Crystal Meth Addiction and Abuse
Is crystal meth addictive? Yes. Crystal meth is a highly addictive drug. People have been known to say that it takes over your brain’s pleasure pathway due to its potently reinforcing and rewarding effects. However, with treatment and support, you can recover from any addiction, even an addiction to crystal meth.
Methamphetamine is an extremely powerful central nervous system stimulant.1 Methamphetamine is part of the amphetamine drug class and was first developed in the early 20th century for use in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. Although both amphetamines and methamphetamine can lead to increased activity, talkativeness, decreased appetite, and a pleasurable euphoria, methamphetamine has relatively more intense and longer-lasting effects in the brain.2
Some illicitly manufactured methamphetamine is also known as crystal meth—a form of the drug that can look like shiny fragments of glassy, bluish-white rocks.3
This article will review how crystal meth affects the brain and body, the signs and symptoms of crystal meth use and addiction, and how you can get treatment and start the process of recovery.
What Is Crystal Meth?
In its various forms, methamphetamine may be encountered as a crystalline solid, a powder, and sometimes in pill form.3 Crystal meth can look like shiny glass fragments or shiny blue rocks.3 Common street names for crystal meth include:3
Methamphetamine can be swallowed if in pill form or can be snorted, injected, or smoked if in powder form.3 When consumed, crystal meth enhances reward signaling in the brain, particularly through increased activity of the feel-good hormone dopamine.1
As a stimulant, people may feel more alert and physically active after taking it. They can also get a feeling of joy, or a feeling of being in control, more self-confident, and sociable.2 Methamphetamines and their parent class of drug, amphetamines, are highly addictive drugs; problematic use of these drugs may increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD)—in this instance, a stimulant use disorder.
A stimulant use disorder, or addiction, may involve the compulsive or uncontrollable use of methamphetamine to get high, regardless of the negative health effects or problems that using it may cause at work, school, home, or with social relationships.4 As use continues, tolerance can build, which means that you need more and more methamphetamine to create the same high feeling you used to get. People can easily become dependent on methamphetamine and may feel that they cannot function throughout their daily life without it.5 Methamphetamine dependence can make it increasingly difficult to stop, since you may also experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when the drug is no longer in your body.5
Crystal Meth Facts and Statistics
Data from the 2015–2018 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health show that approximately 1.6 million adults reported having used methamphetamine each year in the United States, with such use being more prevalent in the western United States.6 That is about 0.6% of the US population. Out of those 1.6 million people, roughly 22% injected methamphetamine and more than half of them met diagnostic criteria for methamphetamine use disorder.6
A concerning finding of the report was the high rate of co-occurring mental illness and polysubstance abuse among the adults using methamphetamine.6 CDC data indicates that between 2007 and 2017 the nationwide overdose death rate from methamphetamine increased 7.5 times, with 50% of those deaths also involving the use of opioids.7
Crystal Meth Side Effects
Crystal meth use, even in small amounts, can have significant and sometimes dangerous health effects. With short-term use of crystal meth, people can experience:8
- Diminished appetite.
- Fast heart rate.
- Irregular heart rhythms.
- Rapid breathing.
- Elevated body temperature.
Long-term use and abuse of crystal meth can have profoundly adverse effects on your body and brain. Crystal meth has been shown to affect brain cells that normally function to protect your neurons (i.e., microglia).9 When these cells are overactive, they can damage healthy neurons, the brain cells that carry signals and messages in your brain. Over time, these cumulative toxic effects can impact memory, learning, and behavior (though such effects may be somewhat reversible with abstinence). 9
You may also become addicted to this drug and suffer many other long-term side effects including:9
- Problems with learning.
- Problems performing tasks that require motor skills.
- Increased distractibility.
- Severe tooth decay and even tooth loss (sometimes referred to as “meth mouth.”)
- Severe weight loss and malnutrition.
- Changes in skin from picking and scratching.
- Psychosis, including paranoia and hallucinations.
Is Crystal Meth Addictive?
Crystal meth is a highly addictive drug because it has profound effects on the brain’s reward pathway. The feel-good chemical in the brain that works to signal the brain’s release of feelings of reward and joy is called dopamine.10 When a person uses a stimulant like crystal meth, the levels of active dopamine rise, making the person feel a rush and sense of reward when using this drug.
