Methamphetamine has existed since the late 1800s, but many non-users will recognize this illicit drug from the fictional show Breaking Bad. While the show itself is fiction, the disastrous impact of methamphetamine abuse and addiction is not that far from reality.
Continue reading to learn more about crystal meth and how it works, the dangers of crystal meth use, and how to get help for yourself or a loved one with a crystal meth addiction.
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What Is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine is a potent, highly addictive Schedule II stimulant drug. Regular meth appears as a powder, while crystal meth looks like broken glass or blue crystals (hence the name).
Other names for illegal methamphetamine include:
- Crystal meth
- Poor Man’s Cocaine
Illicit methamphetamine is taken by smoking, snorting, swallowing, or injecting it, and it is often abused for its stimulant properties.
Methamphetamine use affects the central nervous system by flooding your neurotransmitters with the brain’s reward chemical, dopamine.
What Is the Difference Between Prescription Meth and Crystal Meth?
Methamphetamine was initially developed in the 20th century from the drug amphetamine and was used to help WWII soldiers stay awake. Later, methamphetamine was prescribed for depression and weight loss.
Currently, only one methamphetamine medication (Desoxyn®) is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is sometimes—but rarely—used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Alternatively, most meth out on the street today results from illegal crystal meth production.
Crystal meth is made illegally in clandestine hideouts, or “meth labs.” The production of crystal meth is dangerous due to the chemicals involved in the process, which contaminate the surrounding area and sometimes result in large explosions.
Side Effects of Methamphetamine Use
Methamphetamine abuse can result in several serious and even life-threatening side effects.
Not only are meth users at risk for dangerous short-term effects, but the long-term effects of meth abuse can also cause irreparable damage to the brain and other organs.
Abusing meth can cause the following short-term effects:
- Anxiety or paranoia
- Compulsive scratching
- Weight loss
- Increased wakefulness
- Raised body temperature
- High blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
Prolonged meth abuse can also cause several long-term effects, including substance use disorder.
Additional long-term side effects of meth use include:
- Liver damage
- Cardiovascular problems (e.g., irregular heartbeat, heart attack, stroke, etc.)
- Memory loss
- Acne or sores
- Extreme weight loss
- Tooth decay (i.e., meth mouth)
- Nerve damage
- Decreased immunity
- Violent behavior
- Psychosis (including hallucinations, mood swings, paranoia, aggression, and delusions)
- Increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis through risky behavior
- Long-term mental illness or permanent damage to the brain
Researchers are currently examining the possible relationship between methamphetamine and serotonin, which may explain why some meth users experience such severe aggression and psychosis.
Long-term mental health effects from prolonged meth use are common, and some individuals may never recover from the lasting damage to their brains. For instance, some research indicates meth users are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
Seeking treatment for meth addiction as soon as possible is critical for a meth addict’s long-term health and well-being.
Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction
Methamphetamine and crystal meth are highly addictive.
When abused, meth gives the user euphoria as dopamine levels spike in the brain. This high is what makes methamphetamine users so prone to developing drug addiction rather quickly.
Some meth users intentionally combine meth with other drugs, while other meth users are unaware that their crystal meth contains other substances.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that opioids (mainly fentanyl) are sometimes mixed into meth without the user’s knowledge. As a result, opioid overdose deaths have increased significantly since 2016.
Because meth use takes a significant toll on the body, a user should seek help for addiction as soon as possible.
A methamphetamine overdose can also cause deadly health complications like heart attack, stroke, or organ failure.
Even if the victim survives the overdose, they can still face permanent physical consequences afterward, such as loss of coordination and muscle function after a stroke.
If you suspect someone is experiencing a meth overdose, call 911 immediately and stay with the victim until help arrives.
Signs of a meth overdose can include:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Violent behavior
- Kidney failure (e.g., trouble urinating, urine is very dark)
A meth overdose can happen even if the person hasn’t taken a large dose because meth builds up in your system over time.
And because crystal meth production varies, someone can accidentally overdose even if they’ve had meth before.
When someone becomes addicted to meth, they may experience meth withdrawals if they quit the drug.
Some meth withdrawal symptoms include:
- Intense cravings for the drug
- Severe depression
- Psychosis (can last up to a year)
Detoxing from meth can be unpleasant and even dangerous without medical support. People addicted to meth are strongly encouraged to seek professional treatment when quitting meth use.
