Crystal meth and methamphetamine rank among the most addictive substances used in the United States. Prolonged crystal meth use can lead to adverse health conditions, substance use disorders and even death. Treatment options such as detox and therapy with the matrix model can provide hope to those struggling with meth addiction.
Crystal meth is a potent central nervous system stimulant with a high addiction potential. It is a more powerful, crystalized form of methamphetamine, which has been “cooked” by street drug manufacturers in illegal laboratories.
The drug has several other forms. Methamphetamine base is an oily substance that varies in color, and the drug can come in a white or light brown crystalline powder or pill form as well.
Methamphetamine is typically swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected. Crystal meth, by comparison, is usually smoked, snorted or injected. Crystal meth resembles ice, glass or crystal rocks that are clear, white or light blue in color.
Using methamphetamine or crystal meth produces effects such as euphoria, increased energy and a surge in confidence. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine increases levels of dopamine — neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for pleasure, motivation and reward. The increased levels of dopamine in the brain cause meth users to feel high.
Methamphetamine use can cause cardiovascular issues, increased blood pressure, convulsions, overdose and death.
The United States has seen a surge in crystal meth abuse in the past 20 years. The sharp uptick in the drug’s popularity sparked the Emmy-winning TV series “Breaking Bad,” which tells the story of a high school chemistry teacher who eventually becomes a drug kingpin by cooking and distributing crystal meth.
Crystal meth and other forms of methamphetamine are highly addictive. Repeated use of the drugs causes a physical dependence that can lead to the development of a substance use disorder. For those struggling with methamphetamine abuse, the most effective way to reach recovery is to seek rehab treatment.
Developed in the early 20th century for nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers, methamphetamine is derived from its parent drug, amphetamine. Today methamphetamine is medically used to treat a select number of health conditions, such as narcolepsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Although they are chemically similar, methamphetamine and amphetamine vary in key aspects. At the same dosage, methamphetamine enters the brain at higher levels than amphetamine, causing longer-lasting and more damaging effects to the central nervous system.
Amphetamines are frequently used to treat health conditions. For example, dextroamphetamine is used in the medication Adderall to treat ADHD. Though methamphetamine has some medical benefits, it is mainly used recreationally.
The most potentially dangerous form of methamphetamine is crystal meth.
Methamphetamine was first introduced in 1919 as a treatment for nasal congestion. It became a popular drug of abuse in the 1960s and was used as a way to increase energy and alertness.
Crystal meth was later introduced in the 1980s. In the 2000s, crystal meth’s popularity exploded and quickly created an epidemic in certain parts of the United States, including the Southwest. While crystal meth use has leveled off in many parts of the country, it still remains a principal concern to law enforcement and treatment industry experts.
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 900,000 Americans aged 12 or older reported using methamphetamine in the past month. Among that group, about 757,000 recent meth users were 26 or older.
Methamphetamine use by teens is much lower than the use of most other illicit drugs. According to the 2016 Monitoring the Future Survey — an annual survey of drug use among adolescents by researchers at the University of Michigan — 0.6 percent of eighth-graders and 0.7 percent of 10th-graders have used methamphetamine in their lifetime. Among 12th-graders, 1.2 percent tried the drug at least once. Past-month use of the drug was highest among eighth- and 12th-graders at 0.3 percent.
Despite the low rates of methamphetamine use among teens, it is still a matter of concern. Regular use of methamphetamine causes changes in the brain that can alter the dopamine system and potentially destroy nerve cells. The effects are more profound on brains that are still developing.
Often called “crystal,” “ice” or “glass,” crystal meth is created through a chemical purification process. The process removes impurities from the methamphetamine, making a potent and easy-to-use drug.
Crystal meth provides a euphoric high so intense that users can become obsessed with experiencing it over and over again. Binge use is common. Many crystal meth users continually abuse the drug over periods of days and even weeks while locked in a state of intoxication.
As they begin to come down, they often take more meth and continue to binge while simultaneously ignoring their hygiene and the need to eat, sleep and hydrate.
