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Crystal Meth Withdrawal and Treatment

What is Crystal Meth?

Crystal meth is an illicit form of methamphetamine, a powerful psychostimulant drug with effects similar to those of cocaine and prescription amphetamines.1 Crystal meth is an extremely potent substance with powerful addiction potential. When a user has become addicted to methamphetamine, it can be extremely difficult for them to stop due to cravings and, in some cases, compulsive avoidance of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, there are several detox options for those looking to begin a new life in recovery from crystal meth.

Pure methamphetamine is a white, odorless, crystalline powder; pharmaceutical methamphetamine (Desoxyn) is available as an oral tablet; illicit forms of the drug may be encountered in powder, pill, or “rock” form.1,3,4 The drug can be swallowed, smoked, injected, or snorted.1,3 Methamphetamine stimulates the activity of monoamine neurotransmitters (i.e., dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) in the brain, resulting in increased energy, boosted mood, increased feelings of well-being, and wakefulness. Like other stimulant medications, the meth-associated boost in dopamine activity serves as a powerful reinforcer of repeated use.1,4

Smoking and injecting meth rapidly introduces the drug into the bloodstream, where it then quickly travels to the brain. Using meth via these fast-onset routes results in a rapid, pleasurable rush which strengthens the drug’s abuse potential as well as certain health risks.5 With snorting or oral ingestion, the onset of effects is relatively slower—a euphoric high may still be achieved but without quite the same reinforcing rush of smoking or injection.5  

Is Crystal Meth Addictive?

The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates a lifetime prevalence of meth use at 5.40% for those ages 12 and over.6 In 2018, according to the Monitoring the Future Study, .70% of 12th graders had tried methamphetamine at some point in their lifetime, with .50% having used it in the past year.7

Methamphetamine has powerful central nervous system stimulant properties and a very high potential for addiction development due to its effects on the motivation and reward centers of the brain.

Dopamine levels in these circuits are naturally boosted by actions important for survival, including eating, having sex, and bonding with family and friends. By artificially increasing dopamine in these brain areas, methamphetamine use gives users unnaturally intense feelings of pleasure and they are strongly motivated to repeat that action again and again.1

Health Effects of Crystal Meth

Although crystal meth abuse can produce intense feelings of pleasure and energy, there are also many negative effects that accompany its use. Some common side effects of crystal meth abuse include:1,2,3,4,6

  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pains
  • Faster breathing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Severe dental problems
  • Intense itching leading to skin sores caused by scratching
  • Anxiety and confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Violent behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis

There is no safe way to use crystal meth. Crystal meth can be dangerous and life-threatening anytime that you use it, due to potential seizures, sudden cardiovascular events, or accidents or assaults resulting from erratic or violent behaviors. Methamphetamine abusers may soon feel that taking the drug is more important than eating or sleeping, and they are often unable to stop even when faced with overwhelmingly adverse drug-related outcomes, such as severe health issues, losing a job, or getting arrested. This compulsion to continue using a drug despite the starkly adverse consequences is a hallmark of addiction.2

Long-Term Effects of Crystal Meth

Continued crystal meth use over an extended period of time can have devastating mental and physical health consequences and can greatly impair functioning in many areas of life. Some risks associated with chronic crystal meth abuse include:1,2,3,4,5

  • Injection risks, such as contracting HIV and hepatitis B and C.
  • Exacerbation of the progression of those who already have HIV/AIDS.
  • Changes in the brain’s dopamine system associated with reduced coordination and impaired verbal learning.
  • Addiction.
  • Extreme weight loss.
  • Psychotic features, including paranoia, aggression, mood disturbances, and delusions.
  • Violent behavior.
  • Homicidal or suicidal thoughts.
  • Meth mouth, or tooth decay, gum disease, and mouth sores.
  • Skin sores due to scratching.
  • Disturbed sleep patterns.
  • An increase in violent behaviors.
  • Respiratory risks, such as bronchitis, chronic cough, pneumonitis, and lung infections.
  • Increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

The longer the drug is used, the higher your risk of developing any of these long-term effects of crystal meth use. Additionally, the longer you continue to use meth, the more likely it is that you will develop an addiction.

Crystal Meth Withdrawal Symptoms

Methamphetamine is associated with several physical and mental symptoms that arise shortly after the effects of the drug wear off. This acutely-felt period of withdrawal is sometimes called a crash.1 If an individual has used methamphetamine long enough to develop physical dependence, they may be likely to experience intensely unpleasant and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms once they stop using the drug. These symptoms include:1,2,3,5

  • Strong drug cravingsman covering his face due to anxiety from crystal meth withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Inability to experience pleasure (i.e., anhedonia)
  • Profound depression and associated suicidality
  • Anxiety
  • Psychotic symptoms (e.g., paranoia, delusions, etc.)
  • Increased appetite
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Lethargy

Some of these symptoms may reflect a compensatory reaction to certain neglected areas of health commonly seen in chronic meth users. Abusers will often forgo eating and sleeping while under the influence of this drug because of the energizing effects of methamphetamine and its abnormal influence on motivation pathways in the brain.8 Therefore, symptoms such as increased appetite and fatigue may reflect a natural physiological attempt to return to a healthy state. These symptoms typically subside within 1 to 2 weeks of continuous abstinence, adequate nutrition, and improved sleeping behaviors.

