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Methamphetamine (Crystal Meth) Addiction and Abuse

Methamphetamine, commonly known as crystal meth, is a potent and addictive stimulant. Treatment for addiction often involves inpatient rehab, behavioral therapy, and continuous support to address withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.

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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.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that meth is highly addictive. Every dose changes chemicals within the brain. Since the drug wears off quickly, many people take repeating doses in a binge. Episodes like this cause intense damage that can lead to an addiction.[1]

What Is Methamphetamine or 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 that a person can buy. Crystal leads to a longer lasting and more intense high than someone could get with a powder. [2]

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. These are commonly used street names for crystal meth:

ChalkChristinaCookies
Cotton candyCrankDunk
GakGarbageGo Fast
Go go juiceIce No doze
PookieRocket fuelScooby snax
SpeedTinaTrash
TweekWashWhite cross

Key Facts About Meth Addiction

  • Methamphetamine is one of the top drugs responsible for emergency room visits, behind only alcohol and opioids. [3]
  • Among adults reporting past-year methamphetamine use, more than 27% used the drug for 200 days or more. [4]
  • Methamphetamine-involved overdose deaths almost tripled between 2015 and 2019. [5]
  • Every day, about 500 people try meth for the first time. [6]

History & Statistics 

A Japanese chemist made meth for the first time in 1893. This early drug was created from another stimulant, and it was used as a treatment for asthma, narcolepsy, and weight loss. [7]

In World War II, soldiers used meth to stay awake on the battlefield, and they brought the drug home with them when the war was over. Meth was finally outlawed in the United States in 1970, but its use continues today. 

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. [8] 

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%. [9] 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. 

Potential for Abuse: How Addictive Is Meth? 

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. [4]

Your brain uses a chemical called dopamine to reward you for doing something beneficial. These are natural sources of dopamine:

  • Exercise
  • Eating
  • 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 they might feel with other meth formats.[2]

The bigger the reaction, the harder it is for the user to stop. Some people use meth once and spend the rest of their lives chasing the high they felt during their first drug experience. 

Meth’s effects wear off, and when they do, depression sets in. People can pick up crystal again and use it immediately to bring the happy sensation back. A binge 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 it to stave off depression and feel normal. A person like this may want to quit but feels physically and emotionally incapable of doing so.

Causes & Risk Factors of Meth Addiction 

Anyone who uses meth, even once, could develop an addiction, but some characteristics could raise your risks. These are some of the risk factors closely associated with meth addiction: 

Biological Factors

Researchers say genetics are only loosely linked with methamphetamine addiction. But other factors, like a low body weight, could make each dose more powerful. And using the drug during adolescence, while your brain is still developing, could also raise your risk of developing an addiction later. [12]

Environmental Factors

Living in a community where meth use is common could normalize the activity and make experimentation more likely. If you can easily buy the drug from dealers, it’s easy to get started. 

Social Factors

Spending time with people who abuse meth could make experimentation easy. You could borrow a friend’s pipe or steal a family member’s stash and take the drug for the very first time. 

Psychological Factors 

Meth is a powerful stimulant drug, and it’s often attractive to people who want to get a lot done in a short time. Some people use meth to help them study for exams or prepare for sales meetings. Others use the drug to help them juggle multiple jobs or caregiving tasks. 

Signs & Symptoms of Addiction: What to Look Out For 

Does someone you know use crystal meth? 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 the following clues:

Physical Symptoms

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. [11] 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 

Psychological Symptoms

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. 

Behavioral Symptoms

You may 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. The person may also make new friends, including dealers, and spend time with them instead of with their family and close friends. 

Comparing Symptoms of Meth Addiction by Type

Physical Psychological Behavioral 
Dental issues Excitability Paraphernalia in sight
Weight lossImpulsivity Drugs in sight 
Wrinkled skin SedationNew friends 
Open wounds on skinDepression Time spent with dealers

Side Effects of Meth Abuse

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 Effects

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:[12]

  • 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.
  • Physical altercations: Crystal meth can lower your inhibitions and increase your aggressiveness. 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.
  • Sexual side effects: You could have meth-fueled unsafe sex, leading to HIV or hepatitis infections. You could also get pregnant. 

Long-Term Effects

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:

  • Higher stroke risk: Methamphetamine damages the cardiovascular system. Repeated use can make blood vessels so thin that they break and cause a stroke. 
  • Seizures: High doses of meth (common among people with addictions) can lead to seizures. 
  • Dental disease: Meth mouth involves damage to gums, teeth, and the tongue due to reduced saliva and poor hygiene from drug use. 
  • Psychosis: 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.
  • Poor mental performance: Long-term use can 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.[1]

Combining Meth With Other Drugs

People who use meth may also use other substances. Polysubstance abuse is incredibly dangerous, as meth interacts with many drugs, including the following:

  • Meth and alcohol: Stimulants like meth can mask alcohol’s sedation. People can drink more than they should and develop alcohol poisoning. 
  • Meth and opioids: Drugs like heroin and Vicodin are depressants, so they work differently than meth. But meth can mask their sedating action, allowing people to take too much and overdose. 
  • Meth and ecstasy: Both meth and ecstasy are stimulant drugs. Combining them puts incredible pressure on the heart and can lead to a heart attack or stroke. 
  • Meth and benzodiazepines: Medications like Xanax and Librium are sedating drugs. Combining them with meth can mean concealing their sedating effects, leading to an overdose. 