Methamphetamine is much more potent and has a greater effect on the brain than other amphetamines, which is one of the reasons why it is more addictive. Over time, methamphetamine users may experience significant changes to their dopamine pathways.10 Neurons may begin to release less dopamine and the receptors that respond to dopamine also decrease, meaning that more dopamine is needed to generate a similar effect of euphoria than would have been needed previously.10
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Signs of Meth Addiction
When you are unable to control your use of crystal meth and you need crystal meth to get through your daily life, you have become addicted to it. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition provides the criteria that physician’s use to diagnose mental health disorders. To be diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD), an individual must meet at least 2 of the following criteria within a 12-month period:11
- Meth is taken in larger amounts over a longer period than intended.
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control meth use.
- There is a large amount of time spent obtaining meth, using it, or recovering from its effects.
- Having cravings, or a strong desire or urge to use meth.
- Recurrent meth use resulting in failure to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home.
- Continued meth use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened by drug use.
- Important social, work-related, or recreational activities given up due to meth use.
- Recurrent meth use in situations where it is dangerous.
- Continuing use despite knowing that a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem is caused or worsened by meth use.
- Needing more meth to achieve the previous effect, known as tolerance.
- Experiencing any of the withdrawal symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, tearing, diarrhea, yawning, and insomnia.
Crystal Meth Addiction Treatment
Trying to stop using crystal meth once you have developed an addiction, or methamphetamine use disorder, can be exceedingly difficult. But with the right form of therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), along with family education, counseling, and 12-step support groups, you can attain recovery.12 Remember, effective treatment focuses on the person, not just on their drug abuse.
A wide variety of treatment options are available for crystal meth addiction throughout the U.S., including private rehab and local treatment programs. It is important to remember that crystal meth abuse is sometimes linked to other mental health conditions. Should this apply to you, it is important to find a treatment center that can work with co-occurring disorders when you are being treated for an SUD and a mental health illness.12
Unlike with certain other drugs, there are no approved medications to treat meth addiction. However, there are behavioral therapies that will help you as you work toward recovery. The evidence-based therapies for treating a stimulant use disorder include the following:13
- Motivational Interviewing (MI): This a treatment approach that helps individuals address ambivalence they are feeling. The goal with MI is to address ambivalent feelings and insecurities so that they can be overcome, and the individual can begin to change their behavior.
- Contingency Management (CM): This is a behavioral therapy treatment approach focused on operant condition, which is a method of learning where desired behaviors are reinforced with rewards, including privileges, prizes, and money.
- Community Reinforcement Approach (CRA): This is a treatment approach that aims to identify behaviors that reinforce stimulant use and make a substance-free lifestyle more appealing and rewarding than the one that involves drug abuse.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is a treatment approach that focuses on short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that allows patients to understand their current experiences, challenges, and problems so that they can change their behaviors and patterns of thinking. It assists individuals with developing accurate evaluations of situations and their feelings so that they can develop coping strategies.
You will need to be in treatment for an adequate amount of time that is appropriate for your unique needs. Living in recovery can be a lifelong process, but you do not have to do it alone.
Find Out If Your Insurance Plan Covers Crystal Meth Rehab
American Addiction Centers (AAC) provides comprehensive rehabilitation services for those seeking recovery from addiction and substance abuse, including crystal meth abuse and SUD. To find out if your insurance covers treatment at an AAC facility, click here or fill out the form below. Your information is kept 100% confidential.
- Yasaei, R. & Saadabadi, A. (2020). StatPearls: Methamphetamine. Treasure Island (FL).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine research report.
- National Drug Intelligence Center. (n.d.). Crystal methamphetamine fast facts.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021). MedlinePlus: Substance use disorder.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2020). MedlinePlus: Substance use – amphetamines.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Patterns and characteristics of methamphetamine use among adults – United States, 2015–2018.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine research report. What is the scope of methamphetamine misuse in the United States?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine research report. What are the immediate (short-term) effects of methamphetamine misuse?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine research report. What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine misuse?
- Ashok, A. H., Mizuno, Y., Volkow, N. D., & Howes, O. D. (2017). Association of stimulant use with dopaminergic alterations in users of cocaine, amphetamine, or methamphetamine: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 74(5), 511–519.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide: Principles of Effective Treatment.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Treatment of Stimulant Use Disorders. SAMHSA Publication No. PEP20-06-01-001 Rockville, MD: National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2020.