Like many of today’s street drugs, methamphetamine started out as a strictly medicinal substance. First used in decongestants and inhalers, medical professionals eventually discovered that it could be used to treat ADHD, narcolepsy and depression, while also helping people to control their weight. Today, legitimate uses of methamphetamine are quite rare. We almost ever really seem to hear about it when concerning the topic of crystal meth addiction.
Crystal meth is not pure methamphetamine. This rock form of the drug, often white or bluish-white, is generally smoked in glass pipes for the sake of its fast-acting stimulant effects and instant euphoria. In fewer cases, users may crush the rocks into a powder for the purposes of snorting or injecting. Global estimates of crystal meth addiction suggest 25 million users worldwide, with approximately 12 million Americans having tried the drug in 2011.
Rates of Crystal Meth Abuse
Recent estimates of crystal meth abuse indicate a slight rise in popularity, although these numbers do tend to fluctuate from year to year. In 2014, 4.9% of Americans aged 12 or older and 5.7% aged 26 or older reported lifetime use. Those numbers rose to 5.4% and 6.5% respectively in 2016. Thankfully, the numbers of monthly users remained steady at .2% (with only a slight rise to .3% among those over 26), indicating that these numbers did not actually represent rising rates of methamphetamine addiction. Unfortunately, it would appear that more people are being introduced to the drug, thereby increasing the potential for addiction to take hold.
The good news for parents is that our nation’s youth does not appear to make up the majority of new first-time users. In fact, their numbers have dropped. While 1.4% of 8th-graders and 1.5% of 12th-graders reported trying methamphetamine in 2013, those numbers dropped to a respective .6% and 1.2% in 2016.
Despite this sigh of relief, the fact remains that crystal meth addiction at any age presents numerous dangers. Those who use crystal on a regular basis may understand the short-term effects, but not all of the longer ones. And those who have yet to try it should know that even the short-term dangers are no picnic. The longer they put off seeking treatment for methamphetamine addiction, users will risk suffering some truly life-altering side effects.
Short-Term Dangers of Meth Use
Many people know crystal meth for its fast-acting tendencies. One might presume that smoking it would take longer to yield results than other routes of administration. However, the vapors from crystal meth travel from the lungs to the bloodstream quite fast. Moving at a rapid pace, they hit the brain before long. This results in immediate euphoria, accompanied by a sense of energy and alertness. Despite how quickly this occurs, the effects can last quite long—sometimes up to 12 hours.
Soldiers in World War II reportedly used methamphetamine for this precise reason, using its stimulant effects to remain alert during arduous battles. Today, some people report using crystal meth to pull all-nighters before a test, to drive long distances, or to excel in athletic competitions. We have even heard stories of people using meth before deep cleaning their house.
This sounds fine enough on the surface, but these same stimulating effects often pave the way to crystal meth addiction. Users get hooked on the feelings of confidence and energy. Others enjoy the benefits of appetite suppression, succumbing to crystal meth addiction for the sole purpose of losing unhealthy amounts of weight. The stimulant effects also result in unhealthy side effects such as hyperactivity, disrupted sleep, irritability and aggression.
Paranoid delusions are also quite common, to the point that they pervade the stereotypes regarding meth users. When most people think of crystal meth addiction, they picture a shaky individual peeking through the window blinds to try and spot the “bush narcs.” This may not actually depict your typical user, but crystal meth addiction can result in anxiety, paranoia, confusion, insomnia and hallucinations. In some cases, it can even cause convulsions, ultimately leading to death. When taken in large doses, even short-term use may elicit erratic—and sometimes violent—behaviors.
Long-Term Dangers of Meth Use
Chronic meth use can cause meth-induced psychosis. This is a temporary—but quite severe—mental condition in which the user loses touch with reality. Symptoms of psychosis include paranoia, hallucinations, extreme delusions of power and obsessive-compulsive behavior. Long-term users may also experience extreme anxiety, deteriorating physical health (including malnutrition), apathy, depression, or uncontrollable violence. Rapid mood changes and auditory hallucinations may cause the user to isolate. Those who suffer from crystal meth addiction may also develop breathing problems from smoke inhalation and body sores from obsessively picking at their skin.
