Crystal meth is a highly addictive stimulant drug that impacts the central nervous system. Short for “crystal methamphetamine,” crystal meth is a form of methamphetamine that is created in homes and labs across the world. The ingredients of crystal meth are found in most households and over-the-counter products, including pseudoephedrine in cold medications, anhydrous ammonia found in agricultural fertilizer and industrial refrigerant, and red phosphorus found in matches.1 Because methamphetamine drugs are easy to make, it makes the production and distribution of the drug difficult to control.
Crystal Meth Basics
Crystal meth addiction happens quickly, and patients often degenerate at a horrifying pace while in the grip of this drug.
Some of the most outwardly visible symptoms of meth use include:
- Extreme weight loss
- Skin problems
- Poor oral health
Usually in the form of a crystallized white or clear powder, it is commonly referred to as crystal, speed, crank, methamphetamine, ice, meth and glass. Those struggling with addiction to the drug, snort it in lines like cocaine, smoke it, or dissolve and inject it like heroin.
The effects of crystal meth are long-lasting and powerful. A single dose can remain in the user’s system for up to 12 hours, though in most individuals, cravings kick in before that time. This compels the user to take more and more of the drug, often staying up for days at a time.
Under the influence of crystal meth, a person may experience the following:
- Increased energy
- Higher metabolism
- Reduced appetite
- Intensity of focus on detailed tasks
- Brief euphoria.
As the drug wears off, good feelings change quickly to irritability, paranoia, and depression.
Signs of Crystal Meth Addiction
The signs of crystal meth addiction are apparent within weeks of regular abuse. Those addicted to the drug lose muscle mass and are often dehydrated and malnourished. Because the skin quickly reflects a lack of vitamins and minerals in the body, most crystal meth addicts have slack skin with dark circles under their eyes.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, other common signs of crystal meth abuse include:
- Bruised or “picked” face with scabs
- Dried skin
- Compulsive itching of the scalp
- Rotting teeth
- Occasional violent outburst or bouts of anger
- A tendency to disassemble and reassemble or sort objects
- Large sores on the skin, most noticeably the arms
- Mouth sores2
In addition to these huge physical changes, if your loved one is using crystal meth you may also notice she is not sleeping and suffers from extreme mood swings and paranoia. When the drug wears off, your loved one may also seem depressed and stay in bed for days at a time.
What Makes Crystal Meth So Dangerous?
Although those who struggle with crystal meth addiction deal with many of the same issues as those addicted to other drugs, they also face a number of unique health challenges.
- Increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. According to the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, those living with an active addiction to crystal meth are 76 percent more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than the rest of the population.
- Toxic gas exposure. Meth labs are found in urban apartments, suburban homes, rural buildings, abandoned buildings, motel rooms, and cars. The chemical released from cooking meth are toxic and illness-inducing to anyone who comes in contact with them.
- Prolonged cravings. Those who use crystal meth report having a relatively easy time avoiding the drug for six to nine months after rehab only to then be hit hard with cravings. This makes long-term treatment a necessity and a strong support system crucial to avoid relapse.
- Suicide and suicide attempts. Depression is a significant issue among those “coming down” after a crystal meth binge. Many report suicidal thoughts or attempts during the period after the drug wears off.
- Increased risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis B and C. Crystal meth addicts have a higher chance of contracting HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C whether or not they inject the drug. Sharing contaminated needles is the primary cause but decreased inhibitions and poor judgment under the influence can lead people to decisions that ultimately result in their contraction of these viruses.
- Decreased sexual function. Though many patients report using crystal meth to enhance their sexual experience, long-term crystal meth abuse may actually decrease sexual function in men.
Crystal Meth and the LGBTQ Community
Crystal meth use continues to be a significant issue in the LGBTQ community. The drug lowers inhibitions and increases energy and sexual desire, leading to an increased risk for transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. According to the CDC’s National HIV Behavior Surveillance Report, a tool that’s been used since 2003 to study the behaviors of those at high risk for developing HIV, meth use among young gay men in cities with high LGBTQ community populations has more than doubled since the all-time low reached in 2011.3 The study found that crystal meth use increased this risk because gay men were more likely to engage in riskier sex practices while under the influence of the drug.
Pregnancy and Crystal Meth
Prenatal exposure to crystal meth can mean serious consequences for an unborn baby. Premature delivery, abnormalities in the heart, abnormalities in brain development and function, lower birth weight and placental abruption may all be connected to a mother’s abuse of crystal meth.4 But crystal meth use isn’t limited to low-income, inner-city women. Overwhelmed with the care of a household, including volunteering at school, driving to extracurricular activities and working outside of the home, suburban women abuse the drug to regain energy, lose weight and stay focused. The result is mothers who neglect their children and experience mood swings, health problems, and addiction issues that are impossible to conquer without treatment.
Crystal Meth Overdose
According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, a crystal meth overdose can come on suddenly or happen as a result of long-term abuse.
Signs of an overdose include:
- Chest pain
- Heart attack
- Difficulty breathing
- Intense stomach pain
- Kidney failure
- Heart failure5
There is a high risk of an accidental overdose after addiction recovery has begun due to the intense cravings produced by crystal meth. After an initial detox from the drug, the body is no longer accustomed to previous levels of meth use. Returning to the old dose during relapse after sustained recovery can result in accidental overdose and death.
Help for Meth Dependency at Michael’s House
If you or someone you love is fighting crystal meth addiction, we are here for you. Michael’s House offers comprehensive medical and psychotherapeutic care as well as ongoing sober living and support for those struggling with addiction. Admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions about treatment options. Call us today at 760.548.4032.
1“What is methamphetamine?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA, Sept. 2013. Accessed, 25 Oct. 2017.
2“Methamphetamine.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA, Feb. 2017. Accessed, 25 Oct. 2017.
3“HIV/AIDS.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, 6 June 2017. Accessed, 25 Oct. 2017.
4 Schmidt, Lisa. “What Are the Effects of Crystal Meth on Pregnancy?” LoveToKnow, LoveToKnow Corp. Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.
5“Methamphetamine overdose.” MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Accessed, 25 Oct. 2017.