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Meth Withdrawal: How to Ease the Symptoms (& Timeline)

Methamphetamine abuse is on the rise again in the United States. According to a 2018 news report, meth abuse nationally is at an all-time high. Although the opioid epidemic is still ravaging much of the country, inexpensive, pure, and potent meth made in clandestine super labs in Mexico is increasingly making its way into the U.S. 

After the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and many local law enforcement agencies shut down domestic labs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, meth abuse throughout the U.S. declined; now, it is taking over already ravaged parts of the country again.

Because meth is becoming more prevalent in the U.S., it is important to recognize signs that someone is abusing meth. If you struggle with addiction to meth yourself, several detox programs are available to help you overcome the effects of this drug. The recovery process starts with ending your body’s dependence on meth. Withdrawal can be uncomfortable, but with appropriate medical supervision, you can get the support you need to stop abusing this life-threatening stimulant.

Why Is Meth So Addictive?

The stimulant drug methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance most often abused illicitly, as crystal meth. While it was developed in Japan in 1919, derived from amphetamine, and was used as a prescription nasal decongestant and bronchial opener in inhaler form for several decades, it was finally outlawed in the U.S. through the Drug Abuse and Regulation Control Act of 1970.

According to the current scheduling of the Controlled Substances Act, meth is a Schedule II drug. It is occasionally prescribed as one product, Desoxyn, in the country today. There were about 16,000 prescriptions for this meth-based medication in 2012.

Meth is most often smoked, snorted, or injected intravenously. These methods allow the person abusing meth to get high faster. This is a stimulant drug that releases a flood of serotonin and dopamine into the brain, increasing physical energy and rapidly elevating mood. People who are high on meth may appear very excited, anxious, and even aggressive.

The initial rush wears off quickly. Although someone high on meth may still have active metabolites from the substance in their body, the feelings of happiness and euphoria fade within a few hours, and depression and fatigue begin to creep in. This may lead to taking several doses of meth over three to 15 days in a process called tweaking, during which the individual does not sleep and may not eat.

Abuse of meth reduces levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, and the brain quickly begins to rely on the presence of the drug to moderate these neurotransmitters. Because of this quick dependence on the drug, rapidly developing tolerance to it, and attempts to avoid comedown symptoms like depression and exhaustion, meth can be a difficult drug to withdraw from.

The Timeline of Meth Withdrawal

Abusing meth leads to instability with neurotransmitters in the brain, especially serotonin and dopamine. The drug forces the brain to overproduce these neurotransmitters, so you feel very good, happy, excited, and energetic. When the drug wears off, the brain has less dopamine and serotonin than before, so you will feel tired, depressed, lethargic, restless, and other comedown symptoms that can be uncomfortable.

Long-term, meth abuse leads to a decrease in the number of dopamine receptors in the brain, so when you try to quit abusing meth, you are more likely to feel depressed, exhausted, and suffer related low mood problems along with withdrawal symptoms like physical discomfort. This means it is harder to stop abusing meth on your own because the discomfort and depression associated with the first day or two or quitting can lead to a relapse.

There are currently no medications that can ease withdrawal symptoms and taper the body off meth. It is important to understand the timeline of meth withdrawal and the symptoms associated with it so you can prepare yourself for the process. You should not try to quit meth abuse on your own, as that is much more likely to lead to relapse. Instead, find a detox program to help you. 

Phase 1

The first one to three days after quitting meth is the “crash” — when you have trouble functioning because your physical and mental energies are very low. You may feel sad, experience anhedonia (feeling no pleasure), think more slowly, have trouble making decisions or remembering things, and sleep a lot.

Meth remains in your body for about three days after you quit, although it will not be active in your brain. After it has completely metabolized out of your body, the crash will become the most noticeable and uncomfortable.

