Crystal Meth Withdrawal
Methamphetamine, also known as “crystal meth,” is a type of highly addictive stimulant drug that has become increasingly popular in the United States over the last few decades. Meth use disorder can affect more people than you may realize. In Oregon, one of the leaders of meth use, they are taking steps to stop the continued rise of meth use in their state. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 964,000 people aged 12 or older (about 0.4% of the United States population) had a methamphetamine use disorder in 2017.
This means that 0.4% of the population reported clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home as a result of their drug use.
The nature of meth is such that it affects every aspect of its users life. To understand the stranglehold that methamphetamine can have on its users, it is important to understand the profound effects that the drug has on the brain and body.
Meth is a man-made stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It resembles white or bluish-tinted rocks or shards of glass and is typically smoked or snorted. Meth is also known to be dissolved in water and injected intravenously (IV).
The effects of meth are similar to other stimulants in that it hijacks the areas of the brain that produce the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. It causes the brain to produce massive amounts of these neurotransmitters producing extremely powerful effects such as feelings of euphoria, feelings of invulnerability, increases in energy, and various other psychoactive effects.
Unlike many stimulants such as cocaine that last a very short amount of time, a single dose of meth can give the user a euphoric “high” for up to 8 hours. In the case of meth intoxication, what goes up, must come down. This never-ending rollercoaster is what sends many users to meth rehab.
The Crystal Meth Comedown (or Withdrawal)
As is the case with every drug that causes the brain to produce an abnormal amount of dopamine, users will experience a “comedown” when the effects of the drug wears off. A comedown can be most closely compared to an alcohol hangover. It’s a collection of negative symptoms that occur in the aftermath of meth’s effects on the brain and body. The comedown from meth isn’t the same as meth withdrawal but they do share some similar characteristics.
After meth use, the neurotransmitters in the brain may be unbalanced, leading to sadness, depression, and other negative thoughts. The brain will typically be unable to correctly produce dopamine for days after meth use. The stimulation of the body often also leads to physical exhaustion and dehydration.
Meth use can also increase the probability of users engaging in risky behaviors. This includes using other drugs in tandem with meth to either intensify the effects of the drug or to alleviate some of the symptoms of the comedown. The use of two or more drugs at the same time is known as polysubstance use and it significantly increases the risk of dangerous side effects.
Bingeing Meth to Avoid Withdrawal
Stimulant drugs, such as cocaine and meth, are frequently taken in binges over long periods of time. As the effects of the drugs start to wear off, the user will partake in further doses in order to avoid the negative effects of the stimulant comedown. It is much more difficult to binge on short-acting stimulants such as cocaine over the period of multiple days because of the sheer amount of the drug that would be needed. In contrast, meth users will often binge the drug for days on end because its effects last so much longer than that of other stimulants.
It is common for users of meth to go on binges that last anywhere from 3 to 15 days. In this time, the user is unable to sleep which can lead to extreme exhaustion, feelings of paranoia, and even temporary psychosis. While the initial euphoria of meth use only lasts for the first few doses, the negative effects persist and can even compound. Some of these effects may include hyperthermia (overheating), dehydration and loss of appetite, physical pain, anxiety, irritability, paranoia, and aggression.
Some other common behaviors that we see with users in the throes of a meth binge include repetitive, compulsive behaviors such as obsessive cleaning. Psychosis can also begin to occur in anyone who goes multiple days without sleep. Some symptoms of sleep deprivation include paranoia and auditory or visual hallucinations.
You’ll notice that many meth users have scabs or lesions on their skin. Another common symptom of extended meth use is called formication, or the hallucination of bugs crawling under the user’s skin, causing the person to itch to the point of bleeding. These sores can lead to complications with infection if not properly tended to.
In an effort to combat the negative effects of the meth comedown, many users will continue to use. Of course, this only serves to strengthen addiction in the neural pathways of the brain leading to increased difficulty kicking the habit.
Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
When a person has been using meth for long enough, their body and brain chemistry changes to accommodate for this new source of chemicals. Withdrawal is the natural progression of the meth comedown.
