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Symptoms and Signs of Crystal Meth Use and Addiction

Crystal meth, a form of methamphetamine, is a powerful and addictive synthetic stimulant drug that can cause different physical and psychological consequences—including addiction.1 According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 2.6 million people aged 12 and older reported using meth in the past year, and around 1.5 million had a methamphetamine use disorder, a diagnosis for meth addiction.2 In the same year, 23,837 people died from a drug overdose that involved meth (and more than half of those involved a synthetic opioid like fentanyl).2

Crystal meth can cause devastating effects, and it can quickly lead to addiction and potential overdose.2 If you use meth, or you know someone who does, you should be aware of the signs of crystal meth use and how to know when it’s time to seek help.


What is Crystal Meth?

Crystal meth is a very potent and highly addictive manmade drug that causes rapid but short-lived euphoric effects, or “highs,” that users often use in binges where they continue to take the drug every few hours for up to several days.1 It is a white or sometimes blueish substance that is usually purer than powdered methamphetamine and can resemble shards of glass or small rocks.1 People often smoke crystal meth in glass pipes, but it can also be injected, snorted, or swallowed; all four methods of administration produce an intense high.1

Crystal meth is very harmful because it is known to cause serious health problems, including addiction as well as emotional and cognitive problems.1 Chronic crystal meth use is also as associated with paranoia, persistent psychosis, and an increased risk of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C.1


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What Are Some Symptoms of Crystal Meth Addiction?

Crystal meth addiction symptoms occur because of the way the drug affects your brain chemicals, including dopamine, your body’s natural feel-good chemical, as well as serotonin and norepinephrine, which affect your central nervous system.1

Symptoms of crystal meth use tend to be those that are experienced by the person who uses it, so they may not always be visible to an outside observer. If you regularly use meth, you may experience crystal meth use symptoms such as:1-5

  • Reduced fatigue and increased physical activity.
  • Increased energy and wakefulness.
  • Increased sex drive.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Headaches.
  • Paranoia.
  • Anxiety.
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations.
  • Feeling of bugs crawling on the skin.

Signs of Crystal Meth Use

The signs of crystal meth use are usually observable. If someone is using crystal meth, you might notice signs such as:3-6

  • Violent or aggressive behavior.
  • Visible weight loss.
  • Obsessive and nervous activities, like scratching.
  • Track marks, scars, or collapsed veins, if injected.
  • Skin sores as a result of intense itching and scratching.
  • Dental problems, such as tooth decay or tooth loss.
  • Mood swings.
  • Social isolation.
  • Rambling speech.
  • Changes in physical appearance.
  • Presence of drug paraphernalia, such as needles, syringes, burnt spoons, or surgical tubing.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) provides the criteria that physicians use to diagnose mental health disorders. To be diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD), an individual must meet at least 2 of the criteria within a 12-month period. The DSM-5 classifies crystal meth addiction as a stimulant use disorder (SUD); the criteria include:2,5

  • Using meth in higher amounts or more frequent doses than intended.
  • Being unable to cut down meth use.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from meth use.
  • Cravings or strong urges to use meth.
  • Failing to meet obligations at work, home, or school due to meth use.
  • Continuing to use meth despite social or interpersonal problems that are due to meth use.
  • Giving up important or enjoyable activities due to meth use.
  • Using meth in situations where it is physically dangerous to do so.
  • Continuing meth use despite knowledge of a medical or psychological problem that is likely due to meth use.
  • Tolerance, or needing to use more to achieve previous effects.
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, and cravings, when the person stops meth use.

What to Do If Someone Is Showing Signs of Crystal Meth Abuse

If you, or someone you care about, are exhibiting signs of crystal meth use or addiction, it may be time to talk to them and encourage them to seek help. If you are worried about a loved one, you might want to plan to have a conversation with them about your concerns and let them know that you want to help, perhaps by helping them seek crystal meth addiction treatment. You should plan the conversation so that you are well-prepared to address your concerns.

Some of the things to think about when having a conversation with someone you’re concerned about can include:

  • Selecting a relaxed, quiet time to talk to them, when they are calm and not under the influence.
  • Making a list of your thoughts and concerns in advance so you can refer to it during the conversation.
  • Being calm and direct, yet empathetic. Use “I” statements, such as “I am concerned about the effect your meth use has on your health.”
  • Focus on the effects of their behavior; don’t attack them or refer to them as an addict.
  • Let them discuss their feelings and concerns if they want to share.
  • Convey that you hear their feelings and struggles. You might say something like, “I hear what you are saying, and I know it’s not easy. I am here to help in any way I can.” Let them know that you are willing to help them research treatment options,
  • Return to the conversation at a later time if they are not yet willing to hear you. It might take multiple attempts.

The next step can be to talk to a doctor about the substance use. People who are not yet ready to enter treatment may be more willing to listen to a professional’s advice than the advice of a friend or family member. A physician can perform an evaluation and provide recommendations about the appropriate form of treatment.7 You can also search for treatment facilities using the FindTreatment.gov website or call the free 24/7 helpline offered by Rehabs.com at for more information about treatment options.

You may participate in a variety of treatment options with different levels of intensity, including:8,9

  • Detox programs, which help a person undergo withdrawal so they can safely and comfortably stop using the substance. Detox helps prepare a person for further treatment.
  • Residential or inpatient rehab, which means the person lives at a facility for the duration of treatment. These programs offer a highly structured environment where people can fully attend to their recovery without the distractions of day-to-day life.
  • Outpatient programming, which means the person lives at home but travels to a facility on a regular schedule for treatment. Some outpatient options, such as partial hospitalization programs or intensive outpatient programs, are intense and require a person to attend treatment for several hours per day, most days a week, while less intense outpatient programs may only require a day or two days of treatment each week.

During treatment, people may receive different types of behavioral therapies, including:10,11

  • Motivational interviewing (MI), which helps people overcome their ambivalence to changing their meth use and associated behaviors.
  • Contingency management (CM), which provides positive reinforcements, such as vouchers to exchange for tangible goods, for positive behavioral changes, like negative drug tests.
  • Community reinforcement approach (CRA), a multifaceted approach that aims to change behaviors that reinforce meth use and make a substance-free life more appealing. It includes skills-building components, analysis of substance-use patterns, relationship counseling, vocational guidance, and job skills training.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims to help people make positive and healthy changes to their thoughts and behaviors and teaches different skills to help people stay sober and avoid relapse.

Sources

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine DrugFacts.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine research report.
  3. Yasaei, R. & Saadabadi, A. (2021). Methamphetamine. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing.
  4. Radfar, S. R., & Rawson, R. A. (2014). Current research on methamphetamine: epidemiology, medical and psychiatric effects, treatment, and harm reduction efforts. Addiction & Health, 6(3-4), 146–154.
  5. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Tips for teens: Methamphetamine.
  7. Parks, T. (2016). 3 steps for talking with patients about substance use disorder.
  8. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Treatment options: Types of treatment.
  9. Office of the Surgeon General. (2016). Facing addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s report on alcohol, drugs, and health [Internet]. Chapter 4, early intervention, treatment, and management of substance use disorders. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services.
  10. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Treatment of stimulant use disorders. SAMHSA Publication No. PEP20-06-01-001. Rockville, MD: National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory.
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Methamphetamine research report: What treatments are effective for people who misuse methamphetamine?

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