Binging is popular in party and club scenes. In some gay communities, men binge crystal meth for days or weeks, using the drug to fuel sexual encounters with partners. According to National Geographic, gay men who use meth have the highest risk of contracting HIV.
After binging for long periods of time, many people experience the most dangerous state of crystal meth use — tweaking. After not sleeping for days or even weeks, crystal meth users can become irritable and paranoid. The person craves more crystal meth but cannot reach their desired state of euphoria because prolonged binging has caused them to build a tolerance to the drug.
Because of this tolerance, meth users can become frustrated, unstable and unpredictable. Tweaking can make people behave dangerously and often causes them to react to situations violently.
Crystal meth causes an intense euphoric rush characterized by increased energy, alertness and sociability. This stimulant high is short-lasting. Crystal meth users feel a “crash” while coming down from the high, causing many people to go on a binge to maintain the rush and avoid the harsh comedown phase.
The drug is most commonly smoked out of a glass pipe but can also be snorted or dissolved in alcohol or water and injected using a needle.
Methamphetamine produces the mother of all dopamine releases. Something that’s about 12 times as much of a release of dopamine as you get from food and sex and other pleasurable activities.
Because crystal meth is so potent, those inexperienced with the drug have a high risk of using a dangerously large amount without knowing it.
Crystal meth and methamphetamine can also cause drug-induced psychosis among users. According to a 2006 study published in Australian Psychiatry, “psychosis resembling paranoid schizophrenia can occur with repeated or high-dose use of methamphetamine.”
In another study, researchers with the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales surveyed regular methamphetamine users for psychotic symptoms. They found that 13 percent of study participants screened positive for psychosis, and 23 percent had experienced symptoms commonly associated with psychosis in the past year.
Crystal meth users also report a side effect known as “meth mites,” “meth bugs” or “ice bugs,” which are hallucinations of bugs crawling under the skin. Many people who experience this side effect scratch or pick at their skin to get rid of the imaginary bugs, which is why crystal meth users frequently have lesions, scabs, cuts and bruises on their bodies.
Some methods of administration also come with additional risks. For injection drug users, the common practice of needle sharing places individuals at increased risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C.
Risk of overdose and death is also high with crystal meth use. Too much crystal meth can raise a person’s body temperature to a deadly level or cause a fatal heart attack or stroke.
In addition to immediate short-term side effects, crystal meth is linked to long-term health issues. Psychosis and physical deterioration are the most reported long-term side effects of crystal meth use. Damage to the brain, lungs, kidneys and liver occurs in many addicts.These conditions include, but are not limited to:
Long-term use of crystal meth can also lead to “meth mouth.” Meth mouth refers the deterioration of a crystal meth user’s teeth and oral health that occurs because meth reduces the amount of protective saliva around teeth, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The teeth of those with meth mouth turn brown and black, change to the texture of ripe fruit and often fall out of their mouths.
Long-term repeated use of crystal meth can also lead to addiction. Crystal meth is regarded as one of the most addictive illicit drugs available and can drive people toward a cycle of self-harm, poor health and a low quality of life.
Abusing crystal meth often leads to addiction. Repeated use of the drug causes the brain to develop a tolerance to the substance, which requires people to take larger and larger amounts of meth to get the same high. The “binge and crash” style of crystal meth use causes the body to become dependent on the drug and crave it constantly. These prolonged and recurring cravings to use crystal meth eventually become a crystal meth use disorder.
Crystal meth addiction can cause severe health conditions and leads to a low quality of life. It is also difficult to overcome because of the highly addictive nature of the substance.
Crystal meth abuse takes a noticeable toll on those who use it. As meth users continue to use the drug over time, their mental and physical health begin to deteriorate. Before-and-after photos of people with a crystal meth use disorder display the extreme impact of the drug.
Physical signs that indicate someone could be using crystal meth include:
Individuals with a crystal meth use disorder may appear years or even decades older than they are as a result of their drug abuse.
Certain behavioral cues could also indicate an individual is addicted to crystal meth. These signs include:
If you notice these signs or behaviors in an individual you should encourage them to seek help to address a crystal meth use disorder. It may be time for an intervention.
