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What Happens if You Try Quitting Meth Cold Turkey?

Meth is one of the most notorious and addictive central nervous system (CNS) stimulants available. While it is technically a Schedule II drug, according to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), meth is rarely found as a prescription drug. Instead, it is more often found as crystal meth or powdered meth and abused for nonmedical reasons. 

Is Quitting Meth Difficult? Why?

This powerful stimulant drug rapidly triggers the release of mood-elevating neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, which causes you to feel excited, happy, and physically energized. Because meth is a stimulant drug, it also suppresses appetite and the experience of sleepiness.

People who abuse a lot of meth or consistently abuse meth may begin to tweak. This a condition in which the person does not sleep and barely eats for anywhere between three and 15 days while their mind dissociates and hallucinates from the large amount of meth in their body.

One dose becomes active in the brain for between five to 30 minutes, depending on how it was consumed. It rapidly metabolizes out, leading very quickly to compulsive behaviors.

The comedown symptoms after taking just a few doses of meth can be so uncomfortable that a habit around abusing this drug quickly forms. This means that quitting meth, especially “cold turkey” or all at once, can be uncomfortable.

It is not impossible to quit meth abuse cold turkey, but it is incredibly difficult without help. Working with medical professionals to manage withdrawal symptoms will lead to much more success in quitting abuse of this drug.

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Quitting Cold Turkey 

Many people who struggle with meth abuse try to quit cold turkey at least once. Unfortunately, due to cravings, compulsive behaviors, lack of social and medical support, and discomfort, most people who attempt to quit cold turkey will relapse and return to meth abuse.

Trying to quit cold turkey means understanding withdrawal symptoms, first and foremost. They begin about 24 hours after you stop taking the drug. Even quitting the routine or ignoring the compulsion to take more can take significant effort and focus.

Withdrawal symptoms most often include the following:

Many people who struggle with meth abuse try to quit cold turkey at least once. Unfortunately, due to cravings, compulsive behaviors, lack of social and medical support, and discomfort, most people who attempt to quit cold turkey will relapse and return to meth abuse.

Trying to quit cold turkey means understanding withdrawal symptoms, first and foremost. They begin about 24 hours after you stop taking the drug. Even quitting the routine or ignoring the compulsion to take more can take significant effort and focus.
Withdrawal symptoms most often include the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings
  • Restlessness and irritation
  • Mood swings
  • Anhedonia, or feeling no pleasure
  • Unpleasant dreams, sleep disturbances, and insomnia
  • Increased appetite
  • Moving slowly and feeling sluggish or exhausted
  • Extreme fatigue and sleeping a lot
  • Psychosis

Several factors can influence how long meth withdrawal takes, even when you are quitting cold turkey. These include:

  • How long the drug was abused because it can change the brain
  • How large the doses were because this leads to a buildup of the drug in the body
  • Personal factors, like genetics, family history, and mental health
  • If you try to quit cold turkey versus if you work with medical professionals

Typically, the most intense withdrawal symptoms when quitting cold turkey, known as the acute withdrawal phase, last between seven and 10 days. There may be longer-term neurotoxic effects, like low levels of dopamine in the brain, that take longer to heal.

During meth abuse, the brain is triggered to release massive bursts of dopamine. When the drug is no longer present, the brain has less dopamine available than before, leading to low energy and sleepiness as well as depression.

Additionally, fewer dopamine receptors can activate after being consistently flooded with dopamine for hours or days at a time. Over weeks and months, the brain becomes used to this condition, requiring the presence of meth to activate dopamine release and absorption. This leads to structural changes in the brain, so “simply quitting” becomes very difficult

Phases of Meth Withdrawal

If you do try to quit meth cold turkey, it is essential to understand the phases of the withdrawal process and how long each can take. 

This is the “crash” phase, during which you will feel exhausted, hungry, sluggish, and sad. You may not crave meth during this phase, but you will sleep several hours a day. When you are awake, you may feel ravenously hungry. You will also have trouble remembering things, thinking clearly, learning new information, and managing your emotions.

Although meth is not active in your brain, the drug remains in your body for up to three days after you quit. Once it has metabolized out completely, this phase will end.

This stage starts when cravings truly begin. Your brain’s reward system is essentially telling you that taking more meth can solve the problems you are experiencing. While meth does release more dopamine, the drug is extremely harmful in many other ways, including damaging your reward system like this.

Phase 2 can last for as long as 10 weeks if you develop post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), but it is more likely to last a few more days if you do not develop PAWS. Still, this is the period during which most people relapse back into meth abuse because they cannot manage the cravings and compulsions without help from a doctor, therapist, and other medical professionals.

