What Is Crystal Meth?
Crystal meth — also referred to simply as meth, ice and glass — is the common name used for crystal methamphetamine. This powerful and highly addictive Class A drug affects the central nervous system (CNS).
The key ingredient used to make crystal meth is pseudoephedrine. This is often found in decongestant tablets and over-the-counter (OTC) cold medicines. A new way to make crystal meth is with a chemical called phenyl-2-propanone (P2P), which is a precursor to pseudoephedrine and comes in oil form.
Methamphetamine vs Amphetamines
Methamphetamines and amphetamines are both psychostimulants and create similar effects. A small difference in the chemical composition between methamphetamine and amphetamine means meth is a stronger stimulant; however, even though amphetamines are prescribed medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they are extremely addictive when not taken as directed.
Three of the most commonly prescribed amphetamines are:
- Dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (brand name: Adderall)
- Dextroamphetamine sulphate (brand name: Dexedrine)
- Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (brand name: Vyvanse).
What Is Crystal Meth Cut With?
Crystal meth is often cut with — another term for mixed with —other substances to increase its potency and make it more profitable. It can often be cut with dangerous metals, chemicals and other drugs, which include the following:
- Metals such as lithium, palladium and nickel
- Acids such as hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid
- Red phosphorus
- Dimethyl sulfone
- Ketamine (veterinary anaesthetic)
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, such as desloratadine and chlorpheniramine (antihistamine medicines), ambroxol (cough syrup) and acetaminophen (paracetamol, pain killer)
- Prescription medicines such as fentanyl (opioid-based pain killer) and procaine (local anaesthetic).
The Effects of Crystal Meth
Someone who is experiencing the effects of crystal meth will generally be talkative and hyperactive. They may seem overly confident and happy to engage in risky or dangerous behaviour. Behaviour can also change rapidly, meaning violence, aggression and paranoia can also be induced by crystal meth. These effects typically last between four and twelve hours, which makes this a much longer-lasting “high” than other drugs such as cocaine.
Crystal Meth and Alcohol
Alcohol is often combined with crystal meth abuse as it makes the effects more intense and increases its pleasurable effects. Because alcohol is a depressant, when on crystal meth, you may drink alcohol to take the edge off the “buzz”, alternatively you might enjoy the way drinking alcohol makes you feel and use crystal meth to feel less intoxicated. Another common reason for drinking alcohol is to ease the anxiety and withdrawal symptoms caused by crystal meth.
Research has shown that crystal meth is retained by the body for longer periods and is absorbed faster by the brain, leading to a more intense high that lasts longer when combined with alcohol. Additionally, because the effects of alcohol are not as noticeable, it is easier to suffer from alcohol poisoning when on crystal meth. This combination also impacts decision-making and judgement, which often results in dangerous and risky behaviours.
Combining alcohol with crystal meth increases the potential of:
- Alcohol addiction
- Intracerebral haemorrhage (bleeding in the brain)
- Cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
- Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
- Cardiac arrest (heart attack)
- Coronary artery disease (heart disease).
Crystal Meth Addiction
Use of crystal meth often starts on a casual basis, or it may be offered to you at a party or by a friend. It is common to feel in control of your crystal meth use at first, and you might not think you will become addicted. This is extremely unlikely, and within a relatively short time, you will probably notice you need more crystal meth to achieve the same “high”. You might start using small amounts erratically, without even acknowledging it, as it simply keeps you from experiencing withdrawal symptoms and does not induce a high.
Crystal meth abuse and addiction are very difficult to separate, and almost every user of crystal meth will be addicted to the drug, even if they don’t know it. Addiction is a diagnosis that is made when you can’t control your use of a substance, regardless of the negative consequences. This can be due to a drive to feel the effects of the drug, referred to as a psychological addiction, or to control withdrawal symptoms, referred to as a physical addiction. Both psychological and physical addiction is associated with the use of crystal meth. In general, if you progress to crystal meth injections, you are likely to have developed an addiction.
How Addictive Is Crystal Meth?
Crystal meth is a highly addictive drug, and once you find yourself stuck in the cycle of crystal meth addiction, it is extremely difficult to stop without some form of intervention. Crystal meth works by reacting with the body’s central nervous system (CNS), and the effects are intense and felt almost instantly. Even after just one use, it is possible to become addicted and find you are obsessed with taking it again in order to feel the “high” again. With regular use, you will build up a tolerance.
