Crystal Meth Addiction

Methamphetamine is an all-too-accessible, highly addictive drug made from a fairly simple list of ingredients. Acting as a central nervous system stimulant, it produces a “rush,” followed by a state of agitation in its users. The relative ease of creating methamphetamine, combined with its powerful stimulant and addictive properties, has led to its becoming one of the most popular illicit substances in the United States. In some areas of the country, methamphetamine addiction outpaces the rates for both heroin and cocaine. Methamphetamine addiction is a debilitating disease, but there is hope for recovery. Many abusers are successful in their efforts to quit using the drug, and there is evidence that an addict’s brain can return to a normal state after a significant period of sobriety.
Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant. It’s made from various forms of amphetamine — a common stimulant found in various over-the-counter medications. Methamphetamine is listed in the same drug class as cocaine, operating as both a stimulant and anorectic (appetite suppressant). Originally prescribed as a decongestant, anti-depressant and weight loss aid, methamphetamine was once widely and legally available in tablet and injectable forms. A large section of society abused these products for their stimulant effects.

The history of meth is a rising and falling one. After wide popularity as a pharmaceutical in the 1960s, it became classified as a schedule II substance under the Controlled Substance Act in 1971 and addiction to the drug significantly decreased. Resurging in the 1980s, meth became popular again as a street drug. Methamphetamine has remained popular in these same circumstances up to this day. Currently, there is only one prescription methamphetamine drug, Desoxyn, on the market. It is used to treat obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The vast majority of methamphetamine distribution comes from illegal laboratories and import.

The average person can produce the drug in as little as six to eight hours with fairly minimal equipment. The key ingredient is typically ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, both stimulants found in some cold and flu medications. It’s possible to extract the stimulant from these drugs using household chemicals such as drain cleaner, battery acid and antifreeze. The product is “cooked” in a “laboratory” — commonly trailers or residential homes — and made into a consumable form. Meth labs are notoriously dangerous because the byproducts of this process — gas and spillage — are toxic and combustible.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations are the largest producers and exporters of U.S.-consumed methamphetamine. They are able to produce much larger amounts of the drug than their stateside competitors, and ship it over the border at regular intervals. Their primary markets are the Western and Midwestern states.

Methamphetamine has most recently been noted for its major appearances in popular culture. Most famously, the drug took a starring role in the popular AMC television show “Breaking Bad.” The program follows the actions of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher, who joins up with a former student, Jesse, to make and sell crystal meth. It portrays the drug in an exclusively negative light and show creator Vince Gilligan has said he made meth a central part of the storyline because it was the “worst way [he] could think of for Walter White to make money.” Other notable appearances of methamphetamine in popular culture include Val Kilmer’s role as a meth addict in the movie “The Salton Sea,” and the popular song “You and Your Crystal Meth” by the Drive-By Truckers.

Methamphetamine commonly comes in two forms: meth and crystal meth. Both are known by a wide variety of street names.

Common street names for meth include:

  • Chalk
  • Crank
  • Crink
  • Crypto
  • Fast
  • Getgo
  • Mexican crack
  • Speed
  • Tweak
  • Wash
  • Yaba

Common slang terms for crystal meth are:

  • Blade
  • Cristy
  • Crystal
  • Glass
  • Ice
  • Shards
  • Stove top
  • Quartz
  • Tina
The two most common names for methamphetamine — meth and crystal meth — correspond respectively with its two major forms — powder and rock.

Meth is a crystalline powder. It is most commonly white, though it can also be yellow, pink, or brown. It is odorless, bitter and can be dissolved in liquid.  It’s most commonly consumed via smoking, snorting or injection. In some cases, it is compressed into a pill. This last form is most commonly seen in Southeast Asian countries. A methamphetamine pill is called a Yaba in Thailand and a Shabu in the Philippines.

Best known as crystal meth, the rock form of methamphetamine is clear or blue and takes the shape of coarse crystals. These crystals are commonly said to resemble ice, hence one of the drug’s many street names. The rock form of methamphetamine is usually smoked.

Many drug dealers “cut” methamphetamine with other substances to sell less of the actual drug for the same price and fetch a greater profit margin. These additional substances are often common household substances such as salt, sugar and talcum powder. In some cases, methamphetamine is cut with prescription medications, ranging from antidepressants to laxatives. These additives can enhance or alter the effect of the drug in a user’s system.