The final phase, sometimes called the extinction phase, technically lasts up to 30 weeks. It is the period when you begin to feel physically better, although it may take some time to feel mentally better due to dopamine receptor damage. Cravings for meth will still occur, but they are more likely to be sporadic, making them somewhat more manageable.

The Evidence-Based Approach to Meth Detox

Unfortunately, there are no medications that can ease the body off physical dependence on meth; however, there are several drugs that are being researched as medication-assisted treatments. Some of these include: 

Since cravings and dopamine management are both problems for weeks after acute withdrawal is complete, finding a way to manage mental health during rehabilitation can be important. Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) take one to four weeks to become bioavailable and effective in the brain, so they typically do not trigger compulsive behaviors since their effects are not immediate. These prescription medications can help to manage mood disorders like depression if they last longer than acute withdrawal, or the person had an underlying mood disorder.

Some medical studies have shown that, during the first phases of withdrawal, taking antidepressants may not be helpful. Others have shown that some types of antidepressants are useful.

For immediate stress and high levels of anxiety during detox, a doctor may administer closely monitored doses of benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium, or an antipsychotic medication to manage severe anxiety or psychosis. These will not be used for long, but they can help on an as-needed basis with medical supervision.

This newer class of drug helps with insomnia-related symptoms by easing daytime sleepiness and improving some cognitive functions. It is important for a doctor to closely monitor the application of this drug because Modafinil abuse is becoming more prevalent.

A small-scale study suggests that using mirtazapine, alongside substance abuse counseling, decreased methamphetamine abuse in people who were active users and contributed to higher rates of abstinence from meth.

Why Choose Medical Detox?

Without specific replacement medications and a tapering schedule, you may wonder how medically supervised detox is different than just going cold turkey.

The biggest difference is social support. Working with therapists, counselors, social workers, doctors, and nurses provides medical oversight to monitor relapse as well as help easing immediate withdrawal symptoms like physical discomfort.

Woman, sick in bed from cold turkey meth withdrawal

People who manage withdrawal have a social network, often provided by the detox and rehabilitation programs, to keep them accountable, help them overcome cravings when they occur, encourage them to stay sober, and help them focus on feeling better.

Studies have shown that, after completing a safe, evidence-based detox program, continuing into rehabilitation with behavioral therapy is the best approach to treating meth abuse. Cognitive behavioral therapy, the Matrix Model, and rewards-based behavioral treatments are the best approaches to therapy, and they often work well in combination.

It is important to work with addiction specialists to manage meth cravings and behaviors associated with addiction. Staying sober for at least two years is the only way for a person who has abused meth to truly recover. It can take that long for the brain to rebuild the dopamine network and manage the reward system on its own.

Sources

(October 29, 2013). Methamphetamine. Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR). Retrieved January 2019 from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/meth.asp

(June 2018). What is Methamphetamine? National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine

(June 28, 2018). Methamphetamine: What You Should Know. Medical News Today. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/309287.php

Meth Withdrawal Symptoms + Timeline. Mental Health Daily. Retrieved January 2019 from https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2014/04/25/meth-withdrawal-symptoms-timeline/

(December 2017). Management of Patients Presenting with Acute Methamphetamine-Related Problems: Evidence Summary. Drug and Alcohol Services of South Australia (DASSA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/915c4c60-a766-414c-8606-94d1702d052f/Management+of+meth+presentations+-+evidence+summary+2017+final.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-915c4c60-a766-414c-8606-94d1702d052f-mvu2rUP

(May 23, 2010). Crystal Meth Withdrawal – Not Like Heroin, But Not Easy. Psychology Today. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-addiction/201005/crystal-meth-withdrawal-not-heroin-not-easy

(March 1, 2008). Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors Do Not Relieve the Depressive Symptoms of Methamphetamine Withdrawal and May Produce Unpleasant Side Effects. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2008/03/sertraline-does-not-help-methamphetamine-abusers-quit

(April 2008). Bupropion for the Treatment of Methamphetamine Dependence. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. Retrieved January 2019 from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17581531

(January 4, 2012). Acute Modafinil Exposure Reduces Daytime Sleepiness in Abstinent Methamphetamine-Dependent Volunteers. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3411896/

(November 2011). Mirtazapine to Reduce Methamphetamine Use: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Archives of General Psychiatry. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22065532

(September 2013). What Treatments are Effective for People who Abuse Methamphetamine? National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-treatments-are-effective-methamphetamine-abusers

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