For the first week, you will primarily want to sleep and eat. Other symptoms of withdrawal, which will be most prominent during this phase, include:

  • Trouble sleeping or staying asleep
  • Dry mouth
  • Severe headaches
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Muscle spasms
  • Malnourishment from reduced appetite
  • Hallucinations

Phase 2

The “craving” phase can last for several weeks if you try to quit cold turkey, without social support and medical oversight. While cravings may continue to be part of your experience after detox, entering a rehabilitation program will help you learn to manage these feelings. Without that help, you will notice cravings much more and have trouble with compulsive behaviors. Avoiding relapse during this phase is crucial because your body is no longer used to the presence of meth, and you are at greatest risk of both relapse and overdose.

Phase 3

Six months after you quit, the “extinction” phase will finally set in. Cravings and other, related psychological symptoms will become less noticeable and sporadic. Physical symptoms like body aches may occur, but these will also be less distracting and uncomfortable. 

It can take as long as two years for a person who quit meth to return to a normal level of dopamine production. During that time, it is important to have social support and medical support, starting with an evidence-based medical detox. The physical process of withdrawal lasts for one week. When you work with a detox program, you also get referrals to rehabilitation programs, along with social and medical support for your withdrawal symptoms.

How to Get Help With Detoxing From Meth

If you struggle with meth abuse and want to quit, you should enlist as much help as possible. Tell your close family and friends about your intentions, and find detox and rehabilitation programs that can help you with medical attention, counseling, and other forms of support.

When you look for a detox program, there are some things to keep an out for.

It is recommended that you:

  • Make sure there is a supervising physician who can diagnose your condition and monitor withdrawal symptoms.
  • Ensure there is a therapist or counselor you can talk to, especially since depression is one of the primary withdrawal symptoms.
  • Confirm the ability to get medications, like over-the-counter pain relievers and antidepressants, if you need them.
  • See what licenses, certifications, and awards the organization has.
  • Identify how long the center, or the company managing the center, has been in business.
  • Determine if you need inpatient or outpatient treatment, and find a program offering the best support for that treatment.
  • Avoid detox programs that guarantee success without understanding the medical basis of addiction.
  • Determine if the program takes your health insurance or offers payment plans. Ask how you can pay for the program.

Medical researchers are working to find prescription drugs that can ease some of the intense meth withdrawal symptoms. One being examined targets the glial cells, which are involved in inflammation in the body and brain. In animal studies, suppressing the glial cells led rats to self-administer meth less often or stop altogether. This indicates that the drug may suppress cravings, making sobriety easier. However, it is not available as a prescription medication for humans yet. 

You can do other things to support your long-term health, like learning more about eating healthy meals and meal planning, creating an exercise plan, finding a counselor or therapist who will work with you on a long-term basis, finding mutual support groups, and spending time with sober friends and family who support your journey. Withdrawing from meth can be challenging, but it is a well-understood medical process that professional detox programs can help you manage. 

Sources

(October 25, 2018). Methamphetamine Roils Rural Towns Again Across the U.S. National Public Radio (NPR). Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/10/25/656192849/methamphetamine-roils-rural-towns-again-across-the-u-s

(October 29, 2013). Methamphetamine. Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR). Retrieved November 2018 from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/meth.asp

(July 2013). Methamphetamine. Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Diversion Control, Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/meth.pdf

(May 23, 2010). Crystal Meth Withdrawal – Not Like Heroin, But Not Easy. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-addiction/201005/crystal-meth-withdrawal-not-heroin-not-easy

Meth Withdrawal Symptoms + Timeline. Mental Health Daily. Retrieved November 2018 from https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2014/04/25/meth-withdrawal-symptoms-timeline/

(February 21, 2017). Withdrawal from Methamphetamines. MyHealth.Alberta.ca from https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Alberta/Pages/Methamphetamine-what-to-expect-when-someone-quits.aspx

(April 6, 2011). Withdrawal Symptoms in Abstinent Methamphetamine-Dependent Subjects. HHS Public Access. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3071736/

(September 7, 2017). 6 Tips for Finding a Good Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center. U.S. News, Health. Retrieved November 2018 from https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2017-09-07/6-tips-for-finding-a-good-drug-and-alcohol-treatment-center

(September 2013). What Treatments Are Effective for People Who Abuse Methamphetamine? National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-treatments-are-effective-methamphetamine-abusers

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