Crystal Meth: Side Effects, Addiction Symptoms & Risks

Crystal meth is one of the most addictive and dangerous drugs in the world. It is made and purchased illegally, so it's often impure and filled with additional harmful substances.
Evidence Based
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What is Crystal Meth?

Crystal meth is the name commonly used for methamphetamine or ‘meth,’ a powerful stimulant drug. Meth is a form of methamphetamine that has a glass or rock-like appearance. The drug has similar effects as prescription amphetamines that are used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and sleep disorders.

Common street names for crystal meth include:

  • Ice
  • Speed
  • Meth
  • Crystal
  • Blue

Although it mimics legally prescribed medication, methamphetamine is very rarely used for medical purposes. Meth is an illegal drug classified as a Schedule II substance.

Crystal meth has a different appearance than regular meth, which comes in a powder or pill form. It affects the central nervous system and is highly addictive. As a stimulant, taking the drug can make a person feel euphoric or high.

"Acute methamphetamine use increases positive subjective effects and mood. It removes tiredness and brings a feeling of power, euphoria, and self-control."

Petit et al., 2012

Meth is made from ingredients that are relatively easy to obtain, which has made it easier to make and distribute. The drug can be smoked, swallowed, snorted, or injected. Thus, the effects of the drug are typically felt quickly and can last for several hours. Many people will take multiple doses in a short time, known as a ‘binge’ or ‘run.’

Head filled with brain with a bandage

Side Effects of Crystal Meth

Crystal meth has side effects that are similar to other stimulants, like cocaine. The effects are usually felt quickly and can last for several hours after use.

Short-term side effects

The drug can impact different bodily systems through the central nervous system. In general, stimulants ‘speed up’ various bodily functions, which produce a high but can also be dangerous. Some of the short-term effects include:

  • Increased or irregular heart rate
  • Feeling alert and very active
  • Rapid breathing
  • Boosted mood, caused by the increased release of chemicals like dopamine and serotonin in the brain
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Raised body temperature, which can increase the risk of overheating or dehydration

Long-term side effects

Long-term risks of meth vary based on how it is used. For example, those who inject the drug are at higher risk of diseases like HIV or other infections. In general, using crystal meth can have serious and life-threatening consequences. These can include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Memory loss
  • Violent or aggressive behavior
  • Paranoia or hallucinations
  • Problems with teeth, known as ‘meth mouth’
  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety

Meth can impact key chemicals in the brain, like dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals are important in learning, mood, and memory. Long-term use of crystal meth can also have lasting changes in these outcomes.

The drug can have a lasting effect on the body, but can also permanently change the structure and function of the brain.

While stopping drug use can improve health outcomes in the long-term, there are some effects of meth use that can last a lifetime. Health problems associated with crystal meth use can persist for years or even decades after drug use has stopped.

Pill bottle and skull

Is Crystal Meth Addictive?

Crystal meth is highly addictive, and using the drug even once can result in addiction. The drug acts on the brain’s reward system, which can be a positive reinforcement to take the drug again.

Crystal meth is thought to be even more addictive than cocaine. Many people also report intense drug cravings, which can make it very difficult to stop without professional help.

Addiction Symptoms

A key sign of addiction to crystal meth is the inability to stop use, even if a person wants to. A person struggling with addiction may also have drug tolerance, where they require a higher dose of crystal meth to feel the same high.

Another sign of addiction is the experience of withdrawal symptoms after stopping use. These can include:

  • Headaches
  • Severe drug craving
  • Anxiety or very low mood
  • Psychosis
  • Fatigue
  • Agitation
Icon with triangle signifying risk.

Risks of Crystal Meth

Taking crystal meth comes with risks to physical health, mental health, and safety. Crystal meth can cause erratic and risk-taking behavior that can increase the risk of accidental injuries.

As with other illegal substances, it is impossible to be certain of the dose or quality of each batch of crystal meth. This can increase the risk of overdose, which has serious consequences, such as death.

An overdose can result in a heart attack, stroke, or organ failure and requires urgent medical attention. The signs of a meth overdose include:

  • Chest pain
  • Extreme agitation
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Hallucinating
  • Seizure
  • Dilated pupils

Treating an overdose requires restoring blood to the heart or brain and managing other symptoms like agitation. Overdose can be life-threatening, and treatment is essential.

Icon of medications for withdrawal treatment.

Treatment for Meth Addiction

There are different stages to crystal meth addiction treatment, depending on patterns of use and other personal characteristics. Firstly, treatment will ensure safety by monitoring withdrawal symptoms as the drug is fully cleared from the system.

There are no government-approved recommendations to support the treatment of a crystal meth addiction. However, behavioral therapies provide education surrounding drug use, can improve understanding of behavior, and help develop new skills for sobriety. Common therapies include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: this treatment includes identifying and challenging ways of thinking and learning to recognize and manage triggering situations
  • Providing incentives: giving small or useful incentives for maintaining sobriety and treatment can be effective
  • Combination therapy: A combination of formal therapy, 12-step programs, and peer/family support can promote individual recovery

As an addictive and unregulated substance, crystal meth use can be unpredictable, and there are serious risks every time it is used. Addiction is a serious mental illness, and professional treatment can provide the necessary guidance and support.

Crystal meth is highly addictive, and stopping on your own is difficult and dangerous. Reach out for professional help today to begin treatment.


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Resources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Methamphetamine.” 2019. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine

Petit, Aymeric et al. “Methamphetamine Addiction: A Review of the Literature.”Journal of Addiction and Research Therapy, vol S1, no. 006, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2155-6105.S1-006

Radfar SR, and Rawson RA. “Current Research on Methamphetamine: Epidemiology, Medical and Psychiatric Effects, Treatment, and Harm Reduction Efforts.” Addict Health, vol. 6, no. 3-4, 2014, pp. 146-54. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4354220/

Galbraith, Niall. “The methamphetamine problem Commentary on . . . Psychiatric morbidity and socio-occupational dysfunction in residents of a drug rehabilitation centre.” BJPsych Bulletin, vol. 39, 2015, pp. 218-220. doi: 10.1192/pb.bp.115.050930.

Richards JR, and Laurin EG. “Methamphetamine Toxicity.” In: StatPearls, Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019. https://europepmc.org/books/NBK430895;jsessionid=63A21D101A007EE12764A0075F5A57D1

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Author
Addiction Group Staff
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