Crystal meth is the hard, crystalline form of methamphetamine, a central nervous system stimulant with powerful effects. This form of meth can be crushed and snorted, dissolved and injected, or—the most common method of use—heated and smoked.1 The high comes on very quickly and can last as long as 12 hours.1
Crystal meth abuse rates have remained relatively stable since 2002, and nearly 600,000 people aged 12 and older reported current use of methamphetamine in 2014, the majority of whom were 26 or older.2 Additionally, nearly 8.2% of all substance-related emergency department visits in 2011 involved the use of meth.3 The strength and rapid onset of effects makes crystal meth a very risky, easy to abuse substance—often leading to dependency, addiction, and even overdose. Also, an overdose may be a sign of a substance use disorder.
What Are the Signs of Meth Abuse?
Crystal meth abuse can take a major toll on the user physically and psychologically. As adverse symptoms begin to accumulate, many users discover the high is not worth the pain.
- High body temperature.
- Mood disturbances, including depression.
- Anxiety or paranoia.
- Delusions and hallucinations.
- Repetitive motor activity.
- Impaired thinking and motor skills.
- Memory problems.
- Skin sores.
- Appetite loss and subsequent malnutrition.
- Severe dental problems.
- Weight loss.
Many of the emotional and cognitive deficits that arise from meth abuse are due to structural brain changes influenced by the drug. Chronic users may suffer a reduction in efficient transport of dopamine (a brain communication chemical) throughout parts of the brain dedicated to emotion and memory.4 Fortunately, these changes are not permanent: abstinence from meth has shown to help the brain begin to return to a healthy state.4
The effects of meth can come on quickly and often powerfully, compelling users to chase this high time and again. Because of this, many users fall into a pattern of addiction, constantly seeking out crystal meth despite any negative consequences of their drug use. Other users struggle with fierce physical dependence, needing crystal meth regularly to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
With long-term use, crystal meth users experience the drug’s effects less and less because the brain grows accustomed to its presence. This is known as tolerance and it often leads to escalating doses or different routes of administration to achieve the high users want (e.g., those who once snorted the drug may resort to intravenous use). Sometimes, this abuse escalation leads to overdose.
Meth Overdose Symptoms
There are two types of crystal meth overdose: acute and chronic. Acute overdose occurs when a person takes enough of the drug to dangerously overstimulate the nervous system, potentially resulting in dysfunction of a number of associated physical processes. Chronic overdose refers to the myriad psychological and medical issues that arise over time and accumulate with long-term regular use (listed above).
- Difficulty breathing.
- Chest pain.
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Heart attack.
- Severe agitation.
- Extremely high body temperature.
- Kidney damage or failure.
Some of these symptoms can be life-threatening, so it is important to seek professional medical help right away if you suspect that you or a loved one may be experiencing a crystal meth overdose.
How to Get Help for a Meth Overdose
Calling 911 is the first step if you believe a crystal meth overdose is underway. Professional medical help is the only way to ensure that the user has the best chance at survival and recovery. As you wait for the medical team to arrive, there are a couple things you can do to help the user:5
- If they are having a seizure, gently hold the back of their head to keep them from hurting themselves.
- If they are overheated, apply cold compresses to their face and chest to help keep body temperature down.
- Make sure there are no sharp objects around, as agitated or seizing users may injure themselves or others.
The odds of survival and recovery depend on how much meth the person used and how soon he received medical attention. Once at the hospital, medical personnel will treat the symptoms as they present. This can include gastric lavage (stomach pumping), administration of activated charcoal (absorptive of stomach contents), breathing support, intravenous fluids, and medicines to treat heart, kidney, muscle, and brain problems.5
Life-threatening drug overdoses can be quite traumatic to those who live through them. Some who recover from a drug overdose have been known to suffer from paranoia and psychosis for as long as a year. Other health effects that result from chronic methamphetamine abuse, such as insomnia, memory problems, skin and dental changes, and cardiovascular damage may be even longer lasting, if not permanent.5 In many instances, a crystal meth overdose is a fairly obvious sign of a serious substance abuse problem; if the user survives, seeking professional recovery treatment will be vital for their future health.
Looking for Addiction Treatment? Ask About These.Recovery Brands sent out a 2016 survey asking people leaving an addiction recovery program what facility aspects they had come to view as the most important things to examine when looking at treatment programs. The highest-rated consideration was the clinic’s financial options, such as payment options, insurance accepted, and financial support. They also appreciated facility offerings (comforts, extra activities, quality of food) a lot more after completing treatment. If you’re looking at treatment programs, you may want to look at a center’s monetary policies as well as clinic offerings to aid in your decision.
In a treatment facility, people detox from meth, leaving their bodies and brains clean, refreshed, and ready to begin walking the road to recovery. They will undergo therapy and counseling to help them determine the root cause of their crystal meth abuse, as well as help them find adequate coping mechanisms outside of drug use. Relapse prevention training and sobriety support can help recovering users get and stay abstinent from crystal meth.
- U.S. Department of Justice. National Drug Intelligence Center. (n.d.). Crystal Methamphetamine Fast Facts.
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. (2015). Methamphetamine overdose.