Even if you don’t know much about crystal meth, you’re probably aware that its use comes with some serious health risks, including addiction.

If you’re concerned about a loved one, it’s understandable to panic and want to jump to help right away.

Talking about substance use isn’t easy, especially when you’re not totally sure whether someone needs help. You want to offer support, but maybe you worry you’ve misread some signs and don’t want to offend them. Or maybe you’re not even sure it’s your place to broach the subject.

Whatever your concerns, we’ve got some tips that can help you approach the situation with compassion.

We’ve all seen the way the media portrays people who use crystal meth, whether it’s in fictional TV shows or ubiquitous “before and after” photos highlighting missing teeth and facial sores.

It’s true that meth can cause a range of visible, physical symptoms for some folks, including:

  • pupil dilation
  • quick, jerky eye movements
  • facial twitching
  • increased sweating
  • high body temperature
  • jerky or twitchy body movements or tremors
  • decreased appetite and weight loss
  • tooth decay
  • high energy and excitement (euphoria)
  • frequent scratching or picking at the hair and skin
  • sores on the face and skin
  • constant, rapid speech

They may also mention intense headaches and difficulty sleeping.

It’s important to remember that these symptoms can all have other explanations, too: anxiety or other mental health concerns, skin conditions, or untreated dental issues, to name a few.

What’s more, not everyone who uses meth will show these signs.

If you’re concerned about a loved one who’s showing some (or none) of these signs, it’s probably a good idea to have a conversation with them. Just make sure you’re keeping an open mind to other possibilities and not making assumptions.

Meth use can also lead to changes in mood and behavior. Again, the signs below can have other causes, including mental health issues like stress, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or psychosis.

Talking to your loved one lets them know you want to support them through whatever’s causing these symptoms. It’s often most helpful to focus on symptoms you’ve noticed personally and avoid making assumptions about the possible causes.

Someone using meth might have noticeable changes in behavior and emotions, including:

  • increased activity, like hyperactivity or restlessness
  • impulsive or unpredictable behavior
  • aggressive or violent reactions
  • anxious, nervous, or irritable behavior
  • suspicion of others (paranoia) or other irrational beliefs (delusions)
  • seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • going with little or no sleep for days at a time

Once the effects of meth fade, they may experience a low that involves:

  • extreme exhaustion
  • feelings of depression
  • extreme irritability

If you’re worrying about whether a loved one is using crystal meth, your best bet is to have an open conversation with them.

Substance use can look different for everyone. It’s impossible to determine what someone does (or doesn’t) need without talking to them.

The way you go about this conversation can have a big difference on the outcome. Here’s how to communicate your concerns with compassion and care.

Do some research

It never hurts to read up on crystal meth use and substance use disorder before talking to your loved one.

Doing your own research can give you more insight on their experience. Addiction is a disease that changes the brain, so many people addicted to crystal meth may not be able to stop using it on their own.

Science-based, factual information about substance use can give you a better understanding of how meth makes them feel and why they might feel compelled to keep using it.

Not sure where to start? Our guide to recognizing and treating meth addiction can help.

Voice your worries with compassion

Choose a time when it’s just the two of you and they seem like they’re in a decent mood. Try to find a place where people won’t come in unexpectedly.

If you know what you want to say, consider writing it out beforehand. You don’t necessarily have to read from a script when you talk to them, but putting pen to paper can help you narrow down your most important points.

Otherwise, you could:

  • Begin by telling them how much you care for them.
  • Mention you’ve noticed some things that concern you.
  • Point out specific things you find concerning.
  • Reiterate that you care for them and just want to offer your support if they need it.

You can’t force them to open up. But sometimes letting them know you’re willing to listen without judgment can help them feel safe enough to talk.

Understand they may not feel ready to admit substance use right away

Before talking to your loved one, it’s important to accept that if they are using crystal meth, they may not be ready to tell you.

Maybe they deny it and get angry, or brush you off and make light of things. It may take some time before they tell you. Even if they feel ready to accept help, they might have lingering worries about judgement from others or legal penalties.

