Understanding Methamphetamine Detox and Withdrawal
When the human body is repeatedly exposed to a substance, it’s common for the system to have a drastic response when that substance is taken away. Methamphetamines, like other drugs, trigger this bodily reaction. This is what is frequently referred to as the withdrawal process.
If you or someone you care about is facing these challenges or is concerned about how withdrawal might influence treatment, it’s a good idea to learn about what is likely to happen. Let’s explore what meth withdrawal is like, how the timeline generally unfolds, and what detox entails.
The Medical Basics of Meth Withdrawal
A number of potential withdrawal symptoms will occur, including both physical and psychiatric ones. Within the first 24 hours of the last hit of meth, a person may experience fatigue and an increased appetite. The most extreme form of fatigue should slow down and disappear within a week to two weeks, and the food cravings, especially for carbs, will decline within three weeks.
Unfortunately, psychological symptoms may take longer to abate. They may include problems like:
The worst of the symptoms, psychosis, usually abates within two weeks, and depression generally falls off about a week later. Anxiety can continue for five weeks or longer.
Cravings for the drug itself are also common with meth withdrawal. These may take up to five weeks to settle down.
It’s common for withdrawal symptoms to start out being acute and then to fall off. The most intense challenges generally occur in the first 24 hours after the last use of meth, and the subacute phase will follow for a couple of weeks after.
Less-intense symptoms will continue for a couple of weeks after the subacute phase passes. Some symptoms may go on for months, and these are commonly referred to as post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS).
Note that the amount of meth that was used and how long the person has been using can influence how long this overall process is likely to take. The quality of the meth that was used can have an impact, and if the meth was mixed with other drugs, including alcohol, this can have an effect too. Also, a person’s prior mental and physical health can influence the meth withdrawal process because wellness generally makes the process easier to confront.
Signs That Meth Withdrawal Is Setting In
It’s worth noting that each person will have a slightly different experience with withdrawal. Although the predictable set of symptoms is well-known, some folks will see more of certain issues and less of others.
If you appear to be having even one severe withdrawal symptom, you should seek medical help as soon as possible. Many states now have laws that insulate individuals with substance use disorders from criminal charges as long as they seek help. Diversion programs may be available for people who do face legal action, offering deferred charges that may even be dropped if a program is completed. Likewise, most medical professionals do not report cases to the police unless they’re afraid that a more serious crime has occurred.
Cravings and Related Psychological Issues
A study of meth users found that about 70 percent will experience cravings for the drug as they experience withdrawal. Many develop red and itchy eyes, too. Paranoid ideation, such as fears that other people are talking about them, have also been noted in a number of patients.
General decreases in ambition are common. This includes decreases in overall energy, and sleep difficulties may develop, too.
A small percentage of cases include suicidal ideation, meaning the patients think directly about how to kill themselves. If you note any form of suicidal ideation, you should seek medical help immediately.
Depression and Anxiety
Depressive symptoms often go hand-in-hand with anxiety. Nearly all study participants experienced some degree of both, but their issues decreased markedly after the first week of rehabilitation. It is worth noting that further decreases in depressive and anxious symptoms have not been found after several weeks of treatment. If you notice yourself experiencing continued depressive symptoms after treatment, be open with your care providers about the situation so they can address your concerns.
Also, it’s worth discussing the fact that about 30 percent of individuals who use meth experience depression or anxiety prior to using the drug. This is consistent with the idea that at least some of the group is likely engaged in self-medicating behavior. Further depression or anxiety treatment options may need to be explored after the detoxification process from meth is completed.
Using meth often leads to a low desire to sleep. When withdrawal hits, it is not uncommon for the body to crash into fatigue or outright sleepiness. During the first week of withdrawal, these symptoms are often most acute. Extremely vivid dreaming has also been noted in patients during the first week, but these are expected to drop off afterward in most cases.
People withdrawing from meth often experience a number of hallucinations. These may include:
- Auditory hallucinations
- Changes to your brain’s biochemical reward system
- Cell death in the brain
One of the reasons that many drugs are hard to kick is the way the reward centers work. A chemical in the brain, dopamine, is known to play a rule in how habits are formed. Most of the time, this pattern is all-around positive. Dopamine helps your brain learn to:
- Engage in pleasurable performative activities
- Set and pursue goals
- Seek out social situations
The insidious thing about many drugs, including meth, is that the dopamine pathway can get rewired. With the psychological boost of getting high, the brain will start to associate drug use with positive sensations that should be sought out again. This is one of the main reasons that many meth users abandon certain activities in favor of getting high.
Some people also form strong feedback loops. For example, drugs and socialization are strongly associated in some circumstances. Having fun at a party where you got high, for example, can create an association between getting high, partying, and having fun.
Over time, your body will try to repair the damage that has been done. Some permanent damage may never be undone, but at least further damage will not arise from continued meth use.
Two common forms of behavioral treatments are widely used to encourage long-term abstinence from meth. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is used in a variety of settings, including working with patients who have addictions, traumas, and emotional health disorders. CBT is meant to break patterns of conduct associated with maladaptive behavior. Contingency management is another approach, placing a focus on providing incentives for staying abstinent from drugs. Incentives may include money and food.
The Societal Extent of the Problem
Meth use has had a major impact on society, and there are some signs that it is on the rise. In New Hampshire, reports of meth cases rose significantly in 2019. Year-over-year, meth-involved deaths in the state rose from 22 in 2018 to 42 in 2019, even as the overall number of drug overdose deaths in the state dropped.
At the national scale, things look just as grim. According to federal data, 1.6 million Americans misuse meth each year. Between 2007 and 2017, overdose deaths from meth and similar drugs increased more than sevenfold.
How and Why to Get Help
Given the issues surrounding meth withdrawal, it’s wise for many users to consider supervised detoxification. Especially if there is a high risk of psychiatric issues, you should consider a medically supervised approach in a controlled setting.
Contacting a rehab facility is a step that many people choose to take. The Green Mountain Treatment Center and the New Freedom Academy offer primary residential assistance. Treatment is available at a secluded and picturesque location in rural New Hampshire. Our staff provides clinical psychotherapy support and supervised medication treatment, too.
At each facility, the program is designed around the 12-Steps process. Team members include master’s-level and licensed clinicians, and there is also an administrative support staff on hand. Individuals pursue emotional healing, and the aim is to ensure that recovery lasts. Plans are tailored to each client’s circumstances, allowing them to address their unique challenges in a supportive way.
Finding a Way Forward
It’s important to focus on moving forward. This applies whether you or a loved one may be dealing with treatment for the first time or there have been relapses. It takes effort and time to get well, and it’s critical to stay focused on getting better. With sufficient support, it is possible to break disordered drug use habits and to get healthier both physically and emotionally.