Methamphetamine is a potent drug of abuse with a reputation to match. This recreational, illicit substance creates a powerful and lasting high that poses a particularly high relapse risk for those who undertake detox and treatment. Its use can also lead to severe overdose and other mental and physical risks that can result in a diminished quality of life and even crippling health problems, as reported by Frontline.
While there are many challenges to stopping meth use, there are treatments that can help individuals cope with the symptoms of withdrawal and avoid relapse long enough to get through and beyond treatment to recovery.
Withdrawing from Methamphetamine
The process of detox and withdrawal from meth can be a challenging one due to the overwhelming cravings that can occur. As described by Medical News Today, meth has a strong effect on brain chemistry that produces high levels of dopamine and other neurochemicals and hormones, resulting in:
- Extreme euphoria
- A feeling of invincibility
- High energy
- Weight loss
- Increased libido and sexual pleasure
For these reasons, the process of meth withdrawal often includes multiple levels of medical and psychological support to manage the symptoms of withdrawal.
Symptoms of Withdrawal
The main difficulty during meth withdrawal is a condition called anhedonia. This results from a precipitous drop in dopamine after the drug is stopped. Because dopamine levels are so high during meth use, the brain often responds by shutting down some of the cells that produce dopamine, making it harder and harder for the individual to create this pleasure and reward chemical.
As a result, when the drug is stopped, this lack of ability to produce more dopamine means the person is unable to feel pleasure at all and may become highly depressed and even suicidal – a state that can last for two years or more after detox is complete and that contributes to extreme and continued cravings to start using the drug again.
Many of the other symptoms of withdrawal from meth resemble those of other drug withdrawals, and are relatively mild by comparison, as described by Psychology Today. These symptoms include:
- Excessive desire to sleep
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Mood swings
Managing the Symptoms
Most of the symptoms of meth withdrawal can be managed without support. The person will sleep a lot, a condition that will slowly resolve as the drug clears from the body. The other main symptom, the weight gain associated with increased appetite, can be managed through participating in an exercise program. Making sure to get adequate nutrition can help the person’s body return to a healthy level of function.
The psychological symptoms can be harder to manage. Agitation and mood swings can be uncomfortable. However, treatment programs can provide therapy and other psychological assistance, such as art, music, nature, or other alternative programs to help the person work through and express these feelings.
With these supports, the individual can get through most of the symptoms fairly easily, barring any complicating factors.
Anhedonia is the main complication of meth withdrawal. The lack of ability to feel pleasure can result in:
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Extreme cravings for the drug
Because of this, people who are detoxing from meth often need continued psychological support. Otherwise, the symptoms are likely to build quickly to relapse, as the person seeks to ease the disturbing lack of joy and pleasure.
As described by Healthline, sometimes introducing treatment for depression or psychosis can help ease some of the symptoms. However, these treatments don’t generally resolve anhedonia caused by meth use. Nevertheless, there are some treatment options that can help an individual struggling with withdrawal from meth.
Medical Support for Detox
Unfortunately, there are no medications that can help with the worst elements of meth withdrawal. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are therapies that, together, have been shown to support detox and prevent relapse, including:
- Behavioral therapy
- Family and individual education and counseling
- Peer group or 12-Step support
- Regular drug testing
- Motivational therapies, such as Contingency Management
- Encouragement to participate in non-drug-related activities
Contingency Management provides rewards for continued abstinence, which can be a major help in preventing relapse related to anhedonia.
Meth Withdrawal Timeline
The withdrawal timeline for meth use depends to some degree on the individual, the degree of use and addiction, and the presence of other complications. However, based on research such as a study from Addiction, there is a basic timeline that can help someone undergoing meth detox to know what to expect. This general timeline is determined by the drug’s half-life and the time required for the body to respond to loss of the drug. Like many drug detox timelines, the main withdrawal process from meth takes about four weeks.
- Phase 1: Within the first 72 hours, the person will experience the initial crash from lack of the drug. At this point, sleepiness kicks in, and the person may experience the initial signs of anhedonia, along with panic, anxiety, and depression.
- Phase 2: During the first two weeks without the drug, the person will likely sleep a lot, and appetite will begin to pick up. Depression and lack of ability to feel pleasure will become more apparent, and the person may feel distracted, confused, and achy. Strong cravings to use the drug will kick in. Rapid weight gain may begin during these two weeks. This is the peak of most withdrawal symptoms.
- Phase 3: In the third and fourth week, moods (aside from anhedonia) will begin to stabilize. Appetite and sleep patterns will also even out. However, extreme cravings may continue through and beyond this period, and anhedonia may take months to years to resolve.
Getting Help for Meth Addiction
Because of the challenges and risks of meth withdrawal, a person who is seeking to stop use of the drug will benefit from support through an addiction treatment program that can help the person manage symptoms, both through the few medical means available and through the therapies and other treatment modalities that have been shown through research to help.
Meth is a difficult drug to quit. However, with the right tools and support from a professional, research-based rehab center, individuals can move forward with greater motivation and a positive chance to overcome meth addiction and avoid relapse.