What Happens When You Use Crystal Meth?
Known on the streets as Crank, Ice, Crystal, Glass, and Chalk, Methamphetamine is a white powder that, when made into crystals, is referred to as Crystal Meth. In its powder form, meth can be snorted up the nose; when in crystal form, meth is usually smoked through a glass pipe.
Methamphetamine is used in a number of medically prescribed drugs (e.g., ADHD medications) and is classified as a Schedule II drug through the United States Controlled Substances Act. This classification identifies methamphetamine as a highly addictive drug with the potential for abuse. In its illicit form, crystal meth is an intense central nervous system stimulant that has no medical applications and is used recreationally for users to experience a high.
Per the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, worldwide production of amphetamine stimulants (including crystal meth) averages 500 metric tons per year, with 24.7 million people abusing the drug. In the United States, an estimate of 13 million people have used meth and nearly half a million are frequent crystal meth abusers. Admissions into drug treatment programs for crystal meth addiction have tripled in recent years and the drug is often taken in conjunction with other drugs and/or alcohol.
Per data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), illicit methamphetamine use accounted for over 13% of emergency room visits. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.4% of the population (ages 26 and older) uses methamphetamine. The RAND Corporation reported in 2009 that methamphetamine abuse cost the United States $23.4 billion dollars in 2005. The average age of meth users is 19.7. Twice as many men than women abuse crystal meth. On a positive note, methamphetamine drug use among middle and high-school aged children has been on a steady decrease in recent years.
Symptoms of Crystal Meth Use
Crystal meth, as mentioned above, is normally ingested through smoking the drug through a glass pipe. Though, it can also be injected. Crystal meth, as by its methamphetamine definition, is a stimulant. As such, when crystal meth addicts abuse this drug, you can spot their hyperactivity. Drug use is also marked by frequent changes in mood – though at high intensities. Such that meth abusers might be overly excited one minute and then get violently angry the next. Crystal meth addiction also causes paranoia and beliefs that others are out to get them. Some meth addicts consider or try suicide to escape these feelings.
Crystal meth addicts are seeking the initial euphoric high when the drug enters their body. Unfortunately, as the addiction grows, the amount of crystal meth to achieve that same high increases as well. The initial rush of euphoria tapers off into a longer period of euphoria, though the intensity of this longer form is not as intense as the initial rush. One of the most lethal problems with repeated crystal meth drug abuse is that a number of caustic chemicals are used to manufacture crystal meth. Repeated ingestion of these caustic chemicals have serious detrimental effects on the health of a drug addict’s body. The other troubling effect of crystal meth addiction is that crystal meth is highly addictive. Making it very difficult for meth abusers to break the cycle of use. Their body craves the drug and is not satisfied until it gets more.
- High body temperatures – increasing your body temperature so much that you might even pass out
- Severe itching – leading to meth addicts to scratch their skin repeatedly, leading to open sores
- “Meth Mouth” – characteristic of broken teeth and dry mouth
- Thinning body – due to meth addicts not eating well/poor nutrition
- Facial acne or facial sores
- Liver damage
- Dilated pupils
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Heavy sweating
- Unpredictable behavior
- Digestive issues – nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Bad breath
- Uncontrollable jaw clenching
- Lowered immunity – more susceptible to infectious diseases (e.g., HIV)
- Increased libido
- Insomnia – caused by something called “tweaking” – essentially going on crystal meth binges – such that you stay at an inflated sense of euphoria/hyperactivity for a prolonged period
- Rapid eye movements
- Talking fast or excitedly, making no sense – jumping from conversation to conversation
- Cardiac arrest
- Death (due to heart attacks, overdose)
Meth abuse also leads to psychological symptoms when users abuse the drug. Psychologically, the effects of crystal meth on the brain are potent. The euphoric high associated with crystal meth use is caused by the increase in dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is tied to the brain’s “reward system” – which is why drugs in general that affect the reward system in the brain are classified as severely addictive. Your brain craves that reward and thus ensues the cyclical nature of drug use and drug abuse. However, dopamine is also associated with your brain’s memory and learning functionalities. Psychologically, repeated abuse of crystal meth can lead to:
- Memory problems
- Inability to learn new skills
- Impaired visual memory
- Psychosis – delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia
- Scratching related to psychosis – e.g., thinking that bugs are crawling on the skin
Important to note with crystal meth addicts is that the drug increases libido and lowers inhibitions. Which leads to risky sexual behavior – such that drug abusers are more likely to engage in unsafe sex. Additionally, with some crystal meth addicts uses syringes to inject the drug into their blood stream, the increased risk of using dirty needles also increases the addict’s exposure to disease.