This tolerance can drive you to take higher doses or change your method of use from snorting, ingesting or smoking crystal meth to using it by giving yourself crystal meth injections. When injected, it is absorbed by the bloodstream instantly, which means the effects can be felt as quickly as 60 seconds after injecting it. This can make crystal meth and other drugs more psychologically addictive than when you snort, smoke or ingest them.
Crystal Meth Addiction and the Brain
Crystal meth stimulates the reward pathway in our brains, which releases dopamine, creating an intense surge of pleasure and other good feelings such as confidence or motivation. As you keep using it, however, your brain gets used to those surges, so they’re not as powerful anymore, meaning you need more of the drug just to feel normal again.
With continued use, your brain becomes increasingly tolerant to crystal meth, meaning you’ll have to take more each time for the same effect. This can eventually lead to permanent damage in your brain cells responsible for producing and releasing dopamine and other chemicals that control mood, such as serotonin.
Signs and Symptoms of Crystal Meth Addiction
Signs associated with crystal meth abuse and addiction are generally a combination of behavioural, psychological and physical symptoms. Some of the most common crystal meth addiction symptoms include:
- Not caring about appearance and poor personal hygiene
- Avoiding friends and family
- Missing work or college
- Borrowing money often and selling possessions.
- Skin sores
- Insomnia, often staying up for days at a time
- Body-focused repetitive behaviours (BFRBs), such as pulling hair out or picking at skin
- Elevated body temperature and sweating
- Gurning (strange jaw movements or facial expressions)
- Rapid heart rate
- Dilated pupils and rapid eye movements
- Loss of appetite and rapid weight loss
- Jerky, erratic muscle movements, twitches and facial tics.
- Aggressive, violent behaviour or angry verbal outbursts
- Mood swings
- Psychotic behaviour, such as paranoia, delusions and hallucinations
- Anxiety and irritability
- Poor judgement and risky behaviour.
Am I Addicted to Crystal Meth?
Crystal meth is a highly addictive substance, and it’s possible to get into trouble with your use very quickly. Even if you’re feeling in control at first, the effects of addiction can soon begin. Don’t underestimate the risks associated with taking this powerful substance — before you know it, an occasional ‘hit’ can turn into a full-blown addiction. Signs that an addiction has taken hold include:
- Socialising only with other crystal meth users
- Obsessing about getting more
- Feeling anxious when you run out or don’t know when you will next get more
- Needing to use crystal meth just to function or stay motivated
- Activities that once brought you pleasure no longer keep your interest
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
It’s easier to be in denial about crystal meth addiction than to recognise you are addicted. You may feel guilty or ashamed, but it’s important to remember that getting into an addictive situation often happens gradually and without us realising it.
Crystal Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
When crystal meth leaves your system, your brain goes through a period of readjustment as it adjusts to the lack of dopamine — this is when you could experience withdrawal symptoms. This is called “coming down” and usually starts 24 hours after your last hit. How severe these feelings are will typically depend on how long and how often you use crystal meth, as well as the amount you take. Your age and physical and mental health can also impact the degree and for how long you experience crystal meth withdrawal symptoms.
After you stop using crystal meth, you will experience the most intense withdrawal symptoms in the first week, often referred to as the subacute phase. During the second phase, withdrawal symptoms will be less intense, lasting for another two to three weeks. You may also continue to have withdrawal symptoms for months or years; these are referred to as post-acute withdrawal symptoms.
In addition to intense cravings, common crystal meth withdrawal symptoms include:
- Increased appetite
- Paranoia and delusions
- Hypersomnia (sleeping for long periods).
Crystal Meth Addiction Help
Crystal meth addiction is a very challenging drug addiction to treat, and you will need professional help from an addiction treatment centre or drug treatment program. If you would like to find out more about your addiction treatment options through the NHS, you can speak with your GP or contact your NHS local drug treatment service.
Addiction treatment in residential rehab is considered the most effective way to overcome crystal meth addiction. A typical stay will last 28 days, and both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction are treated, which gives you the best chance of avoiding relapse.
At Step-by-Step Recovery, we provide private residential rehab treatment in Essex for crystal meth addiction, as well as help for drug and alcohol addiction. We provide non-judgmental support to help individuals beat addiction permanently. Please complete our online assessment form or call our understanding team on 0800 170 1222 for free, confidential advice to help you or a loved one.
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Page revised in March 2023, by Danielle Byatt, a Level 4 addictions counselling, Level 5 in Leadership & Management, BA applied social work. and Treatment Director at Step by Step Recovery.
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