While opioids have taken center stage in the current addiction and overdose epidemic and alcohol is often the most common substance of abuse for people seeking treatment, drugs like meth have continued to be a significant problem for people and neighborhoods all over the country.
Meth is a powerfully, addictive drug that encourages repeated use. To beat active addiction to meth, you will most likely have to go through uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. But with the right help, achieving sobriety is possible.
Learn more about crystal meth addiction and how it can be treated.
Crystal meth is a powerful stimulant that’s used as a recreational drug in the United States. The drug works similar to other stimulants like cocaine.
It inhibits a process called reuptake, which is when your brain removes and recycles certain excessive chemicals in the brain. Meth specifically targets dopamine, a naturally occurring chemical messenger in the brain that’s linked to reward, motivation, and excitement.
Meth prevents excessive amounts of dopamine to be removed from the brain, and the buildup has profound effects. Unlike some other stimulants like cocaine, meth also causes an increase in dopamine release. The chemical is released in large amounts, and it stays in the brain to flood its receptors.
Meth offers an intense but short-lived euphoria. Because it wears off quickly, users will often go on binges where many consecutive doses are taken over a period of a few days.
A meth binge can lead to insomnia, psychosis, and even a fatal overdose. After high doses or frequent use, your brain will begin to get used to meth and even adapt to its presence. A 2017 study showed that you could start to develop a tolerance to meth’s effects after a period of a few days.
Tolerance will feel like you need more of the drug to achieve the same effects as it did when you first took the drug. If you continue to use, you will become chemically dependent. Dependency occurs when your brain starts to rely on the drug to maintain a relatively normal chemical balance. When you stop using the drug, you start to experience the consequences of disrupting your chemical reliance on meth, causing withdrawal symptoms.
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Meth affects dopamine, which is primarily tied to mood and motivation. For that reason, meth withdrawal symptoms are mostly psychological.
However, one of the most pronounced symptoms is fatigue. Meth withdrawal can lead to exhaustion, especially if you went through a meth binge.
Another common symptom throughout your withdrawal period and beyond is drug craving. Meth causes an intense high followed but an uncomfortable comedown. The urge to use again might be difficult to resist on your own. Cravings can last even longer than your withdrawal period, and you might need to go through treatment to learn to cope with them.
Anhedonia is one of the meth’s most uncommon withdrawal symptoms. Because meth floods the brain with dopamine, dopamine receptors can become overwhelmed and damaged. Damaged receptors are less efficient and may be ineffective in triggering things like pleasure, motivation, and reward.
Meth users often find it difficult to stop using meth because it’s the only way they can feel pleasure. Otherwise, normal activities aren’t enough to trigger positive feelings in people with fewer functional dopamine receptors.
Anhedonia can cause or worsen depression. For that reason, depression in people who are going through meth withdrawal can be severe, leading to suicidal thoughts or actions. One Australian study found that suicide was a significant factor in methamphetamine-related death.
If you have decided to stop using meth and you start having suicidal thoughts, it’s vital to seek help as soon as possible.
Though withdrawal can be uncomfortable, you will most likely have to go through it to achieve sobriety. The amount of time it takes before you start experiencing symptoms after you stop using meth can vary depending on several factors.
In general, the longer you’ve been dependent, the higher your normal dose, and the smaller your last dose, the faster you will experience withdrawal symptoms.
Even though your withdrawal timeline might not look exactly like someone else’s, it may look like the following general timeline:
Meth has a half-life of about 11 hours. After that, the drug’s effects will start to dissipate. Between 24 and 48 hours, you will begin to feel what’s called the “crash.” Your first symptoms will exhaustion, sleep disturbances, increased appetite, and irritability.
Your withdrawal symptoms will hit their peak between seven and ten days. Peak meth withdrawal symptoms can include general discomfort, paranoia, fatigue, depression, thoughts of suicide, and the inability to feel pleasure. After your symptoms hit their peak, they will begin to subside. Physical discomfort is usually the first to go.
Some symptoms can linger longer than the first week. Psychological symptoms can be particularly persistent, lasting for weeks after other symptoms have gone away. In some cases, symptoms like depression, anxiety, and drug cravings can last indefinitely and may require additional treatment to address.
Meth is not the most dangerous drug to withdraw from, and it probably won’t cause deadly symptoms like alcohol or other depressants can. However, meth withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, and it may be difficult to get through on your own. Medical detox services provide 24-hour medically managed treatment that typically lasts between five and ten days, depending on your needs.
In detox, your uncomfortable symptoms will be managed while any potentially dangerous complications will be avoided.
If you have any other medical complications or conditions, they can also be managed by medical professionals in detox.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detox is an important part of addiction recovery, but it’s not enough to effectively address a severe substance use disorder.
After you complete detox, clinicians will help you find the next level of care that fits your specific needs.
If you have high-level medical or psychological needs after detox, you might go through inpatient treatment that involves 24-hour medically monitored care each day.
If you are able to live on your own but you still need plenty of support in treatment, you might go through partial hospitalization with 20 hours of therapy per week or intensive outpatient treatment with more than nine hours of treatment services each week. If you only need low-level care, an outpatient program with fewer than nine hours per week might be suggested.
Berro, L. F., Andersen, M. L., & Howell, L. L. (2017, August). Assessment of tolerance to the effects of methamphetamine on daytime and nighttime activity evaluated with actigraphy in rhesus monkeys. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5522354/
Darke, S., Kaye, S., Duflou, J., & Lappin, J. (2019, February). Completed Suicide Among Methamphetamine Users: A National Study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29444345
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, April). What is the scope of methamphetamine misuse in the United States? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/methamphetamine/what-scope-methamphetamine-misuse-in-united-states
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 29). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates