What is Crystal Meth?

Crystal meth is a form of methamphetamine that is often referred to as “ice” or “glass” because of its physical appearance as a blue or semi-transparent crystal. It is a highly addictive substance because even those who try it can easily become addicted to it. There is absolutely no medical use for this drug as it is used mainly for its effects. It creates a sense of euphoric happiness and energy, while at the same time decreasing appetite and the need for sleep.

Crystal meth pipe
Crystal meth pipe

People are often introduced to this illegal substance as a “club drug” at raves or nightclubs. This drug is highly potent and very dangerous and is effectively a poison that may stimulate at first, but then gets to work on destroying the body. Indeed, it can lead to very serious health consequences, including brain damage, heart problems, psychotic behavior, aggression, and memory loss.

Unfortunately, meth addiction is also very difficult to treat because the drug has such a strong grip on users. Although statistics on the number of meth addicts and the number of emergency room visits due to meth are dropping, they continue to be high. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the number of people who experienced a meth overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

“Drug overdose deaths involving psycho-stimulants with abuse potential, which include drugs such as methamphetamine, increased from 5% in 2010 to 11% in 2015.”

A Global Epidemic

Unfortunately, the problem with methamphetamine is one that doesn’t just affect this country but, in fact, the entire world. This was reported on by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) such as ecstasy and methamphetamine as the world’s second most widely used type of drug after cannabis. Offering the most comprehensive and current analysis of the situation, the 2011 Global ATS Assessment notes that the expansion of the drug’s trade and the high criminal profits pose an increasing threat to security and health worldwide.”

Usage Statistics

Other crystal meth statistics have been provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and various other agencies. They indicated that:

  • 13 million people over the age of 12 in this country have used meth at least once.
  • 529,000 people in this country are regular meth users.
  • 5% of high school seniors have used meth at least once.
  • 1% of 10th grade students have used meth at least once.
  • By 2006, 9% of all rehab admissions were related to meth, a tripling since 1996.
  • There is a significant geographical disparity in terms of meth use, with states such as Ohio and Hawaii having above-average statistics.

The Harmful Effects of Meth

Meth has very significant long and short-term effects on a person’s health. The short-term effects include:

  • Increased body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Dilated pupils
  • Bizarre behavior, possibly violent
  • Nausea
  • Psychosis and hallucinations
  • Panic
  • Convulsions
  • Overdose

The long-term effects include:

  • Addiction
  • Permanent cardiovascular damage
  • Organ damage
  • Tissue damage
  • Breathing problems
  • Infectious diseases
  • Malnutrition
  • Confusion
  • Tooth decay
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Brain damaged

Stages of Meth Use

Meth users go through seven distinct stages, although different people go through these stages at different speeds.

  1. The rush, which is the initial reaction to the drug. This can last around half an hour.
  2. The high, also known as “the shoulder”. This can last between four and 16 hours.
  3. The binge, whereby the high starts to drop causing users to seek more meth. This can last between three and 15 days. Physical and mental hyperactivity is common during this time.
  4. Tweaking, which happens when people can no longer experience the rush or high. This is also the time when users are most dangerous. People lose their sense of identity and experience itching, described as a sensation of bugs crawling under the skin. At the tweaking stage, most users are psychotic and at risk of harming themselves and others.
  5. The crash, which is when the body shuts down and the user becomes lifeless and sleeps a lot. This usually lasts between one and three days.
  6. The meth hangover, when users are emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted, dehydrated, and starved.
  7. Withdrawal, which can take between 30 and 90 days to manifest itself properly. Withdrawal is difficult and painful, and 93% of those going through traditional withdrawal will relapse.

Stages of Addiction

Just as there are stages of using meth, there are also stages of addiction. The earlier the addiction is addressed, the better the chances of users achieving permanent sobriety. The stages are:

  1. Low-intensity, whereby meth is snorted or swallowed to obtain some extra energy for a specific task, or to lose weight.
  2. Binge, whereby meth is injected or snorted to have a more intense high. Psychological addiction has taken hold here.
  3. High-intensity, also known as “speed freaks”, where users are focused solely on preventing a crash.

Meth Treatment

Someone who requires treatment for meth abuse or addiction must first go through detox to rid the body of the accumulated toxins. This should be done in a medically supervise environment because this process is so difficult and painful. Afterwards, users can receive various forms of treatment, including:

  • The Matrix Model substance abuse therapy
  • CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)
  • Support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous
  • CM (contingency management)
  • Outpatient support
  • Residential treatment

The two key treatment options at present for any type of addiction are therapy and pharmacology. Unfortunately, no medication is currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of meth addiction. However, NIDA is currently researching potential medications that could be of benefit, see their report What Treatments Are Effective Methamphetamine Abusers.

“One approach being tried is to target the activity of glial cells. A drug called AV411 (ibudilast) that suppresses the neuroinflammatory actions of glial cells has been shown to inhibit methamphetamine self administration in rats and is now being fast-tracked in clinical trials to establish its safety and effectiveness in humans with methamphetamine addiction.”

As such, behavioral therapy is the type of treatment for meth addiction. The three treatments that have been shown to be particularly effective are:

  1. CBT, whereby people learn to understand their triggers and find new ways to respond to them instead of using meth. They learn how to exhibit healthy responses when there is a risk of drug activity happening.
  2. The Matrix Model, which is an intensive 16-week program whereby people receive group counseling, individual counseling, behavioral therapy, family education, 12-step support, motivation, and drug testing.
  3. CM, whereby people are provided with incentives in return for abstinence and participation in treatment. The MIEDAR (Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery) has proven to be particularly successful.

The SAMSHA recommends that residential treatment be offered to those with severe addictions.

There are various treatment options for methamphetamine users. These include inpatient hospitalization for severe cases of long-term methamphetamine dependence. Anglin and colleagues suggest that the optimum treatment for methamphetamine users is an intensive outpatient setting where the client receives comprehensive counseling three to five times per week for at least the first three months.”

With all forms of treatment, it is vital that it is designed for the particular needs of the individual with the addiction. This is particularly true for crystal meth, where it is common for people to experience certain mental and physical health conditions as a result of their behavior.

There is always hope

Crystal meth users can turn their lives around

In spite of the grim statistics of crystal meth use, addiction and overdose, and the debilitating affects on the body, addicts and users can and do stop using.  Those who reach out for assistance, treatment and guidance stand the best chance of recovery.  If you or a loved one is caught up in drug use please reach out and get help.  Our hotline is answered 24/7 by people who understand, so you can call us anytime. You could begin turning your life around today. Call someone now.  877-794-9934

Learn more about treatment options in our special report Crystal Meth Treatment.