How Long Does Crystal Meth Withdrawal Last?

The journey from methamphetamine dependence to recovery can take several months and, for many, maintaining a healthy, drug-free lifestyle is a lifelong process. This section briefly describes the steps along this journey and what to expect.

The initial phase of recovery from methamphetamine addiction is the crash that follows the high of drug use. Individuals who are crashing often feel depressed, fatigued, and irritable.2 These symptoms will pass in hours or days if a person is not yet dependent on the drug. In cases of significantly severe dependence, or if the last use was a heavy binge, they may also experience paranoia and psychosis requiring the temporary use of sedatives or antipsychotic medications.

After the crash, a person addicted to methamphetamine will continue to experience several withdrawal symptoms, as discussed above. Fatigue, anxiety, and appetite changes will usually subside within days or weeks. Detox program staff will provide watchful supervision throughout the withdrawal period, offering supportive medications for particularly troublesome symptoms and escalating the level of care in the event of any severe withdrawal-associated developments (e.g., suicidal thoughts).

Depression and cravings may last several weeks or months after withdrawal from methamphetamine and can be treated with antidepressants.4 Should withdrawal psychosis emerge it may be managed with antipsychotics.10

Crystal Meth Withdrawal Timeline

There is no set timeline for how long crystal meth withdrawal will last, or when one can expect certain symptoms to appear.11 The length of withdrawal will vary greatly depending on the dose of the substance taken, the frequency of the doses, how long the doses were taken for, concurrent substance misuse, and co-occurring mental or physical health disorders.11 It’s important to communicate with one’s doctors in order to determine the level of support during crystal meth withdrawal.

Crystal Meth Detox

There are currently no medications approved for use in the treatment of people with methamphetamine dependence or addiction, so the primary therapies employed are behavioral.1,3,5 These treatments can last between 4 weeks and a year, depending on the program chosen. Some behavioral therapies that have been shown to be effective in methamphetamine addiction include:1,3,5

  • The Matrix Model: A holistic approach that combines various strategies including behavioral therapy, counseling, drug testing, 12-step support, and family education.
  • Contingency Management: A strategy that rewards engagement in recovery and maintenance of abstinence with tangible rewards.
  • Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR): Another incentive-based therapy that has been shown to be effective in abusers of methamphetamine in clinical trials.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): An approach that helps patients recognize, avoid, and cope with situations where they are most likely to use drugs.

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Benefits of Medical Detox for Crystal Meth

Detoxing from chronic methamphetamine abuse is an uncomfortable process that can have certain dangerous complications. Many people experience paranoid and irrational thoughts and may present a danger to themselves or others. Furthermore, depression during detox may be associated with suicidal thoughts and attempts. Additionally, cravings for methamphetamine during detox are so powerful that many abusers will eventually give in and return to drug use despite their sincere desire to stop.

Medical professionals at detox facilities are familiar with the challenges of withdrawing from methamphetamine. They provide a supportive environment that allows for:

  • Administration of medication to patients, if necessary, to make them more comfortable.
  • Supervision to prevent patients from harming themselves or others.
  • Temporary separation of the recovering person from their normal environment and the inherent temptations and opportunities to use.

Finally, detox facilities can provide crucial support for those who are suffering from mental health issues caused or worsened by their methamphetamine use. Oftentimes, depression and psychosis are serious and ongoing consequences of abusing this drug, requiring long-term management through counseling and medication. Staff at detox centers can assist their clients by connecting them with programs and resources available to address these mental health challenges.

Crystal meth Detox and Withdrawal Treatment

Because of the high rate at which methamphetamine users return to drug use after detox, it is advisable for anyone undergoing withdrawal from methamphetamine to enter a drug treatment program immediately after completing the detox process. There are several types of drug treatment programs and facilities available depending on your specific needs. It’s best to coordinate with one’s doctor to determine what step of addiction treatment is right for them. Oftentimes, detox is a starting point, and may be followed up with a comprehensive inpatient, residential, or outpatient program. Relapse prevention and other aftercare programs may also make up a continuing mainstay of crystal meth addiction treatment.

If you or a loved one is struggling with methamphetamine addiction, you do not have to face it alone. There is help, no matter what your situation. Learn more about treatment by calling our 24/7 detox hotline or texting us your questions

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