Many of the above symptoms, such as violence and delusions, are most commonly associated with the phenomenon of “tweaking out.” After the short rush and subsequent long-lasting high, many users will try to get the rush back. They begin binging, and losing massive amounts of sleep in the process. After long-term use, tolerance rises to the point that meth addicts cannot seem to get high at all. Between sleep deprivation, possible malnutrition and sheer rage at the inability to accomplish the desired high, psychosis begins to set in. The term “tweaker” refers to the shaky, unpredictable nature of the addict in this state.
When crystal meth addiction leads to tweaking, the scratching starts. This stems from a common hallucination that bugs lurk somewhere beneath the user’s skin. Addicts can hurt themselves quite badly in an attempt to remove them. Their eyes begin darting back and forth, and their shaking only worsens when they try to stop it. Meth users in this state are often at their most paranoid, and consequently their most dangerous.
Tweaking eventually leads to a crash, typically described as follows:
“This is the phase where his body finally shuts down and he goes to sleep. The meth addict might sleep for multiple days while his body tries to repair the damage that has been done and to make up for all the rest that has been missed.”
Despite the much-needed rest their body receives, many still do not eat during this time. Others may awake and consume unhealthy quantities of food to make up for their burning hunger. But despite the torture of this cycle, crystal meth addiction proves relentless. Before long, the cycle starts up again once more.
Withdrawing from Crystal Meth
One reason many will return to crystal meth addiction after the crash is because they simply cannot handle the withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal typically lasts 1-2 weeks, but can sometimes continue for up to a month. Chronic users who take meth for extended periods of time generally suffer these symptoms longer than those who use more casually.
The most common symptoms include depression, anxiety, increased appetite and fatigue. However, some symptoms prove far more painful and traumatic. These include night sweats, irritability, and intense cravings as the pleasurable effects of the drug begin to drastically reverse. Medical detox often proves necessary during this time, as self-control will not be easy to achieve.
Incurable Risks of Meth Addiction
As if the cycle of crystal meth addiction weren’t bad enough on its own, prolonged use leads to dangers that cannot be reversed. Because manufacturers produce meth using harsh and hazardous chemicals, smoking it can result in damage to the teeth and gums. Many who suffer from crystal meth addiction find that their teeth begin to turn grey. Deteriorating over time, they eventually begin to turn black. When blood vessels constrict and the gums lack healthy circulation, gum disease becomes a risk as well.
Dental side effects may be treated, and teeth can at least be replaced by dentures. But some lasting side effects of meth addiction prove far less easy to reverse or cover up. The user may suffer damage to the liver, kidneys and lungs. They may also suffer damaged blood vessels in the brain that can lead to strokes or irregular heartbeat. Those who use needles also find themselves at heightened risk of infections and infectious diseases such as HIV.
In fact, meth may easily cause more damage to the brain than cocaine or heroin. Permanent brain damage weakens the user’s memory, and their ability to reason or to feel normal pleasures. Some users experience cognitive disorder as well. Even after they recover from methamphetamine addiction, they may suffer damaged motor skills, occasional hallucinations or delusions, obsessive behavior, and reduced ability to learn or grasp new concepts. One disturbing study even suggests that crystal meth addiction increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 76%. The brain damage resulting from meth abuse may also bear similarities to Alzheimer’s.
Treating Crystal Meth Addiction
The after-effects of long-term crystal meth addiction can make recovery a tough journey. Aside from the challenge of irreversible damage among heavy and prolonged users, the mental effects can make it seem impossible to function normally in society. Even after long periods of abstinence, many still struggle.
Notwithstanding the challenges, there is always hope for recovery. It begins with detox, followed by a strong regimen of therapy and addiction recovery at a qualified dual diagnosis facility. These give the addict numerous tools they will need to recover, including life skills education that will help with future employment and social skills. Over time, provided the recovering addict avoids relapse, both body and mind can achieve a certain level of regeneration.
Putting these benefits aside, treatment for crystal meth addiction simply kickstart the healing process simply by putting an end to the pain, damage and suffering of chronic use. Through psychological interventions in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy and community-based prevention in the form of support group meetings, recovering meth users can get to the root of their disease and find reasons to enjoy a better life. Recovery will seem difficult at times, but the storm doesn’t last forever—not if you have help getting through it.
If you or someone you know has suffered long enough under the tormenting cycle of crystal meth addiction, contact us for information on our detox and day/night programs. We’re here to help you when you’re ready.