Crystal meth addiction is often described as “an epidemic” in parts of the US, Australia and mainland Europe. 1.7 million US citizens, including children as young as 12 years old, reported using crystal meth in the last year.
Crystal meth is the common name for methamphetamine, is a highly addictive stimulant, which comes is rock or crystal form and is snorted, injected or smoked. The active ingredient in crystal meth is pseudoephedrine, which is commonly used in the US, in cold medications. In the US, crystal meth is mostly made in Mexican super-labs. Parts of Australia and the Czech Republic have a culture of meth production and use.
In the United Kingdom, crystal meth is mostly used as a club drug. It gives an immediate and long-lasting high. The drug acts as a stimulant throughout the brain and the body and there is an almost immediate feeling of euphoria, following by an increase in energy and alertness, which can last for up to 12 hours.
The drug also increases libido and has become popular – certainly in the UK – in the gay male club scene. Its effects of increased energy, libido, confidence and lowering of inhibitions, make it one of the most widely used chem-sex drugs.
While parts of the US report wide-spread crystal meth addiction, the drug is less well-known and its use less well-documented in the UK. A recent Home Office study of drug use in England and Wales, estimated that 2 million people used cannabis in 2017, three quarters of a million people used cocaine, half a million people used ecstasy and approximately 25,000 people used crystal meth.
In spite of this, drugs professionals remain cautious. Crystal meth use is predicted to rise in the UK, as its euphoric effects are experienced outside the gay community. Harry Shapiro, of the charity Drugscope, says: “So far, the prevalence has been pretty much confined to the male gay scene and even within that, what you might call the heavy end party scene of injecting crystal meth and promiscuous sexual activity. However, it’s starting to become more popular with clubbers and mainstream drug users.”
Smoking the purer, crystalline form of methamphetamine crystal meth produces a very intense high similar to that produced by crack cocaine. It releases the brain’s stress hormone norepinephrine, and the so-called feel-good chemicals, dopamine and serotonin.
Other so-called “desired” effects of crystal meth include:
- The intense initial rush of euphoria, lasting for 30 minutes or more
- Increased and intense focus and motivation
- Feelings of confidence and improved intellect
However, most experienced drugs workers warn that these so-called positive effects are short-lived and usually only experienced in the first few session of crystal meth use. However, users will almost universally experience:
- Mood swings, including erratic and even violent behaviour
- Anxiety, edginess and paranoia
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Tremors and convulsions
- Raised blood pressure
- Irregular heart rhythms
Regular use of crystal meth is linked with severe anxiety, depression and insomnia. There is an increased risk of more persistent psychotic symptoms – including delusions, paranoia and hallucinations.
Regular users also report feelings of intensely itchy skin, like bugs crawling all over the skin’s surface. Body sores from persistent picking at the skin are not uncommon. Severe crystal meth abuse can cause outward signs of ageing in users. Since the drug destroys tissues and blood vessels and hampers the body’s ability to heal, users often develop acne and the skin takes on a dull look and loses its elasticity. The teeth can begin to decay and crack – a condition known as “meth mouth”.
One of the most serious effects of crystal meth use, however, is a highly increased risk of sudden death from cardiac arrest or a stroke.
In spite of this, crystal meth users will frequently take more and more of the substance to achieve the desired high and will take ever increasing amounts, further fueling the body’s and brain’s dependency on the drug. Like crack cocaine, the come downs from crystal meth are often frightening and intense. They can cause users to use very quickly again to mitigate the effects of the comedown.
One experienced UK addictions counsellor and psychotherapist says: “I have no doubt that crystal meth – methamphetamine – is one of the most highly addictive drugs and the most difficult to withdraw from. It can take weeks and months even for the intense cravings to lessen. Many users who are struggling to stay clean, not only experience horrendous cravings, but are also left with a drugs-induced severe depression. The early days of recovery are truly awful.”
She says: “If crystal meth has been used as a sex enhancer or in chem-sex situations, it can be very difficult for users to then return to having sex without drugs. There is both a physical and mental loss of interest.”
Can crystal meth withdrawal be managed without a residential treatment programme? Rebecca Sparkes, an addictions psychotherapist says: “It’s entirely possible to stop taking crystal meth and manage the withdrawal symptoms without residential rehab, but it’s tough. And it’s extremely tough to do so without specialist counselling and support.”
Rebecca says: “I would strongly recommend that anyone trying to quit the drug finds an experienced addictions psychotherapist or counsellor. Some of the psychological effects of stopping taking crystal meth can be frightening and debilitating – depression, anxiety and
often paranoia. Working with someone who understands this can be invaluable during the process.”
She is also an advocate of helping addicts look at the reasons why they are using the drug. “Supportive counselling is very good at helping managing withdrawals and cravings,” she says. “But where there has been a long history of drug abuse, it may be that there are some emotional and psychological issues which underpin the addiction. It’s very hard to get clean and to stay clean unless some of these are addressed.”
“However, crystal meth is an extremely powerful drug. It’s important that anyone struggling not to use, finds the right, specialist help.”
Author: Rebecca Sparkes
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