If you have ever watched the television series “Breaking Bad,” you are probably familiar with crystal meth, or at least Hollywood’s depiction of the drug. In many ways, Hollywood isn’t entirely off the mark with its depiction on the show, though it does stretch the truth in a variety of ways in order to tell a better story. The part that the show gets most correct is that crystal meth is a highly addictive drug that has the potential to destroy the life of both the abuser and those around the abuser.
How Crystal Meth Compares to Other Drugs
Crystal meth is very unusual due to the fact that it is a manufactured drug that has no known medical benefits. Most addictive drugs are usually either naturally occurring (like opium or marijuana) or have a medical benefit when not abused (like opioids). Crystal meth doesn’t fall into either of these categories.
While it may not be a natural drug, it does exhibit a very traditional effect found in many natural drugs. Crystal meth users experience an almost instant rush of euphoria, in this case caused by dopamine flooding their brain, when they use crystal meth. That rush creates an initial psychological dependency which quickly shifts to a physiological dependency as the body becomes tolerant to the drug. The result is an addiction where simply feeling normal requires low levels of the drug in the addict’s system and actually enjoying a pleasurable reaction requires much higher levels of the drug.
Crystal Meth Side Effects
Crystal meth is a drug that causes many side effects, some of which only affect the user and others which affect people in the life of the user. The most common side effect is alertness. Users often have difficulty sleeping, even if they have been awake for 24 hours or more. Another common side effect is mild to serious necrosis, usually in the skin, teeth, and gums. At a bare minimum this results in the abuser looking older and may result in loss of teeth or skin damage.
One of the nastier side effects that appears after significant periods of use is paranoia and recklessness. This commonly results in acts of violence and theft, especially if the addict is having difficulty paying for the drug. Users also tend to be at greater risk of getting STDs both due to recklessness and the likelihood of using or interacting with others who use dirty needles. Both of these side effects tend to harm friends and relatives of the addict as much of the addict.
Finally, crystal meth can cause death in some cases, especially after prolonged use.
Identifying Crystal Meth Addiction
Crystal meth users are very unlikely to admit to an addiction, so often it is on their friends and family to identify it. While the above side effects are good signs to look for, in some cases signs can be quite subtle. For example, some meth users rely on the drug to provide the necessary alertness to hold multiple (often boring) jobs. These type of users can disappear in between the cracks because the crystal meth just allows them to act mostly normal when they should be collapsing of exhaustion, which is harder to notice than acts of violence or paranoia.
Crystal Meth Treatment and Withdrawal Symptoms
Treatment for crystal meth is difficult because the users rarely want treatment. It only really works when there is a professional treatment center providing assistance and at least one, preferably more, friend or family member providing constant support.
This support can be difficult to provide for two reasons. First, preventing relapse is hard. Crystal meth can be smoked, injected, swallowed, or snorted. With so many ways to take the drug, it is hard to guard against all of them or notice when someone has relapsed. Second, the withdrawal effects are nasty. Paranoia and anxiety, which was already high from using the drug, often goes through the roof during withdrawal. This makes the addict an even greater danger to themself and others. At the same time, the addict often suffers from depression and lethargy, creating a bipolar effect where the addict can be barely conscious one moment and raging the next.
Most crystal meth users fail at recovery on the first few attempts and even success can be temporary without a strong lifelong support structure.