Patience is key here. It’s OK to back off for now. Emphasize you care about them and want to offer support whenever they need it. Then drop it for the time being.

Be ready to (really) listen

No amount of research can tell you exactly what’s going on with your loved one.

People begin using substances for any number of complex reasons, including trauma and other emotional distress. Only your loved one can tell you about any factors that play a role in their use.

After sharing your worries, give them the chance to talk — and listen. They might feel ready to give you more details or explain why they started using it. This can give you more insight into how you can best help them.

Listen empathically by:

  • validating their feelings
  • making eye contact and giving them your full attention
  • not giving advice unless they ask

There’s no one right way to talk to someone about potential substance use, but you’ll want to avoid a few things along the way.

Being critical or placing blame

Your goal here is to help your loved one, not make them feel bad.

Avoid saying things like:

  • “You need to stop right now. Throw your drugs out so you won’t be tempted.” (Without treatment, cravings will generally just drive them to get more.)
  • “I can’t believe you’re using meth. Don’t you know how terrible it is?” (This might be true, but it’s not helpful.)
  • “I’ll call the cops. Then you’ll have to stop.” (If you threaten to get police involved, they probably won’t confide in you.)

Making promises

Your loved one may not want to talk about their meth use unless you promise to not tell anyone.

But keeping their substance use a total secret could pose a risk to them down the road, so it’s best to hold off on making firm promises. You also don’t want to break their trust by making a promise you can’t keep.

Instead, offer to keep what they tell you private from other people in your life unless you believe their health and safety is at risk. Encourage them to talk to other trusted loved ones who may also want to offer support, along with a therapist or healthcare provider who can offer professional support while also protecting their privacy.

Using confrontational or aggressive language

You probably feel scared, worried, sad, even angry — or quite possibly all of the above.

It’s helpful to keep calm when talking to your loved one, but you don’t have to refrain from showing any emotion. Openness and honesty in both your words and feelings can show them just how important they are and how much you care about them.

That said, no matter how distressed you feel, avoid:

  • shouting or raising your voice
  • swearing
  • threats or attempts to manipulate them into quitting
  • closed-off body language, like crossing your arms or leaning back
  • an accusatory or harsh tone of voice
  • stigmatizing terms, including things like “junkie,” “tweaker,” or “meth head”

Try to keep your voice low and reassuring. Lean toward them instead of away. Try to relax your posture.

Your loved one listened to what you had to say, confirmed they were using meth, and then admitted they didn’t know how to stop. What next?

First, it’s important to recognize you can’t help them quit alone. But you can certainly connect them to helpful resources and continue to offer support as they work toward recovery.

Help them call treatment providers

Recovery from crystal meth use typically requires support from trained professionals.

You can find local treatment providers with a therapist directory like Psychology Today, or just searching Google for addiction therapists in your area. Their primary healthcare provider can also offer a referral.

Some people find 12-step programs helpful, so if your loved one seems interested, you could also help them find the nearest meeting space. Narcotics Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous are good places to start.

Others find that SMART Recovery groups work better for them.

For more information and resources, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or call their free helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357). The SAMHSA helpline can help you locate treatment providers and offers free guidance on next steps.

Take them to appointments

It can be tough to start recovery alone, even if they’re already motivated to so do on their own.

If possible, offer a ride to their first appointment with a doctor or therapist. Even if you can’t take them every time, your support can help them successfully navigate the first steps toward recovery, which can empower them to continue.

Offer consistent encouragement

Withdrawal, cravings, relapse: These are all normal parts of recovery. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel discouraging.

Reminding your loved one of their strengths and the people in their life who care about them can help them feel stronger and more motivated to keep working toward recovery, especially when they face setbacks or believe they don’t have what it takes to overcome meth use.

If you’re worried that a loved one is using crystal meth (or any other substance), it’s important to address your concerns with them compassionately and avoid making assumptions.

You can’t force someone to open up to you. What you can do is always let them know you’ll be there to talk when they’re ready, and offer whatever support you can.

Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.