Meth Addiction Statistics
- The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicates that about 1.6 million Americans used meth within the past year; 774,000 people claimed to have used meth within the past month.
- Since 2015, the number of drug overdoses involving methamphetamine has tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- In 2017, roughly 15% of all drug overdose deaths were meth-related—and 50% of those deaths also involved a synthetic opioid (such as fentanyl).
- In September 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a public safety warning due to a sharp increase in counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and meth, resulting in more overdoses and deaths.
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that methamphetamine use is most prevalent among middle-aged white people.
Methamphetamine Addiction Treatment
Meth addiction is a treatable disorder, and several effective treatment options exist for people ready to quit. The most effective treatment for methamphetamine addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy.
In addition, you may opt to sign up for an inpatient or an outpatient treatment program. Both rehab options will include strong mental health support through various types of therapy.
There are currently no approved medications to assist with methamphetamine addiction but research in this area is ongoing.
Choosing the right meth addiction rehab program for you will depend on your length and level of substance abuse. You can work with a doctor or other health care provider to determine which type of treatment will be the best for you and your recovery.
Loved Ones of Meth Addicts Need Support Too
Watching a loved one struggle with a methamphetamine addiction can seriously impact your mental health.
The physical toll that meth use can take on the addict’s body can be severe, and as a family member or loved one, this can be traumatic. It may also place the responsibility of caring for an addict who has suffered long-term or permanent health problems due to their addiction.
Crystal Meth Anonymous offers an in-depth guide for friends and loved ones of meth addicts (whether the addicted person is currently seeking treatment or not), including a unique forum just for the loved ones of crystal meth addicts.
Remember that meth addiction is a treatable disorder, and sometimes the best thing you can do for an addict is provide them with factual information about their drug use and the available help.
Find a Meth Addiction Treatment Center Near You
Whether you are searching for yourself or a loved one, you can find local treatment centers for meth addiction through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) program locator—
- By phone: 1-800-662-4357
- Online: https://findtreatment.gov/
You can also find support through groups like Crystal Meth Anonymous, which offers free in-person and online meetings plus additional tools to help you face your addiction and learn to live a healthy life without the need for methamphetamine.
Frequently Asked Questions About Meth Addiction
How long does meth stay in your system?
Mostly, people will expel 70% of the methamphetamine from their bodies in the first 24 hours after use. However, meth can appear in tests for a week or more after use.
Additionally, meth has a compounding effect, which means taking a second dose even days later can lead to an overdose even if you have taken meth before.
Why is crystal meth so addictive?
Meth is exceptionally potent and works quickly to stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain, making the user feel euphoric. As a result, meth users get high quickly, and the dopamine rush manipulates the user into wanting more because it feels good.
What chemicals are used to make meth?
Many different chemicals can be used in meth production, including:
- Ephedrine from over-the-counter cold medications
- Drain cleaner
- Lithium metal
- Hydrochloric acid
- Gun cleaner
- Paint thinner
Why do people use methamphetamine?
Generally speaking, people use methamphetamine for its stimulant properties. Meth use can produce feelings of energy and euphoria, making it seem appealing for its short-term benefits.
What is the difference between amphetamine and methamphetamine?
Amphetamine is a stimulant designed to speed up the brain’s communication. It is often used to treat ADHD (Adderall) and is sometimes prescribed for narcolepsy or weight loss.
Methamphetamine was initially derived from amphetamine and used to keep soldiers awake during WWII. While methamphetamine does have one FDA-approved prescription form, most methamphetamine today is illegally produced and distributed.
What are the side effects of meth addiction?
Meth addiction can include moderate to severe and even permanent side effects, ranging from increased blood pressure, high body temperatures, dizziness, and fatigue to extreme weight loss, rotted teeth, heart attack, stroke, homicidal or suicidal thoughts or behaviors, organ failure, psychosis, delusions, seizures, and death.
What treatments are used for meth addicts in recovery?
Meth affects the body physically and can alter the brain’s natural chemicals even after an addict stops using.
The most effective treatment for meth addiction recovery is behavioral therapy, focusing on abstaining from meth use even when triggered by stress.