Meth labs often have a distinct and unpleasant smell. While pure, uncut methamphetamine powder is odorless, the ingredients and production process often leads to a distinct chemical smell. As meth tends to be made using legal, household products such as battery acid and antifreeze, this smell is often chemical, toxic and powerful. Fumes produced as the drug is “cooked” are said to smell like sulfur, ammonia, vinegar and lighter fluid. When these fumes are released into neighborhoods, it can be extremely harmful to nearby residents.

Methamphetamine addicts will often secrete a smell similar to that of a methamphetamine laboratory.  When the body cannot process additional chemicals, the toxic substances are routed through the excretory system. As a result, meth addicts regularly have a sharp, acidic, chemical smell to their sweat.

crystal meth
Methamphetamine increases the amount of dopamine — a neurotransmitter associated with mood and energy — the brain releases at a given time. When a person uses meth, they will first experience a “rush” of norepinephrine, or adrenaline. During the rush, the user’s heartbeat, metabolism, pulse and blood pressure rise quickly and significantly. They may continue to experience the resulting sense of euphoria for up to 30 minutes. After the rush, a user will experience the “high,” sometimes called “the shoulder,” that can last from four to 16 hours. When they are high on meth, users may feel smarter, more powerful and more sexually desirable than they otherwise would. They are also likely to have excess amounts of energy and focus that energy on particular tasks with great attention.
Meth abusers are, statistically, most likely to be young, white and male. Research shows more than half of stimulant users are between the ages of 21 and 34 — an uncommonly young average for illicit substance use at large. Scientists estimate 54 percent of stimulant users are male and 46 percent are female. Meth abusers are overwhelmingly white; it’s estimated 79 percent of meth addicts are caucasian. The next most likely racial group to abuse meth is the African-American population, at an estimated 3 percent of methamphetamine abusers.

Meth is quite popular in rural areas. Some argue this is because many of its ingredients can be found in agricultural products such as fertilizer. In general, research shows rural areas are more prone to drug abuse and addiction overall. For example, rural areas typically have the highest rates of binge drinking and driving under the influence. Some experts suggest these areas are predisposed to substance abuse. Methamphetamine is also quite popular in suburban areas, with a large number of suburban women categorized as meth addicts.

The colloquial name for a meth abuser is a “meth head.” Common physical signs of prolonged methamphetamine use include severe tooth decay (“meth mouth”), a prematurely aged appearance, long-lasting acne and sores, and a severely underweight frame.

Methamphetamine is three times as powerful as cocaine, and is listed among the most difficult drugs to permanently quit. It triggers dependency faster than a majority of other illicit substances. Methamphetamine forces the brain to release a larger-than-usual amount of dopamine at a given time, as well as a rush of norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline. The result is a rush, followed with a high. This chemical combination deeply affects the brain’s limbic system, which is responsible for emotion and memory.

Any consistent use of the drug will begin to rewire the decision-making centers of the brain. The first few times a user gets high, the decision is a conscious choice made in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. After that, however, the decision moves to the hindbrain — the area responsible for non-voluntary action such as blinking and breathing. Methamphetamine use becomes something that the brain believes it must do to stay alive. It becomes a survival mechanism. It is possible for the brain to return to a normal state when methamphetamine use feels voluntary, but this often takes several years of sobriety to achieve.

While you may not become addicted to meth after one use, the drug does serve as an enormous temptation after just a single dose. The powerful euphoria of a methamphetamine high will often draw people back for a second round. After this, the brain’s wiring is likely to have changed and dosing becomes something that no longer feels voluntary. The human brain becomes dependent on meth in an extremely short amount of time.

Meth abusers will often spiral into something called a binge, in which they become hyperactive and repeatedly dose themselves with methamphetamine in hopes of maintaining the initial, euphoric high. This uncontrolled drug use will often decrease its potency, however, making achieving the high impossible. Eventually, a user will stop experiencing any high or rush, and “tweaking” begins. While tweaking, a user will feel emptiness and unease. Many testify to feeling a loss of identity during this time. It is also common for users to experience hallucinations and extreme itchiness. Addicts at this stage are at high risk for self-harm.

Eventually, if a person continues to use methamphetamine, the dopamine receptors in their brain will be destroyed. This makes it impossible for them to experience a high, or even to perceive regular levels of pleasure. Over time, meth addicts are likely to display psychotic behavior, such as paranoia, insomnia, anxiety, aggression and hallucinations.