Meth Withdrawal & Detox 

After repeated use, your brain and body become accustomed to meth. Quit taking the drug abruptly, and you could develop physical and mental meth withdrawal symptoms. These episodes could convince you to return to meth use. Sometimes, they convince people that they’ll never get sober. 

Common meth withdrawal symptoms include the following:[13]

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia 
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety or paranoia 
  • Depression 
  • Lack of motivation and energy 
  • Cravings for meth 

Detoxing from methamphetamine in a safe environment can help. In a structured program, people can get help with their symptoms, so they don’t relapse to make the discomfort of withdrawal stop. 

Treatment Options for Meth Addiction 

People with a longstanding meth habit may struggle to quit using the drug. But entering a treatment program could make a big difference. Your plan may include the following elements:

Inpatient Drug Rehab

It’s hard to get sober when you’re surrounded by so many triggers. It’s far too easy to call your dealer and slide back into meth use when you live at home. Inpatient drug rehab can help. 

Move out of your home and into a safe environment that is free of old triggers. Get sober safely and learn how to control your cravings before you head home again. 

Experts have not approved any medication for meth addiction treatment. But your inpatient treatment team might use medications to ease underlying mental health conditions (like depression) or to help you sleep. 

Behavioral Therapy 

Counseling options have been proven effective in helping people slow or stop a meth habit. Sessions are usually provided in conjunction with other treatment options, including medications. [14]

Your treatment team might use dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to address common problems that lead to addiction. Your team may also use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you explore new ways to deal with drug triggers. 

Aftercare

At the end of an addiction treatment program, you have a toolkit to combat your meth addiction. But you’ll benefit from staying in touch with treatment. 

Signing up for support group meetings could help you learn from peers. Many people keep outpatient therapy appointments with their teams to help them learn how to handle new challenges.

Frequently Asked Questions About Methamphetamine

We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about methamphetamine and crystal meth addiction and abuse. 

How long does meth stay in your system?

Meth stays in the average person’s body for days, but it can be detected in some types of drug tests for much longer.

What is meth mouth?

Meth mouth refers to a collection of oral symptoms triggered by methamphetamine, including rotten teeth and bleeding gums. 

Is meth a stimulant?

Yes, meth is a stimulant. It’s a man-made drug, and since it’s illegal, it’s made in clandestine laboratories. 

What does meth look like?

Meth is an odorless and colorless powder. When it’s mixed with other substances for a smokable product (crystal meth), it looks like blue or white glass. 

What does meth smell like?

Pure methamphetamine has no odor. But crystal meth smells like the contaminants used to make the drug. It may just smell like vinegar or some other chemical, or it may smell sickly sweet. 

What’s the difference between amphetamines and methamphetamine?

Amphetamines and methamphetamine are similar, but their origin and use are different. Amphetamines are prescription medications to treat ADHD or narcolepsy. Methamphetamine is an illicit drug made by dealers in their laboratories.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated November 21, 2023
Resources
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  2. Crystal Methamphetamine Fast Facts. (2003). National Drug Intelligence Center.
  3. Preliminary Findings From Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits, 2021. (May 2022). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  4. Patterns and Characteristics of Methamphetamine Use Among Adults, United States, 2015 to 2018. (March 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  5. Methamphetamine-Involved Overdose Deaths Nearly Tripled Between 2015 to 2019, NIH Study Finds. (September 2021). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  6. Learn About Methamphetamine. (August 2022). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  7. History of Meth. (August 2018). History.
  8. What Is the Scope of Methamphetamine Use in the United States? (October 2019). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  9. Methamphetamine Deaths Soar, Hitting Black and Native Americans Especially Hard. (September 2021). National Public Radio.
  10. A Review of Risk Factors for Methamphetamine-Related Psychiatric Symptoms. (November 2018). Frontiers in Psychiatry.
  11. How Meth Destroys the Body. PBS.
  12. Straight Talk: Methamphetamines. CAMH.
  13. Withdrawal from Methamphetamines. (October 2022). My Health Alberta.
  14. Methamphetamine Research Report. (October 2019). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  15. Patterns and Characteristics of Methamphetamine Use Among Adults — United States, 2015–2018. (March 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  16. Methamphetamine Use and Cardiovascular Disease. (August 2019). Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.
  17. Treatment Shows Promise for Methamphetamine Use Disorder. (April 2021). Harvard Health Publishing.
  18. Methamphetamine Consumption and Life-Threatening Abdominal Complications. (May 2018). Medicine.
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