Methamphetamine is detectable in the body for a shorter period of time than some other drugs, such as benzodiazepines. The exact duration of methamphetamine in the body varies from person to person depending on a number of factors; however, it can usually be detected in the urine for one to three days after use.
Going through withdrawal can be dangerous for people who decide to quit taking crystal meth. The safest way to get through the process is under the supervision of rehab treatment professionals who are licensed to care for those with substance use disorders.
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Overcoming an addiction to crystal meth is not easy; it requires dedication and hard work. Trying to overcome a crystal meth use disorder without support makes the challenge even more daunting.
The success rate for people who try to end their addiction to crystal meth on their own is low. Rehab treatment provides the support and expertise of treatment professionals, which greatly increase the likelihood of success.
Rehab programs consist of multiple levels of treatment meant to guide individuals from the first step to sobriety and long-term recovery.
The first step to treating a crystal meth use disorder is the detox phase. The detox level of treatment refers to the treatment process used to rid the body of any methamphetamine that may be present.
Medical professionals supervise detox to ensure the process is completed safely and efficiently.
Withdrawal symptoms typically occur during the detox phase. While there is no FDA-approved medication to ease drug cravings or reduce withdrawal symptoms during methamphetamine detox, treatment professionals can make the process much easier and more comfortable.
According to a 2010 study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, withdrawal symptoms usually last one to two weeks, although cravings for methamphetamine may last up to five weeks after cessation of use.
Professionals can use a number of different therapy techniques to help people with a crystal meth use disorder reach recovery. The best treatment technique depends on the client’s specific needs.
Therapies used to treat crystal meth use disorder include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy: CBT teaches meth users to identify and correct behaviors that can trigger substance abuse by applying effective coping strategies to situations they may encounter in life. CBT is one of the most widely used therapy techniques for individuals in recovery.
Contingency management interventions: These therapy techniques are based on reinforcing positive behavior steps and offering rewards to incentivize and support an individual’s sobriety. Studies have shown incentive-based interventions are effective in increasing treatment retention and reinforcing sobriety, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The Matrix Model: The matrix model is an approach specific to rehab treatment for stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine. It teaches clients about issues critical to addiction and relapse. Clients also receive continued support from treatment professionals and familiarize themselves with self-help addiction programs. The model focuses on establishing a positive relationship between the client and therapist and reinforcing positive behaviors that promote recovery.
12-step facilitation therapy: This model is based on increasing the likelihood that an individual will become actively involved in 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous. The approach helps people find a community of others in recovery that can provide a prolonged support system after rehab treatment.
Treatment programs are designed and tailored to meet the individual needs of each client. The right treatment program can be determined through conversations between clients and their therapist.
A 2015 study by researchers at UCLA found that naltrexone — an FDA-approved medication for treating alcoholism — has shown promise for treating methamphetamine addiction. In a small group of patients addicted to meth, naltrexone significantly reduced cravings and the rewarding effects of the drug.
Another study by researchers at the University of Arkansas showed the potential of using gene therapy and antibody-based medications to prevent methamphetamine euphoria, which may help those in recovery stick with their recovery program. In the study, the therapy prevented meth-addicted mice from feeling the effects of the drug for 50 days.
While more research is needed to determine the effectiveness and validity of using medications to treat methamphetamine addiction, the results from these studies show great potential for such treatment methods.
Recovery from a methamphetamine use disorder does not end after rehab treatment. Aftercare and continued support are critical to ensuring an individual reaches recovery and maintains long-term sobriety. Those in recovery from crystal meth addiction face a high risk of relapse, but steps can be taken to lower the risk.
Sober housing is a safe environment for those in recovery. Sober living facilities also assist in the transition from rehab treatment back to daily life.
Additionally, support groups such Narcotics Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous and other local support organizations offer a community of support for people in recovery.
Addiction to crystal meth is dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Rehab treatment is the most effective way to reach recovery. The key to ending addiction starts with treatment. The key to long-term recovery is continued support.