If you’ve used meth more than once and want to use it again, you may be on your way to addiction. Hyperactivity, weight loss and mood swings are some of the early signs of abuse. Other signs of addiction, such as “meth mouth” and psychosis, may present later.

Addiction is a disease. While there is no cure for methamphetamine dependence, it is a treatable condition. If you or someone you love is addicted to meth or crystal meth, your best shot at overcoming this disease is methamphetamine addiction rehabilitation.

Methamphetamines are often cut with other powerful substances, and some users will deliberately co-dose with additional drugs in order to elicit a particular physiological reaction. Methamphetamines interactions can be incredibly dangerous and even fatal.

It’s common for abusers to mix meth with:

  • Alcohol – The stimulant effects of methamphetamines can mask the sedative effects of alcohol and lead to someone drinking more than they typically would. Concurrent consumption can also lead to high blood pressure, increased psychosis and hallucinations, chronic liver damage, cancer and sudden death.
  • Opiates – Users often mix meth and opiates for the polydrug combination known as “speedball.” Morphine is one of the most common opiates used for this. The combination produces a high far greater than either drug can generate on their own. Speedball will often cause the user to have difficulty walking, as well as experience suppressed avoidance responses. This makes them more likely to injure or cause harm to both themselves and others. This combination of drugs also increases the likelihood that an individual will overdose on opiates as the methamphetamine speeds up their circulatory system.
  • Xanax – Anxiety is a common negative side effect of methamphetamine use. Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, can be used to combat these negative feelings. The result is an enormously addicting combination that can often lead to heart issues. As the meth is telling the heart to speed up, the Xanax is telling it to slow down. This can make the heart beat in an irregular pattern, sometimes even leading to full-blown heart failure.
  • Suboxone – A powerful prescription narcotic designed to help ease the transition away from opiates, Suboxone is a dangerous drug to combine with methamphetamine. It does contain a low dose of opiates and will dull many of the effects of meth. The combination will produce a mild form of speedball and, like its more potent cousin, can make a user think their body can handle more of either drug even when it cannot, leading to overdose.
  • Klonopin – Formulated to treat seizures, panic disorder and anxiety, meth users often believe Klonopin can help them come down from a high. Masking the effects of the meth, it can lead users to overdose. In some cases, Klonopin can also mask the cardiac effects of meth and eventually lead to heart failure.
  • Ecstasy – Chemically similar to both a stimulant and a hallucinogenic, Ecstasy, also known as MDMA or Molly, gives its user energy, pleasure and a distorted sense of place and time. When combined with meth, it can increase the likelihood of a user overheating. At a certain temperature the body will begin to shut down, a fatal consequence if not addressed quickly.
  • Viagra – Both Viagra and methamphetamines are associated with risky sexual behavior. This combination of drugs is particularly popular in the gay community. Given that increased transmission of STIs is common amongst users of either drug, this particular illicit concoction is highly associated with the transmission of sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
A highly dangerous and addictive substance, the federal government has tracked methamphetamine consumption since the 1970s. In 1986 it became further regulated as DEA officials, reacting to a large uptick in consumption, created legislation to track its ingredients. They began to require pharmaceutical manufacturers to track their import of amphetamines, carefully measuring each shipment in order to make sure that none went missing.

The use of methamphetamine has decreased slightly since its resurgence in the 1980s. It is estimated the meth addiction rate is the U.S. is 0.2 – 0.3 percent of people, with the numbers remaining relatively steady since the late 1990s. Rates of young people trying the drug have also decreased. In 2013, an estimated 1.4 percent of eighth graders in the United States had tried methamphetamines. In 2016, that number had dropped to 0.6 percent. Overall, use of the drug amongst teenagers has declined significantly since the 1990s, as has the number of meth patients admitted to rehabilitation facilities.

Given its enormous potency, methamphetamine addiction is not as common as cocaine, marijuana, heroin, or other popular drugs. Meth is reported as the fourth most common illicit drug issue to enter hospital emergency departments. The use of the drug varies widely by region, with Western and Midwestern states having much higher percentages of use. Tropical areas such as Hawaii and San Diego see particularly high rates of consumption, with methamphetamine abuse as the most common drug-related hospital admittance cause in these regions.

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Have more questions about Meth abuse?
Crystal Meth Addiction was last modified: April 4th, 2017 by The Recovery Village