meth and combine it with binding agents to make crystal. The final product looks like shiny, blue-tinged blocks of glass.
Unlike powdered forms of meth (which are also available in some markets), crystal tends to be among the purest forms of methamphetamine a drug user can buy. Crystal leads to a longer-lasting and more intense high than someone could get with a powder.
Many crystal meth users smoke the drug, but some crush the substance, mix it with water, and inject it.
Why Is Crystal Meth Addictive?
About half of all people who use meth meet the criteria for meth use disorders. While any drug could cause critical changes that lead to a substance use disorder (SUD), crystal meth is especially dangerous.
Your brain uses a chemical called dopamine to reward you for doing something beneficial. These are natural sources of dopamine:
- Having sex
- Spending time with a loved one
Crystal meth forces your brain cells to release large, unnatural amounts of dopamine. Users describe the sensation as a “rush.” If they use crystal, the sensation is more intense and lasts longer than what they might feel with other meth formats.
The bigger the reaction, the harder it is for the user to kick the habit. Some people use meth one time and spend the rest of their lives chasing the high they felt during their first drug experience.
Meth does wear off, and when it does, depression sets in. People can pick up crystal again and use it immediately to bring the happy sensation back. Bingeing like this does incredible damage to the brain, and it’s very common among people who use crystal meth.
In time, the brain adjusts to the dopamine response, and people must use more of the drug to feel a reaction. Some people use so much meth that they need doses to stave off depression and feel normal. A person like this may want to quit but feels physically and emotionally incapable of doing so.
Street Names for Meth
Some crystal meth users are open about their habits and call the drug by its name. But it’s much more common for people to use nicknames and slang when discussing the habit.
These are commonly used street names for crystal meth:
- Cotton candy
- Go Fast
- Go go juice
- No doze
- Rocket fuel
- Scooby snax
- White cross
Crystal Meth’s Dangers Explained
Why should people avoid using crystal meth even one time? What happens when they keep using the drug? Understanding the long-term and short-term risks of meth use can help people make smart choices.
Short-Term Crystal Meth Risks
Meth is so dangerous that even casual use has been linked to very serious health problems.
Using crystal even one time can lead to the following issues:
- Mental health issues: You may feel anxious, restless, worried, or paranoid.
- Behavior changes: You may become chatty and unable to stop talking. You might also feel confused, angry, or even violent.
- Health problems: Your body temperature rises, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure increases. You could experience seizures, strokes, or heart attacks.
Crystal meth can also lower your inhibitions and increase your aggressiveness. You could have meth-fueled unsafe sex, leading to HIV or hepatitis infections. You could also get pregnant.
When you’re under the influence of meth, you are both more likely to commit violence and to be the victim of a violent crime.
Long-Term Crystal Meth Risks
While using crystal meth just once can be dangerous, continued use can lead to significant health problems. Some of these issues aren’t easy to treat.
Long-term health problems associated with meth include the following:
- Mental health problems: Paranoia, hallucinations, distractibility, and memory loss could all set in and persist.
- Physical issues: Weight loss, dental disease, and twitches are all associated with a longstanding crystal meth habit.
Some long-term users develop a form of psychosis. When you’re tired, sick, or under stress, the symptoms begin. Meth lasts in your system for a while and is detectable for months, leading to other dangerous effects.
You may feel like you don’t recognize your friends, family members, and neighbors. You may react in unusual or even violent ways. And you could feel terrified of the world around you. These episodes end, but you may always worry that they’ll start again.
Long-term use can also damage the brain’s dopamine system, leading to memory loss and cognitive function decline. While these problems improve once crystal meth use stops, they can sometimes be permanent.
Signs of Crystal Meth Use
Does someone you know have a crystal meth habit? If you ask the person you love, you might get a straight answer. But most people attempt to hide their use. In these cases, you’ll need to look for clues.
Physical problems caused by meth are often striking and easy to spot. A decade ago, no one realized the extent of meth’s physical damage. But now we know just what to look for, including these issues:
- Rotted teeth and diseased gums
- Weight loss
- Wrinkled, aged skin
- Scratches on the face, hands, and arms
- Open wounds on the skin
You may also spot meth paraphernalia, including pipes, lighters, and needles. Some people keep meth near them during a binge, so you might see crystals that look like glass.
During a binge, the person might seem excitable, dangerous, and energized. When the drug wears off, they may need to sleep for days at a time to recover. Shifting between these two states is a clear sign of use.
How Is Crystal Meth Use Treated?
If you spot signs of crystal meth use, reach out to offer help. People with a longstanding meth habit may struggle to quit using the drug. But entering a treatment program could make a big difference.
Experts have not approved any medication for meth addiction treatment. But counseling options have been proven effective in helping people slow or stop a meth habit. The person needs intensive counseling at first to change behavior, and most people need ongoing care to keep relapse at bay.
Don’t wait to talk about meth use and addiction. The conversation you have now could save someone’s life.
What Is the Scope of Methamphetamine Use in the United States? (October 2019). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Methamphetamine Deaths Soar, Hitting Black and Native Americans Especially Hard. (September 2021). NPR.
Crystal Methamphetamine Fast Facts. National Drug Intelligence Center.
Patterns and Characteristics of Methamphetamine Use Among Adults. (March 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Methamphetamine Drug Facts. (May 2019). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Methamphetamine Research Report. (October 2019). National Institute on Drug Abuse.