Crystal Meth Treatment Facilities
Because crystal meth is highly addictive, treatment interventions are almost always necessary to break addicts from engaging in additional drug abuse activities. Though treatment for crystal meth takes many forms, the first step to the recovery process is detoxification. Detox should be done under the supervision of medical staff. Because the withdrawal from crystal meth can be intense, the relapse rate during this period of recovery is high. Withdrawal symptoms are acutely painful and unpleasant and those individuals undergoing the detox process are seeking relief from the profound symptoms of withdrawal. One way to get rid of the withdrawal symptoms is to take crystal meth, the exact opposite of what needs to happen. Detoxification from crystal meth usually takes about 5 days.
Rehabilitation and recovery from crystal meth addiction occurs in either an outpatient facility or an inpatient facility. And, it’s important to note the continuum of care. It’s not just a quick visit to a facility and the addict is cured. It can be a lifelong process of recovery. Outpatient treatment centers allow the crystal meth addict to receive medications and also receive counseling, with the ability to leave the rehab center and recover from home. That is, the patient has the control to continue living their daily lives at home. Crystal meth abusers who can handle this amount of control and environmental triggers do best in outpatient treatment facilities. Inpatient treatment centers are facilities where crystal meth addicts receive treatment onsite. They live at these facilities and attend daily counseling sessions to address their addiction problems. Individuals with severe crystal meth addiction usually do best in inpatient facilities because they receive round the clock care and are not in contact with environmental triggers and outside influences that might drive them back to drug use.
There are two types of treatment options for recovering addicts: medication and counseling therapy.
Medication Treatment for Recovery
Pharmaceutical treatment of crystal meth addiction is usually administered to treat underlying effects of the drug addiction disease. This can include treatment for resultant depression or anxiety because of crystal meth use. Psychotic effects of crystal meth abuse can also be treated through benzodiazepine medications, such as Valium. Hyperactivity and agitation can be controlled through dopamine blockers such as haloperidol.
Counseling Therapy for Recovery
Both inpatient and outpatient rehab and treatment centers focus on counseling or therapy for crystal meth recovery. Currently, there are three main types of counseling therapy for recovering addicts:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – focused on examining why crystal meth addicts use the drug, environmental triggers, and skills needed to change drug addiction behaviors. Treatment through this method will focus on learning new ways to cope from the desire to engage in drug use.
- Contingency Management – this is a reward-based therapy management process where addicts receive rewards and positive reinforcement for making good strides in treatment programs. This could involve receiving some type of reward for passing a drug test.
- The Matrix Model – this is a 16-week program that uses multiple treatment methods to rehabilitate crystal meth addicts. This method uses counseling therapy, a 12-step program for addicts, and drug education, and both individual and group therapy.
Finding a Crystal Meth Treatment Center
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) suggests that inpatient facilities are best for severe crystal meth addicts. Outpatient treatment and recovery rehab centers are optimized when patients attend 3-5 sessions per week over a course of at least three months.
It can’t be stressed enough that rehabilitation from crystal meth is not an overnight process. Rather, it is a lifelong process and may have to be adjusted at times depending on the current state of the recovering addict. It’s not uncommon for drug users to relapse. Though, this is not considered a failure in addiction treatment centers. Rather, a notification that treatment and recovery programs may need to be altered to best suit the individual. Recovery from crystal meth can be a lifelong process of learning and readjusting one’s life to avoid triggers and to respond appropriately to environmental stressors to live a healthy life free from crystal meth use.