The most serious of meth withdrawal symptoms come in the form of psychological and emotional challenges. Of course, there are physical symptoms that accompany the psychological issues, but they aren’t as severe. While withdrawal from methamphetamine is certainly uncomfortable, it has not been shown to be life-threatening like the withdrawal from some other drugs such as opioids or alcohol. The only serious physical danger for someone in meth withdrawal is the potential for self-harm due to depression or a weakened psychological state.
According to a study by the National Institute of Health, meth withdrawal seems to adhere to a consistent timeline, allowing for clinicians to form a plan to effectively treat withdrawal symptoms. According to this study, the timeline for meth withdrawal is typically as follows:
- Symptoms begin to show within 24 hours of abstaining from the drug.
- The peak of withdrawal symptoms begins to occur with 7-10 days of discontinuing the drug, with the severity of symptoms steadily declining after they peak.
- Meth withdrawal has an average duration of 14-20 days, with 14 days being the most commonly reported length of withdrawal symptoms.
While the brain readjusts to producing the neurotransmitters responsible for positive feelings on its own, there can be a period of mild to severe depression due to meth withdrawal. These depressive thoughts can be intense and have also been linked to self-harm and suicide. Research suggests that a large number of people who relapse on meth do so because of the negative emotions that come along with meth withdrawal including apathy, hopelessness, and general depression.
Intense cravings are also typically associated with people who are going through meth withdrawal. These cravings appear to be associated with the negative feelings of withdrawal and begin to subside as depression subsides. As can be expected, the more frequent and intense the meth cravings are, the more likely it is that the individual will relapse during the withdrawal process.
Other symptoms that have been shown to occur in some individuals including certain psychotic symptoms such as extreme paranoia, auditory and visual hallucinations, and delusions.
Factors That Can Affect Meth Detox and Treatment to Minimize Withdrawal
While there is a general timeline of symptoms that a person detoxing from meth can expect to experience, they can vary from person-to-person depending on a variety of different factors. Some of these factors include:
Everybody metabolizes substances differently and at different rates. This is no different when it comes to metabolizing meth. Personal metabolism can dictate how long it takes for the drug to leave the system as well as the length of the withdrawal process. Personal factors such as height, weight, and length of meth use can affect metabolism.
A highly chaotic or unstable home environment can make the withdrawal process much more difficult. Because of this, a stable environment, such as medically-supervised detox, is highly preferred for someone going through withdrawal. High levels of support and encouragement can help the individual manage and minimize withdrawal symptoms.
The method in which a person regularly uses crystal meth can influence their withdrawal experience. The effects of crystal meth don’t last as long when it is smoked or injected, leading to individuals using an increased amount of the drug. This increased amount can be associated with more intense withdrawal symptoms and cause even more intense side effects, which are generally signs of meth abuse. If this sounds like you or someone you love, call Serenity Lane today.
Other factors such as polysubstance use (the use of one or more drugs at the same time) and co-occurring physical or mental health issues can add complications to the detox process.
We know that the decision to seek treatment at a rehab for meth addiction can be intimidating.
FAQs on Symptoms of Crystal Meth Withdrawal, Treatment, and Detox
- What helps with meth withdrawal?
While there are no FDA-approved drugs to help with meth withdrawal symptoms, some anti-depressants are often prescribed to assist with the negative emotional symptoms of detox. The best way to help with meth withdrawal is to have a supportive environment such as one at a medically-supervised facility.
- How to quit meth?
Unlike quitting alcohol or opioids, quitting meth “cold turkey” doesn’t have any severe or life-threatening physical symptoms. If you suffer from meth addiction and want to quit, seeking help from a licensed treatment program is highly recommended. A structured meth recovery program can help you manage severe cravings and other emotional issues associated with meth withdrawal.
- How long does meth withdrawal last?
Symptoms begin to show within 24 hours of abstaining from the drug and typically last anywhere from 14 to 20 days.
At Serenity Lane, we know how tough the road to recovery can be. That’s why we individualize each treatment program to help you obtain and maintain a life free of methamphetamine.
Call us today at 800-543-9905 to speak to one of our licensed and compassionate healthcare professionals.